Early in my career, a senior leader suggested a copy edit that thoroughly rubbed me the wrong way – so much that it still lingers years later. The suggested edit was reminiscent of various click-bait ads, more common in social media marketing, than news media outreach. This example, which certainly does not exist in a vacuum, is part of a common sales mindset where marketing and communications professionals see everything as a sales pitch.
“Your pitch looks good, but let’s change the subject line. Let’s go with, ‘Think you know THIS about the industry, then you won’t believe THIS news!’ ”
While sure, a proper pitch does in some regard try and “sell” the reporter on writing a story, it shouldn’t undermine the symbiotic relationship that exists between the reporter and a PR pro. The role of the PR pro is to supply the reporter with information and insight that makes their job easier. Not to use marketing language or sales copy that confuses the reporter or leaves them feeling like they must do more work to see if an angle even truly exists.
This sentiment was echoed in Cision’s 2021 Global State of the Media Report which it states that one of the biggest pet peeves for journalists are “pitches that read like marketing brochures” rather than supplying helpful information. While treating a reporter pitch like an email newsletter is certainly one way to tarnish your media outreach, here are four common mistakes you should avoid altogether.
1. Using vague generalities
I often describe one of the main differences in marketing and communications as the depth of discussion. A website can include copy such as: “Built on Tradition, Fueled by Innovation”, but media outreach must ensure that we’re prepared to answer:
“…Okay, but how?”
When going to media, we must anticipate these kinds of questions. So, rather than stating your product is “built on tradition and fueled by innovation”, it would be better to go to the reporter with specific points instead.
“Our product comes from 20 years of trial and error, and working alongside companies such as Company A, B and C. All of which pointed out these specific pain points were the main areas stunting their growth. That’s why we created…”
Similarly, reporters love data. Whenever possible, you can turn a vague general pain point into a real problem by including data, whether proprietary or not. These types of specific, data-based examples ensure you have a real story that a reporter can work from.
This is also referenced in the aforementioned Cision report, which states that reporters are looking for fast facts, as well as more research-based data for stories.
2. An overreliance on buzzwords
There was a good 5 or 6 year period where every new product was suddenly the “Uber for _____”. This quickly became a major eye-roll subject line for reporters.
This is still quite true today and continues to be seen in annual research from reporters. I already mentioned how reporters dislike “pitches that read like marketing brochures” and past studies have also shown that reporters shy away from buzzwords such as ‘cutting edge’ or even vague buzzwords like ‘innovative’.
While it’s important to be on-top of buzzworthy language, there also comes a time in which phrases are used so often they lose meaning – such as digital transformation, or the previously mentioned “Uber for ____” example.
While you can’t always get away from some buzzwords, it’s important to stay away from them in the subject line, and if you must use them in pitches, use them – but then back them up with data.
3. Lack of personalization and formality
Your media outreach isn’t an email newsletter and shouldn’t read like one. While the spray and pray approach is common in email marketing and other sales areas, it shouldn’t be used in PR. Reporters prefer publicists do their homework before outreach.
It’s key to understand your reporters beat, what they write about, and to create messaging that’s hyper personalized to their goals and needs. Typically, any news outreach can be segmented a few ways. Most commonly it can be segmented to mainstream media, local media, and then any niche or specific tech media.
Each of these reporters should be spoken to differently – as their needs will be different. The mainstream reporters are likely more focused on general product updates, or business news. While the local ones will want to know the impact on the local economy or area, and the tech reporters will want to know all the nitty gritty details that may be too in-the-weeds for others.
In the same vein, while blasting a standard email to dozens of reporters despite their different beats can be seen as too informal and lazy, one can also be overly formal.
That’s why it’s also important to be short, sweet, to-the-point – but also communicative. Ask what the reporter needs, or if there’s anything within your pitch that can maybe be expanded upon or tweaked to best fit their specific needs.
4. Stop spamming follow-ups!
Spam issues will always be a top concern for reporters – and is the top issue in the Cision media report. While sales emails are often reminders of a sale or that something is in your cart, PR follow-ups and reminders should read quite differently.
When reaching out to reporters for a follow-up, rather than a copy/paste reminder, it’s key to build upon the first pitch with new information that might further entice them to write a story.
However, while follow-ups are encouraged, one shouldn’t be over ambitious with follow-ups. Most reporters in the Cision media report (30%) would like to be followed up 2-3 days later, while 28% preferred to not be followed-up with at all.
This of course will differ based on your industry, the nature of the release, as well as checking your open rates (if possible). However, either way, you should plan your follow-ups wisely. Rather than the generic follow-ups of a sales message, follow-ups should be personalized, offer new information, and come at a frequency that’s palatable for the reporter.
It’s important to remember the role of the reporter – publicist relationship. It’s more than just spamming reporters with general messages, instead it’s about understanding reporter needs and delivering information that will make their jobs easier.
Once you begin building relationships with reporters through personalization, offering them stat based tips, and speaking to them succinctly and to-the-point you should start seeing more traction and long-term results for your PR program. Ready to get started? Let’s chat.