Media outreach is one of the most important things you will do to support your own public relations program. While PR encompasses many areas (public speaking, social media, community relations, and crisis communications, to name a few), one of the most significant—and the most well known to any layman—is media outreach, also known as pitching. In my last article, I wrote about building your media plan by identifying the target outlets where you want to receive coverage (and I know you did your homework and have your list ready!). Now that you have decided what media you want to pitch, you must be itching to know how to do it. Just pick up the phone and start calling, right? Not so fast!
When I started out many years ago as a PR assistant, we referred to the process of pitching as the “smile and dial.” It wasn’t that we didn’t want to do it, we just overlooked its true value and saw it as another item on our to-do list—a series of calls and emails that had to be done. My supervisor abhorred this phrase and would literally cringe when she would hear us say it. At the time, I thought she was just being dramatic (true). But as I gained more experience, I saw where she was coming from.
Pitching is critical to the success of a PR campaign; after all, you are trying to garner media coverage to reach your target audience, and a prosperous media outreach campaign begins with pitching the right contact, not just calling or emailing at random. Trust me when I say this: the quickest way to irritate any reporter and to potentially blackball yourself from any future coverage is to pitch the wrong contact. It doesn’t have to be something as blatantly incorrect as sending a sports reporter a press release on the weather; even simply sending the small business editor a story on international business can lead you astray and irritate people. So before you pitch, you need to take the time to pinpoint the correct contacts by building a media list, which will soon become your new best friend.
There are two ways to go about creating your list, and the route you choose will be dependent upon the amount of time and budget you have allocated for this project. The budget-free—yet time intensive—manner is to simply build your own list. Because you have already been consuming your target media (as we discussed in my previous blog), you should have a good idea of who covers what topic or “beat” at the outlets you want to reach. And if you haven’t yet been able to identify your correct contact, you can always do some research online by looking at past stories, or for any posted contact information or directories. If you are going after print media, you can utilize the masthead at the front of the publication, which is essentially a list of all the editors and their titles/beats.
Once you have the name down, you need to go about getting that person’s contact information. I recently had someone ask me if they could just email the info@ email address they had found for a newspaper and ask the recipient to direct it to the appropriate contact. Good thinking, but it’s not realistic. If you send a pitch to any generic email address, you can essentially kiss it goodbye. You won’t be hearing back. Put some time into searching for your contact’s email, or even locate the email of another reporter and follow the same format (for example: firstname.lastname@example.org), as chances are good that it will be the same for the entire staff. You can also call and speak with an editorial/department assistant or intern to verify contact information or beat, which is always worth the price of the phone call as they can also share tips on pitching your target, such as letting you know that the person prefers emails, or only accepts press releases sent via carrier pigeon. You get the idea.
Obviously, creating your own media list isn’t a quick project, but it can provide huge cost savings. If budget permits, there are many places where you can buy a completed media list, such as Vocus or Mondo Times. A quick Internet search will return pages of companies, and even PR firms, offering media lists for sale, and you are sure to find one that is within your budget. But, before you buy, ask a few questions so you know what you are getting:
- When was this last updated? Media are known for their frequent movement, both to new outlets and within their current publication. A good list should be updated weekly, or at the least, within the last 30 days.
- What information does the list contain? Are you simply getting email addresses? You should expect to receive direct phone numbers, email, mailing address, and fax information (shocking, I know, but some people do still fax).
- Is the life of the list unlimited? Some lists are available for a certain amount of time, like 30 days, while others are good for one use. You want to be sure that you get what you pay for. Forever.
- What types of outlets are included? You want to be sure that you have access to all media in your selected categories—print, online, TV and radio—and that your list isn’t exclusive to one area, or doesn’t charge extra for another.
- Will this be digital? Yes, beware of a hard copy list. A digital format will make it easier to sort and add your own notes and updates.
Whichever method you use to come by your list, once you have it, make sure it is a working document—meaning you are always adding to and updating the list. Add notes whenever you make contact with a reporter, especially if you learn of their preferences and specific interests. A properly maintained and updated media list can be the difference between achieving good results and great results. The more you know about your targets, the better chances you have of sending them a pitch they will be interested in, which ultimately results in coverage for you.
This is also a good time to collect editorial calendars, which are something similar to an outlet’s blueprint for the year. While individual stories aren’t set in stone, themes and topics are planned in advance for each issue to help guide advertising buys. Have you ever noticed that a story on bridal gowns is sandwiched between ads for every product related to weddings? That’s an editorial calendar at work. It can also benefit your pitching in that you can cater your pitches to specific outlets according to the themes laid out in the editorial calendar.
We are making some good progress here, my fellow PR friends! We have identified the outlets where we want to receive coverage, we are building a solid media list so we know who we want to pitch, and we have even collected editorial calendars for added assistance to our outreach campaign. Now sharpen those pencils, because in my next article, we will be covering an essential for any public relations campaign: the press release!