Let's try to tip more, and pitch less.
There will still be plenty of times when you need to pitch something: a novel idea, an unusual concept, a surprising approach, an unlikely source. But for most other things, you'll build a better set of relationships with reporters and bloggers (and get better coverage) if you approach your media relations as tipping us off to something new that we will find particularly useful. Think of it this way: Tips will help you build the relationship that later lets you pitch selectively, when you need it most.
That means you're not shoveling into our email boxes the same stuff thousands or hundreds of other reporters are getting, and making sure we can't somehow unsubscribe. You're reading and watching us, and understanding what each of us wants and needs and doesn't yet have, but might like. Better, it might be something on which we get to act first, rather than in a pack.
That's more essential than ever now, when there's more competition than ever for the scoop, the new quote, the as-yet-unheard perspective. And it's precisely the gap where media relations and the real-time real world haven't caught up with one another.
If you're about to say, "There's no time for that much hand-holding and individualized treatment," consider that you could stop doing any number of things PR folk have done for decades--things that aren't working especially well given the amount of work they entail. That list might include press releases for everything that moves and a few things that don't; embargoes, especially the poorly managed kind; press conferences; and all those blanket pitches, calls and emails. You're putting a lot of time and effort into tactics that don't work or those that result in "metrics" (like how many reporters confirmed receiving your materials) that don't actually matter. Yes, I said that. Instead of attacking every pitch as if every reporter had to have it, prioritize. Pitching someone who will never, ever cover your pitched topic does more damage to your organization or brand than not pitching at all. Avoiding the off-topic pitch strengthens your hand. Reporters I respect get way too much of the former and not enough of the latter.
What does the relationship-building tip look like? Here are a few options calibrated for today:
- Instead of a news release, attach a personalized note to a full document. Once upon a time, pre-email, this was a lovely option that should be revived. It works well with the specialist reporter who has a deep knowledge of the topic. Skip the release and write a thoughtful short note; bonus points if it can say something like, "I think you'll find the conclusion on page 11 provocative" or "The authors will talk to you first, if you're interested." (See point 3 below for why you should especially use this for reporters who cover you well.)
- Give an advance heads-up call. The one thing on which I think we can all agree about embargoes (aside from disliking them) is that they give all sides time to plan...for PR folks, that means time to plan and handle calls and information requests and set up interviews, and for reporters, to plan the coverage and do the research. Why not extract that and replace embargoes with a heads-up call? "We've got these three studies coming up in the next weeks and months, and I wanted to get a sense of which ones would interest you so we can get you the info" is a call I'd always take. Even a more hopeful, "Not sure we will actually have this nailed down, but wanted to gauge where you are if we had a response on this issue" call might work as an exploratory call. Again, it's a case of replacing the blanket approach with more useful and effective targeted help.
- Give frequent-flier points to the reporters who cover you well and lovingly. Here's what a reporter shared with me today: "I got the press release below a little while ago. I found it amusing, in a sour way, because what it is 'confirming!' is actually news that I broke, over the Congressional break....This issue is not something that this Congresswoman gets a ton of attention for — she's introduced this bill maybe 5 times now — and I'm one of the few people who consistently covers it. Wouldn't it be possible for an office to do a simple tailor of their media lists, so that they're sending (what looks like) a more personal note to the media who are friendlier to them? As it is, now I'm just annoyed at them. Seems like such an obvious missed opportunity." Couldn't have said it better myself (see point 1, above). This reporter asked for my comments, and I imagined a note that said, "Thanks again for beating everyone else to the punch on this. Wanted you to know we're going to alert the latecomers so this doesn't take you by surprise. Thanks for covering us like a blanket and enjoy watching the others catch up to you. We've put a link to your article in the release, too."
- The best kind of tip: Give away something for which you're owed nothing, and to which you have no ties. This has become a best practice on Twitter, where we value conversations with folks who aren't allergic to retweeting someone else's stuff or sharing a good tip for whom to follow or where to find something current. So: What's on your desk that a smart reporter might not know about, and that you can share easily? What are folks in your organization reading and to whom are they talking? What haven't reporters seen that you have? To whom should reporters be talking? It's easy enough to call a reporter (as I did last week) from a conference to say, "This speaker just showed a slide I think you need to see" and offer to snag the speaker's card, or something similar. You could call this karma or a favor, but I tend to call it good media relations. Or as my first media relations mentor told me when he talked me into the field after a journalism job: "Just do what you wish someone had done for you when you called." There are a million pitches they're expecting. Be the thing that comes as rare and refreshing fruit in the middle of the desert.