Your Pitch Worked. Now What?
Updated: Aug 6, 2020
Seven tips for working with the media
Since I launched my own PR consultancy, I have had the opportunity to go back to my roots and write for trade magazines and business websites. As a writer, it has been great meeting people across industries who are excelling in their fields. However, as a PR professional, I have been surprised at what I once considered media relations best practices that have somehow been turned on their head.
There are some great blog posts out there about working with the media and how to gain coverage, such as Five Tips for Getting Major Media Coverage by Frederik Bjorndal. If you follow his tips, there is a great chance you will earn media coverage. But then what? The steps you take during the reporting process may very well determine if the reporter works with you again.
Below are seven tips for working with reporters before and after they agree to write the story.
1. Return reporter’s phone calls.
Early in my career, I was in a meeting with regional media reps from the city and county. The leader of the group invited assignment editors from the local TV stations to join a discussion about gaining positive media coverage for the city. As the PR folks complained about all of the good stories the media didn’t cover while focusing on crime and political discord, one of the editors cleared his voice.
In a measured tone he acknowledged their complaints. He then went on to recount how in the past he had called each person in the room at least once seeking help with a story. However, there was only one who regularly returned his calls. (Not to self-promote shamelessly, but it was me. Early in my career I didn’t know a lot about media relations, so I returned every call I received.)
The lesson: return reporters’ calls even if you cannot comment on or participate in the story. The relationship between PR pros and reporters is co-dependent. You may not need the reporter or the coverage at the time of the call, but you may need them both in the future. If you can’t comment, return the reporter’s call, tell them you decline to comment or participate and thank them for reaching out to you. They will remember this later.
2. If you pitch the story, be prepared. Before you contact a reporter to pitch a story, be prepared. Who are the experts who have agreed to speak to the reporter? Are they available? Willing? Media trained? I can’t tell you how many times I have called PR reps who have pitched a story to the publication I am writing for only to be told that the expert or CEO is not available for one to two weeks. When this happens, it sends a message that even though you want the story, it will have to be done on your time. However, the reporter is on deadline and just learned a sure thing is now up in the air.
If you are pitching to print, online or broadcast media, make sure you have visuals lined up. What photos do you have for online and print publications that will help tell your story? For print, are the photos high quality? Where can TV reporters go to get the best view of your business, operation or event? Every reporter needs visuals to support their story, and you can help them and you by having them lined up before you make the pitch.
3. Don’t ask to read the article before it goes to print.
Yes. It’s true. Some publications ask organizations to review the story before it goes to print because as part of their editorial process. This is the exception not the rule. However, it is well within your rights to ask to see the quotes that will be directly attributed to you. If you are given the opportunity to read the article, don’t edit it for style and grammar. Facts only. Each publication has its own style, which you are probably not acquainted with, and they have editors who read it before it goes to print or is posted. Just stick to the facts.
4. Don’t the treat the reporter as your organization’s PR person. While working on a story for a trade publication, one PR person told me they had to read the article before it went to print to ensure it accurately communicated their key messaging. Ummm, not my concern. As the PR person, it is your job to ensure you and your spokespeople communicate your organization’s message during the interviews and in follow ups. It is not the reporter’s job. It is the reporter’s job to tell a story that is engaging and beneficial to their readers. Sometimes, your purpose and the reporters do not align, so make sure you and your spokespeople are prepped to ensure your message is communicated effectively.
5. Make sure written answers sound real. When given the opportunity, most of us would prefer to write out answers to reporter’s questions, taking the time to write thoughtful and nuanced responses. But that’s not always the best route. While your goal is to promote your organization and brand, it is also important that the key spokesperson be authentic and knowledgeable. If you are given an opportunity to write your answers, beware. After you have written them, read them out loud. Do your answers sound like a real person, or copy from a marketing brochure? A few years ago, I was interviewing an entrepreneur who was doing great things in the co-working and mentoring space. I talked to her on the phone, and she refused to answer my questions. She insisted on having them ahead of time. I wasn’t working for the NY Times, so I told her it was fine. I didn’t do her or me any favors. What she sent to me was corporate speak that I could not use in the article. As a result, she missed an opportunity to be featured in a popular tech blog, while her competitors were featured providing thoughtful insight into the new trend.
6. If you provide misinformation, correct it immediately. When I first entered PR, I was intent on giving accurate information EVERY time. Incorrect data or facts would never cross my lips. Then reality hit. Especially if you are in a crisis-prone field, mistakes are going to happen. You will receive incorrect information, and you will misinterpret information you were given. I’m not giving you a pass on providing inaccurate information; it is important for you to do your best to vet the information you receive and correct any mistakes as quickly as possible.
Reporters understand that mistakes are made; they have done it themselves. The important thing is that you correct them immediately and use the situation as a learning experience, putting in place safeguards to prevent the same thing from happening again. And trust me. Reporters will respect that you admitted you provided inaccurate information and that you were willing to correct it.
7. Ensure your organization understands protocols for speaking with the media. In any organization I work for or with, I stress the importance of having one initial point of contact for the media. It is you, the PR person, who knows who the experts are and who will provide the reporters the most accurate and interesting information. And, yes, of course, you also know who has received media training.
All media requests should start with you. If Jack in finance gets a call from a reporter, he should take their number and tell them you will call the reporter back. Make sure this policy is in writing. On several occasions, I have interviewed people only later to be told by their PR teams that they were not permitted to speak to the media, and, for that reason, the PR person must see the article before it goes to print or the interview must be done again with another employee. Either way, you are wasting the reporter’s time and telling them that your organization is not easy to work with.
Earned media is an important part of any communications strategy, and, for many organizations, relationships with the media are crucial to managing their brand and reputation. Just remember, you and the reporter are both doing a job, and the easier you can make it for them, the more likely it is that you will earn future media coverage with them and their publication.