Pitching to Journalists: the good, the bad and the ugly

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Information about Pitching to Journalists: the good, the bad and the ugly

Published on May 31, 2016

Author: RichardODonnell6

Source: slideshare.net


2. Summary Contents ∙ Introduction ∙ What the journalists say ∙ What the PRs think ∙ The Gorkana Media Database Guide ∙ Not getting a great response? Jargon kills a pitch! ∙ Starting off in PR? Ten things you should know about pitching to the press ∙ Conclusion Much has changed in media and PR in recent years, but the ability to pitch to journalists is still an essential skill that needs to be mastered for a successful media relations campaign. This White Paper asks journalists from across the media spectrum, as well as senior PR professionals, what they believe makes for a well-delivered PR pitch to the press, whether it’s by email or (if you’re really brave) by phone. It’s important for PR and communications professionals - at every level - to get this right. PR experts from across the industry say it’s an important way of gauging the market, understanding how the media works and getting a feel for what makes a good story. Most journalists remember being on the receiving end of a bad pitch. But, equally, many value their relationship with PRs and the effort that goes into a good, relevant and interesting pitch. So, with the help of insights that editors and journalists have shared at exclusive Gorkana media briefing events and interviews, we find out what works, and what doesn’t, when PRs pitch ideas to the press. Delving into their own experiences, both good and bad, journalists and PR professionals offer a mix of dos and don’ts for building strong relationships with the media, as well as useful guides for those looking to build a career in comms. 01 Pitching to Journalists: The good, the bad and the ugly Summer 2016

3. Introduction The phone is ringing. You fumble with the phone cord as you look down at a copy of the press release you emailed two hours ago to the journalist you’re now calling. They still haven’t replied. “Gosh I hope he doesn’t go berserk because I’m calling to chase him up”, you think as it continues to ring. “It must have got lost in his inbox because this is a massive story.” The phone is abruptly answered with the journalist barking out his name. Now it’s your time to shine. “Hi there, it’s [insert name and PR agency]. I wondered if you had a minute to talk about the press release I emailed across to you earlier today - I think it would be a great story for your title.” And then starts the most ancient of PR rituals. The pitch to the journalist. While the rise of digital, social and paid for content has many in the industry decrying the ‘old ways’, traditional media relations still has a fundamental part to play in PR. With more and more brands seeking more and more ways to influence their target consumer, a story featuring your brand in a trusted title with a cultivated audience is still seen by many as the Holy Grail. Gone are the days of long, possibly boozy, three hour lunches at, say, The Delaunay on a Tuesday afternoon. Now, most journalists are to be found at their desks competing to produce up-to-the-minute stories in an incredibly competitive market. No surprise then that a PR pitch needs to be relevant, to the point and, above all, honest. It can be exciting, scary and, at times, downright ugly, trying to get your message across to a time-poor hack. In this White Paper, we find out from journalists, including Metro editor Ted Young, The Sun’s travel editor, Lisa Minot, and Digital Spy editor Julian Linley, about the value PRs can offer and how they like to build relationships with comms professionals. Industry leaders, including Way to Blue’s Alan Twigg, Unity’s Andrew Soar and Smarts Communicate’s Helen Rainford, also reveal their most memorable pitch to a journalist, whether they are still pitching themselves and what advice they offer their teams when trying to build up media contacts. Launch PR’s Niki Wheeler also offers up ten top pitching tips for PRs starting out in the industry. We also feature Houston PR founder Hamish Thompson, who reveals the ten most annoying pieces of jargon journalists find in emails and press releases from PRs. Pitching to Journalists: The good, the bad and the ugly Summer 2016 02

4. What the journalists say... Ted Young Editor of Metro What do you look for when dealing with PRs? Brevity! I like them to be to the point - they’re busy and I’m busy. I like them to be absolutely clear, honest and upfront. Also, don’t hassle me - if I’m hassled it’s less likely to get into the paper. What’s the best time for PRs to contact the news desk? I’d advise PRs to get to know journalists - If they get to know the team, they’ll work out the best time to ring for themselves. Gordon Smart Editor of The Scottish Sun (Joining The Sun as Deputy Editor in May 2016) What are you looking for from the PR and comms industry? I’m looking for somebody to be brief. Get to the point, tell me what you want and be straight up front about it as soon as possible. There’s nothing worse than having a 15 minute preamble before you get to the “can you get this in the paper for me?” conversation. Also, if you can offer something that’s beneficial for the paper, and supports journalism in some way, then you’re on to a winner. Gorkana comes face-to-face with hundreds of journalists each year through its media briefings and Gorkana meets... interview series. Each time, we ask them to reveal what PRs can do to build the best relationships and with PRs and how to grab their attention with eye catching pitches. Here’s what some of them had to say: 0303 Pitching to Journalists: The good, the bad and the ugly Summer 2016

