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How to Get a Message to Stay in a Journalist’s Inbox (And Turn Into a Story Lead)

Dur­ing my near­ly 14-year career as a jour­nal­ist, I received my fair share of pitch­es from pub­lic rela­tions agen­cies that high­light­ed the good aspects of a com­pa­ny, prod­uct or orga­ni­za­tion. Some were help­ful. I craft­ed numer­ous sto­ries sparked by an idea from a pitch or report­ed time­ly news from infor­ma­tion gath­ered from these pro­fes­sion­als; how­ev­er, it pains me to say (espe­cial­ly now that I’m on the oth­er end of the emails!) many were deleted.

Here are four ways to avoid the dread­ed “delete” and instead help the mes­sage stay in a journalist’s inbox – and turn it into a story.

Get the mes­sage to the right peo­ple. Even though I worked for a dairy news­pa­per, I received emails from com­pa­nies com­plete­ly unre­lat­ed to the indus­try. I remem­ber hav­ing to sort through emails about med­ical devices, dairy alter­na­tives, and motor­cy­cle parts among oth­ers. It’s impor­tant to cre­ate the cor­rect media list for each unique client and cam­paign, pay­ing close atten­tion to both the out­lets and the titles to find the right tar­gets. While media data­bas­es have come a long way, they’re still not per­fect. So, we spend time care­ful­ly comb­ing and adding to each list before dis­trib­ut­ing a pitch or release to ensure the mes­sage will end up in front of the right per­son, and not in the trash.

Make a con­nec­tion. For the out­lets that do make the cut, pick a few jour­nal­ists to reach out to per­son­al­ly. I was more like­ly to read mes­sages that had an indi­vid­u­al­ized mes­sage or were from some­one I knew. Although net­work­ing through in-per­son events was always one of the best ways to meet peo­ple and devel­op sto­ry ideas, I also think con­nect­ing through LinkedIn or an intro­duc­to­ry email is always a wor­thy use of time. Also, be sure to max­i­mize oppor­tu­ni­ties to con­nect and say “thank you” to jour­nal­ists you’re work­ing with for a piece, whether that be a per­son­al note or a shout-out on social media, these two mag­ic words can go a long way toward build­ing a mutu­al­ly ben­e­fi­cial relationship.

Share a com­pelling sto­ry. Some­times pitch­es I received were bor­ing or didn’t have any­thing rel­e­vant to share. It’s impor­tant to take a step back and ask a few ques­tions: why should any­one care about this infor­ma­tion? Will the audi­ence find this inter­est­ing? Think like a jour­nal­ist. Make sure the infor­ma­tion being shared is time­ly, rel­e­vant and compelling.

Let pitch­es breathe. We prob­a­bly have all encoun­tered some­one who calls short­ly after they texted with­out get­ting a reply to ask, “Did you get my mes­sage?” Chances are, we did, and we just didn’t have a chance to respond yet or it might not be rel­e­vant now. Pitch­es can be sim­i­lar. While a fol­low-up is impor­tant (some­times things get lost in the shuf­fle), leave room for the pitch breathe and avoid being a pest to some­one you’re try­ing to help. Give jour­nal­ists time as they nav­i­gate inter­views, writ­ing and deadlines.

When it comes to media rela­tions, giv­ing a lit­tle extra time and a lot of atten­tion to detail pay off. And a well-bal­anced approach incor­po­rat­ing these tips can help ampli­fy orga­ni­za­tions’ sto­ries while also giv­ing jour­nal­ists the infor­ma­tion they want to share.

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