It is vital that an organization develop guidelines to determine which press releases warrant distribution and how wide the release should be pitched. A system should be instituted to track pitching, including dates, outlets/reporters, and the topic. There should be at least two to three weeks between pitches to an outlet, unless there is breaking national news. If an outlet is over pitched by the same company/organization their press releases become white noise to reporters.
Research the media:
Savvy publicists take the time to research the media they are pitching, understand the media outlet’s audience and craft a pitch letter to the reporter/editor that is short and to the point. Consider your story pitch from the reporter/editor’s perspective. Why is this story of interest to their audience? What will the reporter need to tell this story (interviews, statistics, information for print or on-air graphics, photos, video etc.) Reporters and editors increasingly juggle many tasks and appreciate a carefully crafted pitch that outlines the key elements of the story.
Setting an Editorial Calendar, Lead Times:
Develop a list of national publications that work on a “longer lead”— up to six months in advance.
When pitching a weekly newspaper or a monthly magazine, research their lead-time in advance. Many publications now post news on their websites so always take the time to look at a media outlet’s online presence and consider pitching the online editors.
What Time of Day to Pitch the Media:
Most newsrooms (daily newspapers, TV stations) have editorial meetings between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m. At this time, editors make decisions on which stories to cover and assign crews and reporters. For this reason, it is always best to send press releases out before 9 am. Be mindful of time zones and keep in mind most national media headquarters are located in the Eastern time zone. Follow-up phone calls should take place before 1 p.m. if possible. Most reporters at daily newspapers and TV are working on deadlines after this time and wont have time for a pitch call.
Pitching the media on Friday is generally not recommended unless there is a significant breaking news story that genuinely cannot wait until Monday.
Sam Litzinger, correspondent, CBS News.
“Make sure you're sending your info to the right person at the media outlet - probably the assignment editor or a reporter you've developed as a contact.”
How to Email a Reporter:
Crafting an enticing email slug line is imperative. Indicate if the story is breaking news. Example:
BREAKING NEWS: 50 Cats Rescued from Main Street House. Local SPCA Asks For Donations
Let the reporter or editor know what you’re sending:
Press Release: Top 10 Common Household Poisons for Pets
Cut/paste the press release into the body of the e-mail. Never send unsolicited attachments to a reporter.
Do not attach photos to an email pitch. If possible, create a photo database in an online newsroom on your organization’s website for reporters to easily access and download photos (include credit information for the photographer). If an online newsroom is not possible, indicate in the pitch that images are available upon request.
When drafting a pitch letter, remember that reporters appreciate a personal touch. When possible, take the time to personalize your pitch especially when you have previously worked with a reporter. Example: “Dear Amy, I hope this finds you well. I am writing with a story idea that I believe would be of interest to your blog’s readers.”
If you do not personally know the reporter, proper salutation is best: “Dear Mr. Jones.” Never open an email to a member of the media with an informal greeting.
Always have the point of the press release at the top."Sam Litzinger, correspondent, CBS News
Phone Calls to Reporters:
Reporters are constantly besieged by phone calls and emails. Most do not answer their phones. It is imperative that your e-mail pitch letter be concise and provide the reporter with information on why the story is of interest to their audience. If you’re going to follow up by phone, plan your pitch in advance. Most reporters will give you 15 seconds to make your case. Local market reporters will generally be friendlier and more amenable to a phone pitch than an assignment editor in a major market such as New York City so it helps to have tough skin when pitching major media.
Increasingly, the Paws PR team is finding that reporters want to receive Tweets with links back to the website that contain a press release. Best practice: Only Tweet @ reporters you have a personal connection with or who you know prefer to receive news via Tweet. Some reporters will indicate on their Twitter profile their preferences for being pitched.
Television stations are interested in breaking news stories with strong visual angles. If pitching TV, provide as much information as possible about the video opportunities and/or stock video (b-roll) available. Write a detailed description of the visual, for example: “B-roll of common household dangers for pets (raisins, grapes, pesticides) for National Pet Poison Prevention Week Story.”
Online media (websites, blogs) can be pitched at any time, although pitching on Friday is not recommended.
Many online news sources will welcome the submission of by-lined news articles. It is highly recommended that the organization take advantage of opportunities to submit articles from your company’s leadership to targeted publications.
Send me what you see as being the headline for the story you want me to write and include a lead. If you simply send me a pitch with a press release or paragraphs about your client’s falconry program, I’m left having to read the information, digest it and determine if a story is in there.Kate Jackson, Freelance Writer 'Katie Talks Travel'
While you cannot always predict when breaking news will happen, you can have standard operating procedures in place to ensure a timely and effective media outreach campaign:
Maintain up-to-date media lists. A master media list should include the top media your company sends press releases to on a regular basis.
Always pitch the Associated Press and Reuters first in a breaking news situation.
Breaking news press releases should always be sent to the main news desks at TV, radio and print media outlets. Never send a press release out without first calling to confirm the best email to send a release to. If you have an existing media contact at a news outlet who has previously covered the story, email them and cc the main news desk.
Call all media immediately after sending a breaking news press release to make sure the press release was received and the story is on their radar. In our experience, assignment desks will often ask you to re-send the information so always be ready to hit send.
Ensure spokespersons are prepped with speaking points and are available immediately after the press release is sent out.
How To Handle Reactive Calls from the Media:
It is imperative that at least one member of your communications team is “on call” 24/7 to receive incoming calls from the press. A phone number and email should be readily available to the press via the website. If a reporter calls your organization’s main number, it should be easy to navigate to a press representative. The organization should inform new staff that no one should speak with a reporter either on or off the record without consent of senior management and/or the Communications Director.
The first question to ask a reporter who calls/writes with an interview request is: What is your deadline? Reporters appreciate publicists who respond in a timely manner and will seek out future interviews with the organization if they are provided exceptional service. If possible, direct the reporter to information available on your company’s website in addition to setting up an interview with a spokesperson.
It is the role of the publicist to determine the nature of the reporter’s story in an effort to provide as much information as possible to the spokesperson. If coordinating an in-person interview for TV, radio or a blog, make sure to find out if the interview will be live or taped.
Additional questions to ask might include:
- What is the focus of your story?
- Who else is being interviewed for this story?
- Can you send me a list of questions?
- Are you looking for background or an on-the record comment?
It is recommended that that one person on your press team track all incoming media calls. The date, media outlet, reporter’s contact information, nature of the request and follow up should all be documented.