5. Simon Neville Former Retail Correspondent at the London Evening Standard & The Independent. Now Business Editor at BuzzFeed UK What are you looking for in a PR pitch? PRs have to think, if they tried to explain it to the man in the pub, would it hold their attention? How can they grab your attention? It’s in the subject line and first two lines of the email. I will scan every email I get (at least the first couple of lines) and if it catches me, then I’ll be interested. Don’t put your subject line in capital letters, which is quite a common thing now. Do you mind a phone call? You can call me, but I will quickly make a decision on whether it interests me or not. Expect me to ask you questions about things that are not in your press release. Have a firm grasp of what you are talking about, because far too often I will ask questions about the release that people don’t have answers to. Lawrence Gosling Group Editorial Director at Investment Week What do you look for from PRs? Honesty and consistency. Honesty around the story they’re approaching us with on behalf of their client; and consistency in terms of how they deliver their message to us. I have no problem if I’m told a story has been offered elsewhere first – it’s honest. But if I’m told it’s been offered to us first then find it has appeared elsewhere, for me that’s a lack of integrity. How do you like to be contacted? Email. I’m out and about a lot and haven’t picked up my landline since 2014. Julian Linley Editor at Digital Spy What do PRs need to do to attract your attention? Press releases we receive should be as equally customised to us as our content is to our readers. We need to have the attention grabbing hooks up front, which I think a lot of PRs are very good at. Pitching to Journalists: The good, the bad and the ugly Summer 2016 04

6. Lisa Minot Travel Editor at The Sun How would you describe your relationship with PRs? It’s essential. If we don’t have good relationships with PRs we don’t have travel pages. What should PRs think about before pitching? The time of week that they ring. Monday and Tuesday, I’m happy to talk to people, but as the week goes on and we’re producing the travel section it’s not the best of times to ring me up and go into a complicated pitch. What’s the best way to get in touch? I’m always there on the end of the phone at the beginning of the week. As you go through the week, an email is better. I read every single email I receive and if a story is good enough I will get back to you. What would make you hit the delete button? An email from somebody who pretends they know me when they don’t. That always drives me nuts. Or something that says: “Dear editor of the Sunday Mirror.” Not something that occurs that often anymore, but it still does happen. Sophie Warburton Style Editor at The Daily Telegraph How can PRs help with content? By pitching well considered products and features that are relevant to our readers. What’s the most important thing they should be thinking about when pitching? The reader (and time constraints). How should they be pitching? Email is the best way to pitch to the team, and we want to be as responsive as possible to give feedback, be it good or bad (or, occasionally, ugly). Pitching to Journalists: The good, the bad and the ugly Summer 2016 05

7. Tom Cheal Deputy Managing Editor at LBC How would you describe your relationship with PRs? So much of it comes down to trust. We’re really looking to establish good relationships and see that there’s an appreciation from PRs for what LBC does and how it approaches stories – that always opens a door to getting people on air. We also are very much about reacting quickly and seizing the moment, which means we need people who are agile, quick, and can deliver in a short space of time. Hunter Ruthven Editor of Real Business and Business Advice How do you work with PRs? PRs are absolutely crucial to what we do. Without them there is no way we’d be able to cover the amount we do in a day. From pitching us press releases that they know will be of interest to us, to offering an introduction with a client that they believe has an interesting growth story, there are so many touch points throughout the day. What could they do better? Cut out the jargon. You have to imagine that you are explaining a business or client to someone that has no idea about that industry. Filling a press release with buzzwords doesn’t make me interested. I just switch off. Most important pitching tip? At least try to make it look tailored. I’m afraid that blanket emails aren’t going to get a reply, neither will those that don’t address me by name. If you’re pitching the story to other titles let me know. It doesn’t mean I won’t be interested, but there’s nothing more annoying than seeing another site covering exactly the same thing that week. Pitching to Journalists: The good, the bad and the ugly Summer 2016 06

