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PR

How to pitch to journalists

In her second blog for Startups, Startup PR's Ella Gascoigne shares her five Ps for pitching

PR can be a really effective tool for promoting your business. Get it right and it can make a huge difference to your bottom line. But get it wrong and you can waste a lot of time.

I’ve devised 5 Ps, which are my golden rules for pitching. Stick to these and you can learn how to effectively pitch to the media.

Prepared

If you are going to target the right journalists at the right time you need to do your research.

Study your publications and the contacts there. Who is your market? What do they read and listen to? You should search online or go out and buy magazines and newspapers. Libraries usually have most publications, so you can do your research there for free.

Each publication may have from two to two hundred journalists, working in different departments, so not only do you need to research which publications you are going to target, but also who is the correct contact at that publication. You could invest in a media database, like PR Max or Media Atlas, or google online versions of publications, where often they list the media contacts. Alternatively, you could call the publication’s head office and ask who edits the particular sector you want to target.

If you do this, have background info ready. Make sure you have written a press release or a profile about your business beforehand so it’s ready to send if they show interest. When you do send these, I would suggest composing a cover email to summarise what you are offering them. Keep this short and succinct.

Persistent

Have a database of different ideas and try them out. Don’t be put off if they don’t work every time – you can’t win them all. Most importantly, do not take it personally if a journalist says they don’t like what you are offering (or if they don’t reply at all). They have hundreds of ideas sent to them daily, so they will not be able to reply to everyone.

If they say they don’t like what you’re offering, take it as constructive criticism and do it slightly differently next time.

Keep a note of who you have spoken to and what they said. That way you’ll be better prepared when pitching to them next time. For example, you may find out when their press week is (and know to avoid contacting them then as they are too busy); how they prefer to be contacted; that they tend to be out in the afternoons, and so on.

Personal

Make your offering as personal as possible and it will stand a better chance of being picked up.

When sending out a release, send it via email, not post. Also, send the release with a personal cover email, as the journalist will be more likely to take note of it.

If sending a product, where possible hand-write the envelope and include a personal hand-written note.

If you are trying to get a product reviewed you may want to try something very personal. For example, try sending the product in the colours of the football team that the journalist supports (and include a note making that point) or, if your product is clothing, find out which size and style they would prefer.

Polite

Editors are working under pressure and, in my experience, can often be short when replying to you. Do not take this personally. They are working to tight deadlines and have probably had 10 people call before you, asking them to cover various (often irrelevant) products. Don’t become an annoying PR. Try to be a helpful one.

If you are making a call, always ask if it is a good time or would they prefer you email something over/call back later. They will appreciate your consideration.

Whatever you do, don’t get annoyed or lose your temper with a journalist if they don’t do what they plan. The nature of their work is that some things get cut at the last minute – it is usually beyond their control. You need to remember that you are not paying for this coverage, and while it is annoying if you invest time and it doesn’t come off, that is just the way it goes. Keep a cool head and hopefully they will use your piece another time. 

Practical

Finally, consider the time it will take to do your own PR and make sure you put enough time aside. You need time to do the proactive work – writing the release, sending it out, follow up calls -  but also bear in mind you may have to react to journalist enquiries as and when they come in (up to about a week after you have sent the release out). Make sure you are going to be around for three to seven days after you send a press release out, so you’re available to provide extra information.

Respond quickly to journalist enquiries and, if something is taking a while (getting a case study/sending a product out), then make sure you keep them posted. They may be trusting you to deliver and the last thing they want is to have to fill a gap at the last minute.

Ella Gascoigne is the founder of Startup PR , an award-winning PR agency which recently launched Toolbox PR , an affordable package that gives start-ups the tools they need to do their own PR.

Read Ella’s first blog for Startups here - How to do your own PR: Getting started

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