Justin Rubner

Posts Tagged ‘pitching the media’

Reporter: Leave Your Number Twice and Don’t Pitch Me on Your Green Building

In public relations on 07/12/2011 at 4:52 pm

If you’re involved with any aspect of public relations, you know that contacting journalists can be daunting.

How do you get their attention? How should you handle an exclusive? Should you call in the morning or afternoon? Should you contact a reporter or editor? How do you get them to write about your wonderfully-efficient environmentally-friendly office?

The other day, I discussed this issue with my pal and former colleague, Rachel Tobin, who covers commercial real estate for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Here are some of her friendly tips:

AJC reporter Rachel Tobin

Leave your phone number twice. Tobin, like many reporters, receives scores of tips and pitches every day. Make hers and all reporters’ lives easier by leaving your contact info at the beginning of your voicemail and at the end. She finds it particularly annoying to listen through a lengthy voicemail only to have to listen to it again to hear the number. She also recommends making sure your email system is set to show your contact info on every message. This is plain good advice for all business communications.

Write a compelling subject in the email. Seriously–they get pitched every day, so write your news as succinctly as possible in the title. “Unless I already know you, I’m probably not going to open an email that just says ‘press release,’ Tobin says. “It’s amazing how many people do this. It’s the biggest rookie mistake in my opinion.”

Paste and attach your release. Tobin recommends pasting it on the bottom and attaching it. I would also recommend summarizing the news–targeting it–for the reporter in your lead sentence.

Know the best time to call. That’s usually in the morning. Deadlines are often at the end of the day and reporters are busy fielding calls related to stories and making appropriate edits. Although the affable Tobin wouldn’t likely yell at you if you bothered her with a bad pitch 30 minutes before deadline, I’ve worked with plenty of reporters who would. In Tobin’s case, anytime after 3 is not a great time to call, especially on Wednesdays when Sunday stories are due, she says.

Don’t go over their heads. If you have a story you think is newsworthy for someone’s beat, don’t pitch the editor on getting the reporter to cover it. I despised that practice when I was a reporter. Tobin dislikes it too. Even if a reporter happens to make an error on a story, contact him or her first, she says.

Follow reporters on social sites. Some people only let personal friends on Facebook, others invite anyone. Today, most reporters have Twitter accounts, LinkedIn profiles and more. This will not only help you keep track of recent stories but will give you an easier way to contact them. P.S., Tobin asked me to include a contact link to the AJC editorial staff, which is a bit hard to find, even harder to find on other outlets’ sites, so here it is. “We want you to follow us,” she says. “We’re using social media a lot. I really hope my sources would follow me.”

Watch overly-creative pitches. The best PR people, she says, are creative. But she also dislikes “gidgets and gadgets” to get her attention. I don’t have specific advice on this one; just realize their job is to find newsworthy stories and that they’re often pressed for time to do so, receive tons of pitches, and are desensitized to gimmicks.

Write good press releases. I’m so glad she brought this one up. So many press releases I read are awful. Just awful. Often, she has to do basic fact-finding on news in press releases–simple stuff like sale price, who the previous owner of a building was, and square footage. “Most press releases are so badly written, they’re a waste of time,” Tobin says. “Some just make PR people look bad.”

Know what an exclusive is. She says an exclusive is not first dibs on useless news or news that’s been reported elsewhere. “Most PR people who pitch us on exclusives aren’t giving us real news,” Tobin says. “It has to be interesting. Also make sure it’s really an exclusive before you pitch it as such. Even if we’re the first ‘mainstream’ pub to get it, and a trade got it first, it’s not a clean kill.”

Know what news is. In a previous post, I offer tips on pitching reporters and lament some of the bad pitches I received, including one on how some company installed green toilets. Well, green buildings aren’t that exciting either.

“In this day and age of real estate, the fact that you want to make your building green is not interesting,” Tobin says. ”It’s fluff and just trying to make your company feel good. In addition, we’re not interested in anything ‘in the weeds.’ We’re a general-interest newspaper. We aren’t going to write about the intricacies of real estate law.”

- Justin Rubner

Nobody Cares About Green Toilets and 12 Other PR Tips On Pitching Reporters

In public relations on 01/21/2011 at 10:30 am

Always know what a reporter covers before the pitch

The following is a real conversation.

PR person: My client, Solutiony Solutions Inc., is a solutions provider and just released Solutions ‘R Us Version 2.0. Do you write about solutions?

Reporter: Not really.

PR person: Well, they did just install water-saving toilets and energy-efficient light bulbs AND started a ride-share program! Green Business Weekly last year ranked them the 20th-greenest solutions provider in America. Do you write about the environment?

Reporter: No, I cover venture capital, economic development, international business and Steve Jobs. You really should know this before calling me on deadline.

PR person: Oh, they just raised $200 million from Vulture Capital LLC, are hiring 2,000 people in your city, expanding into 20 countries, and added Steve Jobs to their advisory board. Is that something you’d be interested in?…

OK, that was a bit of an exaggeration. Nonetheless, I’ve had conversations similar to this all too often when I was on the opposite side of the pitch.

Here are some tips aimed at avoiding a bad pitch like this so you’ll A) get press and B) won’t get hung up on:

  1. First thing’s first. Develop a PR plan that identifies targeted outlets and relevant story ideas.
  2. Once you have news, target your pitch. If pitching a trade publication, for example, your angle should focus on the  industry it covers. If pitching local broadcast, your angle should have a local spin. And a business pub–it better be business-y.
  3. Do your homework BEFORE pitching. You should know what the journalist covers. Come armed with similar stories he or she has done. After all, if you were a salesperson, would you call a prospect, ask him or her what the company does, and try to sell something that’s of no use? Of course not–you wouldn’t waste the prospect’s time, or, more importantly, yours. Don’t make that mistake when pitching a reporter.
  4. Know a journalist’s job is not to give you publicity, but rather to tell news that is of interest to the outlet’s  consumers. Publicity is an after-effect.
  5. Keep timeliness in mind. An event that happened a month ago is often not newsworthy. That’s why they call it the “news”…and not the “olds”. Sorry, bad joke.
  6. Be prepared for questions. While most PR agencies approach their craft smartly, I have often been pitched by account execs who couldn’t answer any questions outside their script. Worse, I’ve been pitched by interns who often didn’t know enough about business in general to answer relevant questions. You should know as much as possible about the thing you’re pitching.
  7. Offer exclusives. Many media outlets thrive on them. Really, why should someone read the exact same story in two competing newspapers?
  8. Offer up the CEO or the person involved in the news for an interview.
  9. If sending a press release,copy and paste it in the email. Reporters get tons of releases every day. They don’t want to open attachments.
  10. Write an email subject that stands out. When dealing with a hundred pitches a day, many reporters delete emails without even opening them when subject lines makes no sense or are full of corporate jargon.
  11. Sum up the news of the release in the email. Sometimes, you’ll have to change the angle to suit the particular person you’re pitching.
  12. If a reporter bites, NEVER ask to see a story before it’s published. Any respectable publication wouldn’t allow this. First, stories would never get done. Second, it’s a violation of basic journalistic standards to have a source edit something. Instead, offer to check facts.
  13. Understand that NOBODY cares about how environmentally friendly your company’s toilets are. Unless it’s The Journal of Green Plumbing Fixtures. And I hear it’s about to go down the tubes.

Have other PR tips you’d like add? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

-Justin Rubner


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