8. Will Dunn Former Editor of Stuff. Now Special Projects Editor for the New Statesman What advice would you give to a PR wanting to pitch to Stuff? PRs should not try and do a journalist’s job for them by pitching an entire feature. They should be succinct and direct about what the product they are pitching does and add a couple of reasons why it’s interesting. What’s the best way to contact the team? Email, and don’t follow-up with a phone call as soon as you’ve sent it. I sometimes get the feeling that the people who do that have a boss who’s insisted on that rule - that you’ve got to send the email and then phone up a couple of hours later or something like that. I always think of getting in touch with their boss to tell them that it’s not a great rule. You should leave it a day and then come back. Lucy Cleland Editor of Country & Town House Describe your relationship with PRs There are great ones and not so great ones. The not so great ones tend not to know who you are, who your audience is or what your magazine is about. So anything that comes through on a mass mail saying ‘hello darling’ is not going to get very far. How important are PRs to your magazine? PR relationships are critical to everything that we do. We have strong personal relationships with the good ones, and that’s when great content can happen. What are the most important things a PR should consider before making a pitch to a journalist? Come up with ideas that we can leap upon straight away, do a bit of research for themes that are coming out throughout the year and try to plan ahead. Doing your homework can go a long way. Do you prefer to be pitched by phone call or email? I prefer to be emailed rather than called. You’re welcome to re-email if you’re really determined – I know it’s your job. I don’t mind a follow-up phone call, but you need to know what you want to get out of the conversation. Pitching to Journalists: The good, the bad and the ugly Summer 2016 07

9. What the PRs think... With more than 25,000 PR and comms professionals subscribed to Gorkana’s daily PR News alerts, we asked some of our readers to reveal their most memorable journalist pitch, what they think is key to building their media contacts, and the key tips they give their teams when making that first approach. Is pitching to journalists as important now as it was when you started your career? Yes it is - the process has changed a lot and there’s less excuse for getting it wrong these days given social connections and availability of people’s interests, back stories, etc. Tell us about your most memorable pitch to a journalist. I remember ringing up BBC Scotland to pitch in a fun story we had come up with for Spar, the retailer. We had basically devised eight different regional dialect wine labels in their range, which included a Scottish one, of course. So I went on and gave them my best Glasgow accent and delivered the tasting note…there was silence and then I heard lots of giggling followed by the line: “Are you taking the piss?” I was then put on to speaker phone to do, not only the Scottish version, but the Geordie, the Brummie, the Welsh - the whole range. By the end, a round of applause could be heard from their newsroom – they pulled together an interview slot for the client and broadcast a great piece. Do you still pitch to journalists yourself? When my team allows me, but absolutely yes. The last one was for Domino’s and I landed a lovely piece in The Times. What do you think is the best way to build strong relationships with journalists? Simple. Understand them - what they are in to and how they like to work. Be a fan of their work and know their archive. Be quick, succinct and give them something that works - something that is intelligent and right for them as individuals. They will remember and take your call the next time. What’s the best tip you give to your team on how to pitch to a journalist? Research, research, research - know who you are speaking to and pay them the respect of getting it right first time. Also, don’t be scared to ask for their advice. Don’t just ring a list as far too many agencies do. Home in on the right people and do your homework! What do you think is a journalist's biggest bugbear? Useless PRs ringing up, pestering them at a bad time with something that is not even a story...and that happens a lot! Phone or email - Which do you think is best? Phone, but be careful when you do it, and of course check the way they want to speak with you and follow their lead. 08 Alan Twigg • Head of Consumer Way To Blue Pitching to Journalists: The good, the bad and the ugly Summer 2016

