Preface: I deal with PR consultants on a day to day basis, and I recently met Josh Terry, a Toronto-based PR consultant. We chatted about the dos and don’ts of PR pitching, and how much is too much. You can read the blog post below, enjoy!
One of the things that every PR person has an opinion on is how often they should contact a journalist to pitch a story. That said, one of the things I’ve never had the chance to ask a journalist is how much is too much? That is until recently, when the topic came up with Winston Sih.
As a sidebar, let me say that chatting with Winston is an example of the power of social media. It’s where we connected and began chatting. The conversation moved offline and, eventually turned to our respective careers – his as the Technology Expert on Citytv’s CityLine, The Digital Life on Citytv.com, and CTV’s App Central; and mine as the PR person. It’s a shame I didn’t have the opportunity to connect with Winston while I was working on lifestyle accounts in my previous position with an agency, but I’m sure it won’t be long until I’m pitching him something.
Anyways, as I mentioned, we discussed the fact that there are PR agencies who encourage their consultants to be rather, shall we say, persistent with journalists. I can only imagine how annoying that must be. Think about it: what is one of the most annoying things that can come to mind? Prior to the National Do Not Call Registry, it was telemarketers who would call three, four, five times a day. We all know how it felt to be on the receiving end of that and yet, there are PR people who continue to do just that to journalists (journalists with deadlines and multiple assignments, I might add).
When I was working at the agency, in my first go around of pitches for a campaign I would call twice: once first thing in the morning (around 8:30 – 9:30, depending on the program) and again around 11 – 11:30. If I didn’t speak to the journalist I was looking for the first time, I would hang up before voicemail picked up (so as to not leave an annoying hangup on their machine). If they still didn’t pick up on my second go around later in the morning, I would leave a voicemail with a brief explanation of why I was calling and where I could be reached (phone and mention that they had an e-mail from me if they preferred that method of contact).
I found that my approach was, in general, successful. I wasn’t constantly bombarding the people I wanted to take the time to cover what I was pitching but they knew that I had something that might be of interest to their audience.
When speaking to Winston on this topic, he gave me three great tips when it comes to successful PR pitching.
Firstly, as tempting as it sounds to simply send out a mass email – don’t make it a regular habit. The good ol’ “Insert First Name Here” option in newsletter programs aren’t good enough anymore. Journalists know when it is a computer automatically putting your name in an email. Journalists are more likely to answer your emails when there’s personalization to the message.
Continuing, try to make an effort to get to know who you’re working with. Winston tells me that he’s more likely to work with consultants who he’s chatted with over lunch or coffee, or even socialized with at a party or two. The infamous Holiday season “Tweet-ups” are a great platform to get to know your “prey,” if you will.
Lastly, when it comes to phone calls, less is more. The phone is often a touch-and-go place for many journalists. It is where the most important business is conducted. If you leave three or four voicemails in a day – perhaps getting in the way of their productivity – they may become irritated; even potentially blacklisting you from their office phone.
In the words of Winston, “At the end of the day, journalists aren’t scary people! It’s important for PR consultants – new ones, especially – to get a feel for what is enough, and what is too much. There’s a fine line, and it’s important not to cross it; however, once you’ve figured out your ‘groove’ so to speak, you’re golden.”
So, there you have it – an approach that worked for me on the PR side and some easy-to-follow and helpful tips from someone who is on the “other side” of the phone when we call.
A special thanks to Winston Sih for taking some time to comment on this post and share his thoughts. You can connect with Winston on Twitter, @WinstonSih