Last year Richard Delevan sent an email with the subject
I’m gonna hunt down and kill…
and it continued in the body of the email:
… the next PR person who rings me to ask, ‘did you get the release I sent last week?’
However, there are plenty of other ways to actually get into my Business section and not have the phone put down on you.
I sent a few questions to various journalists in print, web and radio about being pitched and being contacted about doing stories on whatever issues. The clearest message from them all is they are sick to death of PR companies ringing and asking did they get their emails. However, they have all give excellent tips too. Due to them being quite frank, many asked not to be named. I’m quite surprised by the number of startups and other small companies that do not contact journalists or work with the press. The same goes for voluntary organisations and educational groups. Journalists are crying out for stories and want more than the usual releases from PR companies. If you have something interesting to say, a journalist will listen.
Here are some of the main points I’ve collated but the full commentary of most of the journalists is also included.
- An email is better but if you have a fresh angle to the press release you send, then ring.
- Chatting on the phone is better, if you both have time and you are not repeating the press release.
- Know your journalist. Know what they cover and do not cover. Have them know you. Do a bit of networking with them.
- Know the new cycles of the daily papers, the Sundays and the radio stations.
- Yes, they got the email.
- Photos are good.
- Consider exclusives if what you have is interesting.
- Tell the journalist in advance about being off record, not afterwards.
Email is preferable whether it’s a story tip, intro to company or press release. I’m not too hung up on people having professional press releases but if they are contacting multiple media outlets it’s probably more efficient for them to do it that way. I don’t really have a problem with people following up with a call as long as they have something to say. (see this post for my thoughts on this)
As Eoin Kennedy says in the comments there (he’s a PR exec with Slatterys, the agency for Microsoft) call with a new angle on the release, some extra information, or the offer of an interview but not just to check I got it or if I’m doing anything with it. It’s also essential to know what the journalist writes about and I don’t mean just knowing they are a technology writer. Try and get some feel for the kind of areas that interest them e.g. I seem to have acquired a reputation as being the Web 2.0 guy locally and to be fair I am interested in hearing about stories in that area.
Also be aware that journalists have lots of different deadlines and get shed-loads of phone calls pitching stuff. Be sure to start every call to them by checking if it’s a good time to talk. I wouldn’t expect someone in a tech company to give me their time on the day they are shipping a major new product.
Exclusives are a big and potentially thorny issue. I will generally not just write up a press release unless it’s a major news story from a major company. Even then I will follow up with a call. But if it’s a small company with an interesting story I will generally ask that they give it to me first i.e. they can release it to the rest of the media after my story has appeared. That might run contrary to the openness of the blogging world but the bottom line is my editor wants stories that haven’t appeared elsewhere and as a freelance that’s what I have to come up with. I would advise people to consider all media outlets, especially in the early days when they aren’t well known.
One editor had this to say:
I generally prefer it if people email me first and then follow up with a phone call. Or sometimes just ring up and shoot the breeze, tell the editor what’s on your mind or if there’s something coming up. At least 50pc of the time it triggers a chain reaction. I really believe that there needs to be more contact between people in media and business and the phrase “it’s good to talk” is very, very true. Often the real story is hidden and by talking, opportunities present themselves sometimes in a very unexpected way.
Technology companies appoint PR companies to manage their relationship with the media but there’s very little managing needed except to forge working relationships with editors and writers, read the products and intelligently target and pitch a potential story, be it an interview, news story or feature story. Sometimes what begins as a run of the mill announcement, if discussed and considered could be the spark for a cover story. But people need to talk. Every day should be a learning experience for an editor.
He went on:
Another problem – nobody pitches anymore which is a damned shame. People need to talk, and if you want to convince an editor to pay attention to a story you’ve got to have conviction. Believe in your cause or explain why an issue is worth considering.
Editors are wary of being used as a conduit for a business trying to market products. It may be the case that there’s a better story in there somewhere that would do justice on a number of levels – it’s a good read, it hits on important issues, there are interesting people with interesting things to say – but the “did you get the press release” refrain is a cancer at the moment.