10. 09 Is pitching to journalists as important now as it was when you started your career? I started working in PR in 2008, when journalists and producers were very often the gatekeepers to whoever we were trying to reach. Of the ‘paid, earned, social, owned’ model, social and owned were very much in their infancy and, as such, you could argue that there were fewer routes to our target audience, making media relations more important by default. Media relations is still important, offering a(n often-SEO-friendly) channel to reach an audience. Tell us about your most memorable pitch to a journalist. It was early 2008. Then guardian tech editor Charles Arthur answered the phone to a plucky PR making his first ever journalist call, followed seconds later by an interruptive '...oh, do fuck off'. Its phone-slamming brutality still makes me smile. In fact, it was for a story about a service enabling you to contact your loved ones after you’d died. If memory serves, my boss had me make that call as a sort of ‘make the first the worst’ pitch. I had some fun thereafter with Mr Arthur during The CRAPPs awards, creating a limited edition set of ‘I survived a Charles Arthur sell-in’ t-shirts. He tweeted recently to say he thinks I’ve ‘thrived on’ that original pitch. I probably have, to be fair. Do you still pitch to journalists yourself? I do. What do you think is the best way to build strong relationships with journalists? Lots of alcohol, cash bribes and also, it helps if you have something on them they wouldn’t want to get out. Also, and much more seriously, know the benefit you’re trying to be to them – ideally, with a good story or access – and try to be of assistance, rather than a pain in their ass. What’s the best tip you give to your team on how to pitch to a journalist? You’re both there to do a job. Try to help them do theirs in a way that helps you do yours. Also, try to be concise and respectful of their time. What do you think is a journalist's biggest bugbear? If the surveys, White Papers and passive aggressive #DearPR-tagged tweets are anything to go by, it’s badly-targeted pitches, incessant follow-up calls (or calls in general) and promises that aren’t kept. Phone or email - Which do you think is best? It depends. Email is best more often than not, but the simplistic ‘never phone a journalist’ ethos is a bad call for so many reasons. Rich Leigh • Founder Rich Leigh & Company Pitching to Journalists: The good, the bad and the ugly Summer 2016

11. 10 Is pitching to journalists as important now as it was when you started your career? Of course and I’m sure it always will be - but now the net is much wider in terms of a brand’s circle of influence e.g. online influencers and other stakeholders. Tell us about your most memorable pitch to a journalist. In a bikini in Iceland’s geothermal Blue Lagoon natural spa - hot mud up to the waist and snow falling on my head. It was during a press trip for beauty editors to unveil a new range of hair styling products. It was a bit up close and personal but we got great editorial with a high share of voice out of it. Do you still pitch to journalists yourself? Within the PR industry yes as it’s integral to Cirkle’s reputation - shouting about our client campaign successes, fantastic new hires, new business wins and broader thought leadership. What do you think is the best way to build strong relationships with journalists? It’s still the personal touch, knowing them, holding on to key insights about them and reacting accordingly. Ensure you communicate with them in the format that they prefer. Also be hyper-responsive and helpful in everything you do with and for them - as well as of course, always being ahead of deadline. What’s the biggest tip you give to your team on how to pitch to a journalist? Know their pages, their content and their readers. Know what you’re talking about. Get to the point and most of all, be authentic. What do you think is a journalist's biggest bugbear? Unresponsive PRs, inaccurate information, typos, poorly written press releases, content that isn’t tailored to them, overpromising and under delivering. Phone or email - Which do you think is best? It depends on the type of media, but many seem to prefer email as well as Skype, DM, and Facetime. Of course, face-to-face is always the best if there’s time. Rikki Weir • Board Director Cirkle Pitching to Journalists: The good, the bad and the ugly Summer 2016

