Tuesday, February 26, 2013

How do I pitch reporters on social media? Questions we missed at #PRSANCC

One question we didn't get to last week at the PRSA-National Capital Chapter panel on social media trends was about how to pitch reporters on social media.

And if we'd had enough time--always a challenge at these broadly themed events--I'd have said "If you must, proceed with caution. Do it with the lightest of touches." But in fact, it's more complicated than that. I've pitched and am pitched, and I listen to a lot of reporters do something that rhymes with "pitch," about pitching. Here's the yield of my experiences on all sides of the fence around this ballpark:
  1. Sit in the bleachers before you suit up. Start by watching and listening, rather than pitching or broadcasting. One boon for PR pros is the ability to read and learn about what reporters want via their social feeds. The reporters I follow share awful pitches on social networks, and put their preferences in their bios (mostly they say "Don't pitch me here"). You can watch what they're watching, reading and discussing--and learn before you approach. Learn how reporters are using social media for reporting, via sites like 10,000 Words and Nieman Lab, and read Ivan Oransky's Embargo Watch to see stupid pet tricks involving embargoes, like breaking your own embargo with a tweet. Use social networking tools like Twitter SMS notifications to get a text when reporters you follow have tweeted, or follow RSS feeds from Facebook pages so you can see and understand their interests. 
  2. Figure out what's missing from the lineup. Pay attention to what they don't cover. I blog about women and public speaking, not about moms, makeup or all women's issues. A health reporter might write about research news, but never cover a hospital opening. A political reporter may be on the campaign beat, but won't cover legislation. The dogged investigative reporter who outs health code violations is probably not doing a review of that restaurant. Sometimes you'll be able to see a reporter's post explaining what he doesn't cover, but just as in traditional media, it's reading his work that will let you know the difference before you plunge in.
  3. Maybe they're sitting in the nosebleed section. Get a feel for which networks matter to which news outlets. My guess is that you'll find more reporters on Twitter, known as the place where news is breaking these days, but many reporters don't like being pitched there. Just like you, many use Facebook for personal friends rather than work. But some news outlets like NPR use their Facebook pages to elicit comments, ideas and sources, and other reporters prefer contacts on LinkedIn--both examples that arose in this Social Media Week DC panel of journalists speaking on what they do and don't want from you pitch-wise on social networking sites. (Listening in via hashtags to live-tweets from journalism panels and conference is an easy way to learn what reporters want on social media.)
  4. Beer here. Make information available, early and often. Build a good base for social pitches by using social networking sites to provide reporters easy access to your news. If you've got a specific Twitter feed for news, make sure to note that more than once, and keep it active: Here, the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew releases photos in advance of a major orchid show. If you choose to blog your news rather than pushing releases, a growing trend that lets reporters choose the RSS feeds they wish to follow, you can generate coverage, and save time and effort. If you've given up peddling releases via email, use social feeds to let reporters know that you've stopped clogging email inboxes. Trust me, you'll get a lot of love and respect this way.
  5. Bunt instead of blunt. Tip more, pitch less, to reach reporters. Give away something that has nothing in it for you, but is actually of aid to the reporter you're cultivating, before you start flinging those fastballs. What to share? News about Twitter (we can't get enough of that). Journalism resources, like Steve Buttry's tutorials on Twitter for journalists. Heads-up posts about unusual timing, a source who's coming to town, a report you're reading, a session you're attending, a link they may not have seen. If you can answer a reporter's question that has nothing to do with your organization, or point them to an interesting controversy on their beat, so much the better.
  6. Don't hit them with the bat. A lot of PR pros sound pretty desperate on social media, which sometimes leads to overkill in the pitch department. "You are here to cover my topic," one pitcher said in a direct message to me. "You must retweet because I asked you to." Not so much, actually. Don't treat Twitter or Facebook like email, sending the same thing to many reporters at the same time. Overusing direct messages also can backfire, so take your cue from the reporter in question. Social media's overloaded with marketers who don't get traditional media relations and use a heavy hand, so you can stand out as more trustworthy if you use a deft hand with social media.
  7. Use your own binoculars. Yes, it's more work to find your reporters directly on social media, but it's probably more accurate and up-to-date. Read this ridiculous story about a Bulldog Reporter list of mommy bloggers that included their home addresses, at least one dead blogger, and other errors and privacy violations. It's no surprise to me that many of these bloggers took to Twitter to out this egregious approach. Be wary of social directories of reporters, which, by definition, are not opt-in and permission-based. Start treating reporters and bloggers the way you would any "customer."
  8. Don't let your friends in under the fence. Beware eager fellow pitchers who want to friend you so they can spam reporters who are your friends. From time to time, a non-reporter friend connects with me and starts spamming the reporters in my circle--usually a prompt for me to un-friend. Yes, I see you doing that, and you wonder why reporters aren't responsive? Me, either. 
  9. That loudspeaker is on, you know. I see PR types who complain on Twitter about the reporters covering them--the same ones they are pitching--and those who pitch "exclusives" in tweets or comments that anyone can see. It's easy to mistake the false intimacy of social back-and-forth for behind-closed-doors conversation, but in fact, we can see all that going on. Check out my post Block and Twitter: E-tactics that don't work in media relations. As just one example, those direct messages may not be entirely confidential--and they can be discovered through subpoena or Freedom of Information Act requests. Jobs have been lost over things like this.
  10. Pass the peanuts. It's a great idea to share reporters' posts on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. There's no quid pro quo for doing this, but if you are becoming a visible source of great info on your topic, you'll find yourself sharing smart coverage of the issues you watch, and that'll include, one presumes, posts by the reporters with whom you want to start a relationship. It's a small and indirect thing that many communicators miss in their one-sided pursuit of coverage. Share and share alike.
  11. I can't listen to your game on TV, radio and the Internet at the same time. If you want to use social media to pitch, please don't pitch the same story to the same reporter on email, voicemail, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. Pick a channel and stop using the others. This saves you time and builds sanity in the press corps, and who can't get behind that?
Don't just take it from me. Media relations is changing, and so are notable practitioners. Journalistics, a great blog about PR and journalism, today chimes in with similar ideas about inbound media relations--creating and blogging your own stories and using social networks to make them available, then generating coverage--and using social media to "newsjack," or horn in on breaking coverage.  

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