Monday, 22 December 2014

Guest Post: PR - do you phone or email journalists?


The Comms Crowd's Hiwot Wolde-Senbet shares her learning experiences on pitching journalists.

How would you like your story served?
You can have it any which way,
just please don't shout at me!

Phone or email? That is the dilemma
When you work in public relations  your relationship with the media is crucial to your performance. You can be as creative as you like but if you don’t generate coverage for your clients, it is pointless. 

Having spent the best part of a year agency hopping, I have had to do my fair share of pitching, using phone and email. Therefore I have learnt that every agency has its own attitude towards phone pitching. Some ask for phone pitching experience and put a massive emphasis on one’s ability to pick up the phone and sell in. On the other hand, others, particularly those with journalism experience understand the pressure journalists face and wouldn’t dream of bombarding them with calls. And then there is me. I dread the silence you get from email pitches!

Each to their own!
At the beginning of my career, as an intern, I spent hours after hours calling journalists, who I didn’t know from four pages of media lists, downloaded from Gorkana. Believe me, I am surprised how this experience hasn’t left me scarred for life, particularly when the phone is picked up by a weary and aggressive journalist. The whole process often made my heart race.

However, once in a while, there was ‘the match’, that resulted in a decent coverage making the whole experience bearable.

Specialising in fintech PR, we talk to the same people all the time and that gives us the advantage of knowing the stories they are interested in, so selling in doesn’t feel like cold calling – but exchange of services. However, even within this niche sector most journalists claim they don’t want to be bothered on the phone.

Taking that on board, I learned to be careful who I am calling, I had more success in placing an article if I knew the journalist and had researched and learnedall about  the journalist than just hoping for the best.

So who and when do you call?
Taking my own experience and other PR pros that contributed to Sam's debate on CIPR’s LinkedIn group discussion, I have compiled  some steps that can help you establish that ‘phone relationship’ with your journalist.

1. Understand journalists are always on a deadline and get to know their deadline. Better yet, plan in advance and look at their editorial calendar for the year ahead.

2. What is your story? Does it match their criteria? Nothing annoys journalists more than PRs that pitch the wrong stories. Preparing a few points in advance helps with staying on track!

3. Be polite! Ask if they have time to talk to you and keep it brief, just enough for you to be able to gage their interest. If they show interest, you can follow up if not, be respectful and don’t bother them again.

4. Never ever waffle! I learned this the hard way! Know your story, and exactly what you want to say and why you are calling them and not other journalist.

5. Have an email pitch ready to send as soon as you come off the phone. Email will always fill in the details you missed out.


Having said that, it is important to know everyone is different and should be treated accordingly so keep notes and follow through.

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