12. 11 No matter what level you’re at in the industry, you should still be pitching to journalists, says Gavin: “It helps me make sure the ideas will actually work. Too many creatives – and PRs generally, but especially creative directors – talk a good game, but forget that somebody has to care about that idea to actually write about the story. It means that I always look for some tension or surprise as, without it, a story is just more PR wallpaper.” Pitching to a journalist was a steep learning curve for Andrew: “There is one meeting I have never forgotten. I remember when I first started out in the industry at Idea Generation; I wanted to make sure I met every major editor in the field I was working (music and festivals). I arranged to meet Tim Jonze, who was then, and still is, music editor of guardian.co.uk. The way that agency liked its PRs to meet journalists was over coffee with all the releases we had in the office! Now, looking back, this is the worst ever way to do it. Tim was lovely and despite his love for Leyton Orient, we have worked together a host of times since, but that was a steep learning curve.“ Andrew Soar Head of Engagement Unity Gavin Lewis Creative Director Hope&Glory Helen reveals her most memorable pitch: “I led the Fifty Shades of Grey campaign for B&Q last year. In advance of the Fifty Shades film release, we ‘leaked' a memo to all 30,000 B&Q staff which ‘prepared’ them for the potential demand for rope, gaffer tape and cable ties when the film was launched. We actually leaked the memo on purpose and, of course, the media discovered it and wrote about it. The story went global. Hundreds of pieces of coverage came flooding in and footfall in B&Q stores reached record figures.” Kathryn believes research will lead to strong relationships with journalists: “Understand their discipline, respect their way of working and show a complete understanding for the way they write/what they write about. Take time to research them and tailor your pitch and approach. I am really good friends with journalists I met years ago simply because I have worked at keeping in touch and providing them with content I think they will like. It’s worth getting to know some on a personal level if possible, for example many of my contacts are in the wellness/fitness field so we’ll often take classes or workout together!” Helen Rainford Managing Partner Smarts Communicate Kathryn McAuley Director See.Saw Communication Pitching to Journalists: The good, the bad and the ugly Summer 2016 From the PR frontline...

13. 12 Phone or email - How do you like to contact journalists? “My biggest bugbear, as a former journalist, is a PR not knowing the title, not knowing where their story will fit and worst of all, pitching something that will never, ever work!” Andrew Soar • Head of Engagement Unity “Ill-informed, spray-and-pray timewasters. It’s very hard to filter anything in today’s climate - journalists tell us they have to do more than ever in less time than ever. You need to curate for them so they do not have to waste their precious time.” Gavin Lewis • Creative Director Hope&Glory What do you think is the biggest PR bugbear for journalists? “PRs calling them because they have been handed a big spreadsheet of contacts/numbers to go through. This results in a cold calling, very sales focused approach and often leads to a call to someone who is completely wrong for whatever it is you’re trying to sell in. The result is an irritated journalist and a deflated PR – no-one wins!” Kathryn McAuley • Director See.Saw Communication “Waffle. And the dreaded cc.” Helen Rainford • Managing Partner Smarts Communicate “It totally depends on the journalist. I personally love using the phone as you can actually strike up a conversation, use your charm and charisma and use the passion you have for a story to make it stand out.” Andrew Soar • Head of Engagement Unity “Phone. It’s the best way to cut through and build rapport. It’s good to talk.” Gavin Lewis • Creative Director Hope&Glory “It completely depends on the journalist. I know some who respond to me via Facebook Messenger or Twitter, whilst others text. I would always ask journalists which method they prefer and note it for future reference. The Gorkana media database usually lists journalists’ preferred method of approach which is really useful.“ Kathryn McAuley • Director See.Saw Communication “It depends on who you are talking to. Journalists are real people after all.” Helen Rainford • Managing Partner Smarts Communicate Pitching to Journalists: The good, the bad and the ugly Summer 2016

14. Helping you start the right conversation The Gorkana Media Database guide We list all areas of expertise and topics a journalist writes about so you can guarantee that you are always pitching the appropriate message. Each journalist profile has an integrated Twitter feed so that you can always see exactly what they are talking, and writing, about. You can even add your own handle to your account so you can communicate in-situ. You can download a media briefing pack directly from each journalist profile, which lists everything you need to know. Their career history, the last article they’ve written, where they like to have coffee, and their last ten Tweets... And, we’re always innovating. The new social media topic search function provides real-time insight into what key influencers from the database are talking about. Use the tool to search for any keyword, phrase, hashtag and @ mention and you’ll be presented with a contact list of the journalists who have mentioned that subject within the last 90 days. If you’d like more information contact your account manager, or email us at sales@gorkana.com. 13 Pitching to Journalists: The good, the bad and the ugly Summer 2016

