What Do Reporters Really Want in a PR Contact?

What Do Reporters Really Want in a PR Contact?

What Do Reporters Really Want in a PR Contact?
photo of a reporter's notebook

Photo credit: Roger H. Goun, CC BY 2.0

For years, I was on the receiving end of PR phone calls and emails. Between my 15 years in television news and over the last eight years with my personal website, I received hundreds of pitches through email, phone and yes, even fax. Now as an account executive with MAPRagency, the tables are turned, I am the one doing the pitching and it is a whole different ballgame. I do my best as a PR professional to work with reporters the way I would have wanted back in my newsroom days. Here are some considerations on what reporters really want in a PR contact.

A public relations professional should:

Be Conscious of the Day’s News

On days when you are pitching, make sure you are aware of any breaking or major news. If there is a big national story taking over the news cycle, maybe you should postpone your pitching for a time when reporters might pay more attention. 

If you are pitching an industry vertical like tech, you might want to avoid the days when Google or Apple have their big meetings, or when Amazon suddenly buys Whole Foods Market, for example. It is a lose-lose situation if you pitch on these days: not only will your pitch likely fall on deaf ears (and you’ll waste your client’s retainer), but a reporter might lose respect for you if you don’t know about major news going on.

Offer an Expert That Complements the Day’s News

The time you really should pitch during a busy news day is when you have a client who can offer expertise on the topic at hand. Reporters and news editors find these folks to be extremely valuable. They bring context to the coverage that the outlet might not otherwise have. Reporters will even put a good expert in their contact list to use for future reference. But again, you can’t do this if you don’t follow the first rule above.

Respect Reporters’ Deadlines

When you develop a relationship with a reporter, you will begin to learn their daily deadlines. So if they call you asking for an interview with your client who is making news, you should get back to them promptly. Do your best to manage their expectations, particularly if the reporter has given you short notice.

Alternatively, if you are in the middle of pitching and you know a few of your reporter contacts are on a print or broadcast deadline, maybe wait a few hours or contact them first thing the next morning. You don’t want your call to be equated with what caused them to miss a particular deadline.

Avoid Wasting Reporters’ Time

Make sure the reporters or outlets you contact actually cover the topic you are pitching. My personal website is not a product review site, but nevertheless, I get pitches several times a week to review products. I don’t even open the emails because I don’t have the time to waste.

Also, if you are calling a reporter to pitch a story, seize the moment when you get them on the phone and be fully prepared to answer some questions on the fly. Look at it from the reporter’s perspective, you have reached out to the to pitch a great story, but if you can’t answer the reporter’s immediate questions, you may lose them right then and there.

Keep Pitches Short and Sweet

This goes along with not wasting time. Reporters don’t want to read a lengthy email. They want the best-of highlights with the most important information at the top. An eye-catching subject line and a few paragraphs along with some easy-to-read bullet points are about all you need. If reporters want more information they’ll ask for it.

Don’t Be So Needy

If every time you reach out to a reporter it’s because you want them to cover your story, they might get tired of you. Do your background work and follow your reporter contacts on Twitter and Facebook. Share some of their articles or stories with your followers. Even send them an email about a particular article you enjoyed and why. Little bits of feedback and kindness go a long way.

It is no small feat to establish a relationship with a reporter who finds your expertise valuable. By following these basic best practices, you both will develop mutual respect and the relationship can stay strong for years to come.

Nearly 15 years as a producer and executive producer in the television news business gave me the knowledge of what happens in a newsroom and what journalists expect on a daily basis. Along the way, I earned a national Emmy Award and National Headliner Award for breaking news coverage of the 35W bridge collapse in Minneapolis. Read More
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