How to capture the media’s attention, according to a former journalist

Want to be pitch perfect? PR Agency One’s Head of News and former national journalist, Katie Sewell, breaks down her top tips for getting PR pitches seen and heard by top-tier media in our latest blog.

As a journalist, I started every day the same way – clearing out my inbox. Hundreds of pitches would make their way to me on a daily basis. Often many missed the mark, some were brilliant, and the odd few were downright corkers. While I never resorted to naming and shaming poor PR practices, some media do blacklist, block, and berate those that fail to impress. So, the pitfalls of a poor pitch can be detrimental to a PR and the brand or organisation they are trying to raise awareness and positive sentiment for.

I was on the receiving end of many PR tactics over the years, and the most effective methods have stuck with me now I’ve crossed over to the ‘dark side’ myself.  Here are some of the key takeaways I learned from PRs while working as a journalist.

Bang on target

If you take one thing away from this blog post, I hope it’s this: targeted and well-researched pitches are key. One thing I can most certainly confirm is ‘spray and pray’ PR really is a sure-fire way to irritate a very busy journalist, and possibly get yourself unsubscribed completely.

One quick peek at a journalist’s article output should be your steer. We all get it wrong sometimes, but if you’re plugging garden furniture, maybe don’t send your press release to a newspaper’s comment editor.

A nose for the newsworthy

If you’re pitching to the nationals or newswires, exclusivity is hugely important. Identify your top-tier media targets and get in touch with the journalists covering that patch. If you want a speedy ‘yes’ or ‘no’, pick up the phone and give the journalist a ring.

It’ll help you find out quickly if you need to move your story on to the next publication on your list. In the modern age, and especially post-lockdown, it’s not always fruitful to spend hours putting calls into journalists, so make sure what you’re calling about is worth their time. A journalist may even choose a different angle or pick up on a stat more interesting to them and their readers.

Clear and concise

If you don’t understand your pitch, how is the journalist supposed to? Keep your pitch concise, a couple of lines at most, followed by your press release, feature synopsis or biography if you’re selling in a profile opportunity. You’ve got a few seconds to pique a journalist’s interest, so keep it snappy and you’ll be golden.

Stick to deadlines

While it’s not always easy to get a comment approved quickly by a client, being as speedy as possible is a huge help for any journalist. The news landscape moves at an incredible pace, and journalists are under enormous pressure from their editors to deliver news quickly.

Journalists are human too, so if you know you’ll be late getting something across to them just let them know. They may still be able to squeeze in your client’s comment the day after or push their story back if it’s not time sensitive.

Accept when to walk away

Following up on pitches is part of the job, especially as it’s possible your first email was just ignored on a busy news day. But multiple follow-ups, or just emailing the same press release over and over again, is likely to wind up a journalist.

While they may not reply, journalists get used to seeing the same names, and PR agencies, in their inboxes, so make every email count. The odds are if they haven’t replied to the first follow-up, they aren’t going to the second or third – not with anything positive to say anyway! Hopefully, it’ll be better luck next time.

To hear more about our News Hub, and if you want to hear more about how to hit the headlines with the help of an award-winning PR agency with trained and former journalists, get in touch via the contact form below.

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