15. Not getting a great response? Jargon kills a pitch! For three years, Houston PR has asked correspondents and editors in the UK and the US to identify words and phrases that annoy them the most once every quarter. With some responses going into Houston’s How NOT To Guide to PR and some going into PRBuzzsaw.com, the agency’s automated ‘jargon removal tool’, Thompson collated a list of the most frequent answers received over the past three years and sent it to UK and US journalists in February asking them to vote for the worst. Here’s the Houston PR list of the ten most annoying pieces of jargon in order of irritation (from most irritating to slightly less so): Earlier this year, Houston PR founder Hamish Thompson invited a selection of journalists from the UK and US to reveal the top ten pieces of jargon they find most annoying in emails and press releases from PRs. According to Thompson, just outside the top ten were: Thompson’s top tip for PRs? “If you are writing to a correspondent or editor, announce that you are ‘reaching out’ at your peril.” Robust EvangelistBandwidth 2. Growthhacking 5. Circle back 3. Onboarding 1. Reach out 4. Curate 8. Solutions 6. Synergy 9. De-layer 7. Empower 10. Ecosystem Pitching to Journalists: The good, the bad and the ugly Summer 2016 14

16. 15 Starting off in PR? Ten things you should know about pitching to the press We asked Niki Wheeler, director at Launch PR, to share ten tips she shares with new team members about pitching to the media: 01. As Gorkana’s news feeds show, journalists move job far more frequently than before and are increasingly generalists under pressure to produce more and more content. In today’s media landscape understanding someone’s level of sector specific knowledge (where appropriate) is critical before you pitch a story or organise for them to meet your client. 02. The morning paper and online review is critical to identifying ‘reactive’ opportunities – or enabling you to think laterally about how your story can fit a journalist’s editorial agenda. It also informs who is on your list of media targets. 03. Understanding deadlines is critical - I’ll never forget phoning a City desk at 4pm as an executive and I’ve never done it since. 04. Pitching stories at a time which either piggy backs big news stories or events, or in a ‘quieter’ period (e.g. between Christmas and New Year) is important to success. 05. Visualisation is key - we actively encourage our teams to pull up a journalist’s Gorkana profile on their screen / have a copy of a recent piece on their desks before they pitch. This helps people really ‘see’ the person behind the column inches. Following key influencers on Twitter and other channels is also important to understanding their tone of voice (even if it isn’t in an official capacity). 06. Asking journalists if they have a quick minute before launching in to a pitch (and not asking them how they are if you don’t know them) is also important if a big news story is breaking or they are waiting for someone to call. 07. Elevator pitch! Practice on your PR colleagues first. Time is of the essence when you get through to a busy journalist and you need to be confident your story sounds compelling before you pick up the phone. 08. Listen to why something is a no, or what ‘ingredient’ is missing from your story, and use the feedback as free consultancy - and don’t follow up if a journalist gives you a generic email address or tells you the story isn’t for them! Be open to new ideas and trends too, we hold a 15 minute ‘stand-up’ each Monday at Launch so that we can introduce fresh thinking to all of our brand campaigns. 09. Think about putting faces to names - attend Gorkana or other industry events where journalists are speaking about what works or doesn’t work for them (and share the feedback with your colleagues when you get back to the office). 10. Keep up with your contacts - you grow up with your media contacts in this industry and our journalist colleagues are our second set of ‘clients’. We need to keep delivering what they need. Pitching to Journalists: The good, the bad and the ugly Summer 2016

17. Conclusion It can be daunting to pick up the phone to talk to a journalist about a story. After all, you are risking rejection. It can be equally maddening to wonder if that email you sent ever got read. But, as our experts from both sides of the fence explain, if you’re armed with the right information, have taken time to prepare, and have researched the title you’re targeting, you should have little to fear. Like most things, planning and preparation is key, as is an appreciation of the title’s target audience. Journalists may be under more pressure in more ways than ever before, but equally they are keen to get the right information and tell as many good stories as they can. While resources may be tight, the chances of getting your pitch noticed are better than ever. A well-thought-out, intelligent and confident pitch will increase the chance of a positive reaction, and, most importantly, positive coverage. We leave the last word to Stephen Hull, editor-in-chief of Huffington Post UK who, at one of Gorkana’s most recent media briefings (11 May 2016), told a packed out audience of PR professionals: “Be confident, know that you’ve got something useful for us, keep respect and don’t plead for our help. We need you as much as you need us.” 16 Pitching to Journalists: The good, the bad and the ugly Summer 2016

18. Sources http://gorkana.com/news/ http://gorkana.com/events/ Launch PR Houston PR Written by: Richard O’Donnell, News Manager, Gorkana Pitching to Journalists: The good, the bad and the ugly Summer 2016

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