I recently moderated a “Pitch the Press” panel at the OurCrowd Global Summit in Jerusalem, where some of the world’s most prominent business reporters discussed how to alert them to a story – and how not to.
In more than 30 years in journalism, I have seen all kinds of media relations and PR. For your message to get through, you need to grab the attention of people like me. Here are some professional tips and advice for communications professionals written from the viewpoint of a veteran reporter. You’d be amazed just how bad some of the ‘top’ PR companies are at grasping the basic principles. It’s not rocket science, just common sense.
By following the suggestions here, you can improve the effectiveness of your media strategy overnight and stand out from the crowd.
Effective communication isn’t something you can leave to chance – or to a junior intern. It’s an art. Done well, it can be a powerful commercial tool, transforming your business from an also-ran to a market leader.
You Get One Chance: Tips on email protocol
Your first contact with any reporter will be by email.
Reporters like me receive about 300 emails every day. I might spent a maximum of two hours a day checking, reading and responding to them.
That means you have about 10 seconds to capture my attention before I move on to the next email in my Inbox. I have overlooked hundreds of PR emails because they didn’t follow the following basic rules:
Email Protocol-1: Name of sender and recipient
What is the sender’s name on your email? It’s the first thing I will see, and the first filter I will use to decide whether or not to open it. Does your name mean anything to me? If not, why should I open your email? If you represent a company whose name I will recognize, that name should appear as the sender, not yours – or perhaps a combination of the two. And make sure you spell our name correctly. It’s a small thing, but it indicates your competence. If you can’t get our name right, how can we trust anything else you are telling us?
Email Protocol-2: Subject line
The subject line is the most important part of your email. It’s the equivalent of a headline on a story. You have to sell me your story in six words or less. Never, never, never just put “Press Release” as your subject line. It tells us nothing. Hardly any journalist I know will open it. You have to sell us the story, not the mechanics. If your story contains a famous name, or a large amount of money, put them in the subject line. Don’t make us search for information.
Email Protocol-3: No attachments!
Put your message in the body of the email, not as an attachment. We don’t open attachments from people we don’t know because most of them are riddled with dangerous viruses. If you have photos, don’t send them as attachments either. Paste the pictures into the body of the email, or send them along once you have established a dialogue. If I see an unsolicited email with an attachment bigger than 1MB, I delete it immediately – I don’t want it clogging up my memory.
Email Protocol-4: Contact details
Every communication with a reporter should include your full contact details: email, mobile, office, WhatsApp etc – plus a LinkedIn and Website link so we can verify who you are if we don’t know you. Even if we do know you, don’t assume that we have committed your details to memory. Send them every time so we can find you fast whenever we need you. Put your best contact number – usually a mobile or WhatsApp – at the top and bottom of every email. If we have to hunt for your number, we could get distracted and might never make the call.
Email Protocol-5: The right reporter
Nothing turns journalists off a PR person quicker than being sent irrelevant material. Do your homework, research which reporters cover the kind of story you are pitching, and keep separate lists for different kinds of stories. Don’t just spray everything to everyone. It’s ineffective. Do not send business stories to political reporters, or fashion stories to literary editors. We will mark you down as someone who wastes our time and in future we will ignore your emails completely.
Email Protocol-6: The follow-up
It’s good to follow up unanswered emails – we get so many we may have overlooked an interesting story. But before sending a follow-up email or getting on the phone, check to see why we may not have responded. Did you follow Protocol-5: ‘The right reporter’ above? If by mistake you sent a sports story to a food reporter, don’t compound the error by bothering them again. Use non responses to hone and trim your contact lists.
Email Protocol-7: Timing
Treat us with some respect like the busy people we are. Unless you represent a prime minister or a superstar, don’t send us an invitation to an event less than 48 hours before it happens. Reporters often need to pitch a story and get a response from an editor, particularly if we have to travel. We also need to clear our own calendars. If you want us to travel across the country, send us notice a month, two weeks, and a week in advance. If we are not attending in person but you still want coverage, send us your PR before the event or on the same day, not afterwards. I’ve lost count of the ‘breaking news’ sent by universities informing me of a scientific discovery published in an academic journal the previous week. If the event happened yesterday, it’s too late for us to report.
Email Protocol-8: Event invitations
If you are inviting us to an event (after following Protocol 7: ‘Timing’), make it easy for us to register. Send all the details including date, time, location, duration, agenda, transport and parking arrangements. Don’t make us hunt for the address of the venue or the start time. Don’t send us to another site to register, only to find that we can’t because there is no button for “Media.” Handle our registration yourself and confirm it with us. This allows you to keep track of who has replied, and makes us feel we are being treated properly.
Email Protocol-9: Respond!
If we answer your pitch – either by saying we will take the story, or with follow-up questions – respond within 2 hours. Reporters move fast and we are juggling a dozen different stories. If you wait until the next day to respond to our query, you may have wasted your chance – particularly if the story is time sensitive.
Email Protocol-10: Deliver on promises
Don’t include something in a PR pitch that you can’t deliver. This just marks you as someone who isn’t reliable. Don’t offer your CEO for interview if she’s not available and on call. Don’t offer a factory visit if it can’t be held until next month. If you offered these things, our editor will expect them in the story. Give us the maximum access you can, but don’t oversell it.
Email Protocol-11: Don’t scoop yourselves!
Nothing frustrates a reporter more than accepting an invitation, getting up early to travel across the country, and logging into a morning news site to discover that the story they are supposed to be covering is published in that morning’s New York Times or already released by Associated Press. Be honest with us. If you are giving the story as an exclusive to a large outlet, then tell us or let us report it under embargo so we can follow later the same day. Don’t blindside us. We will avoid you in future.
That’s my quick guide to emailing reporters. In future posts, I’ll be discussing more ways to improve your media strategy. If you’d like to get in touch, email me: firstname.lastname@example.org