A Sunday Newspaper journalist gave this advice:
Email is always best – as long as it’s not too long – as it allows the journalist to quickly skim the content to see if it’s worth following up. Contact phone nos/email should also be included as well as some background on who exactly the source is. The more trustworthy/respected the source, the better the story!
An Irish news editor with print and online experience, had this to say:
The answer to your question is subjective, because of course it depends what you want to tell the journalist. In saying that though, if you think you know something “of value” as you say, then YOU DO, and don’t be afraid of contacting a journalist. At the end of the day, although reporters can seem a bit grumpy sometimes — they do take hundreds of calls and e-mails every day — they do rely and depend on people telling them what’s going on.
If it’s ‘the President’s been shot’ then just call them up immediately. If it’s ‘my scout troop is going camping’ then perhaps an e-mail is best. In terms of e-mails, reporters like to be the First to receive new information because it gives them time to digest it and analyse it before publishing their account. In this respect it’s important to know when the news organ will go to print when you contact a reporter. Hard news is no good to a Sunday paper reporter on a Monday because it probably won’t still be newsworthy by Saturday night. Then again, if it’s soft news, eg ‘my company is doing really well at the moment’, then Monday is perfect because on a busy Friday news day that info will be binned.
I use the example of a Sunday paper because it is a good example of understanding a print cycle. Whatever the publication, whether it’s a monthly magazine or instant newswire, it’s important to work out the print cycle to make an educated guess at when is the best time to contact a reporter.
Drafting an e-mail press release AND HAVING PICTURES may make it more likely that a media organ will publish your information, but there’s nothing wrong with a phone call too. However, there is nothing more irritating than taking a call after receipt of a press release when the caller simply regurgitates info they’ve already submitted in another format.
If you want a conversation to be ‘off the record’ – a much maligned phrase – then you have to tell the journalist before the conversation NOT AFTERWARDS. If the journalist needs attribution for quotes, he or she will usually negotiate with the caller about the source of the comments, eg company insider, Garda sources, industry veteran etc etc.
In terms of emails, if you want to write in confidence, you must include your name and telephone number. We receive loads of anonymous emails these days; some legitimate, some are hoaxes, but unless you include details for verification there’s little point in bothering to hit the send button.
A freelance journalist had this to say:
I think it all depends on what you are pitching.
If it’s a new product or service, the best thing to do is just to send a press release. There are provisoes, though. Work out who the most relevant journalist is in the publication/station concerned. Send to the wrong person and it could just be deleted. Also the press release needs to be clear and concise. Otherwise, chances are it’s heading to the bin.
You could follow this up with a phone call but don’t just ring up to ask “did you get my press release”. They did and it didn’t excite them enough to call you about it. Remind them of it and then suggest an angle or a hook for an article about your widget.
On the other hand, if you want to get in touch with a story that you think should be written (not that you have a new Head of Widgets, an actual story ie whistleblowing, scandal, whatever), then I think phoning is probably better as you can discuss it with the journalist. Again, try and work out ahead of time who the best person is to talk to.
Either way, someone pitching an idea should be clear before they email/call why this idea is different, new, original, interesting, important or suitable for that publication/station.
Mark Tighe from the Sunday Times said:
It really depends on the story being pitched. Sometimes I see things being press released by small organisations that would be better off being targeted to one journalist. Depends on the story of course but from my (biased of course) view of working for a Sunday, I think too much is wasted in the daily papers when a Sunday could give it more time and space if it’s deserving. If it is something that suits a press release then be aware about the timing. (We get a lot of people asking can we do something on a report or launch taking place on a Wednesday. More often than not it will be old news by the time we go to print.)
If it’s a tip off, an observation or whistleblowing, whatever medium the person feels comfortable should be used. Email has its advantages in that the person can remain anonymous if they want while the format allows them to put across a lot of information.
Journalists are slaves to deadlines so that should be borne in mind depending on who you approach. Also, people should study the media they approach to evaluate whether they are the right organisation or journalist to tackle their story. Personally I’m always glad to get calls and emails from people about stories. Often they won’t turn into a story but it always pays off to listen to what people have to say.
Mark is happy for people to email him on Mark.Tighe ( at ) sunday-times.ie or to call him on 01 4792449 if you have a scoop. 🙂