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Guest post: A journo’s rant about pitches

April 3, 2012

I’m very excited to feature the work of the wonderful Jo Knox, editor of HR Daily. We both spoke at a conference recently – to great acclaim, of course. Here is a snapshot of what Jo said… 

After giving a conference presentation to a room full of recruiters on the topic of media pitches, specifically in relation to sharing stories with an HR audience (i.e. their prospective clients), the lovely owner of this blog suggested that my tips might be useful to PR people, as well. So here’s a brief summary of what I said, adapted for PR.

The Fine Art of Knowing What to Share

Your goal when pitching to media should be to help that publication’s audience. So if you’re pitching to an HR publication like mine, for example, the information being provided should help my readers do their job (more easily, more cost effectively, more efficiently, less stressfully… and so on).

If you keep that in mind, and only contact an editor with news that is truly going to be helpful, then you vastly increase your chances of getting published. (Journalists receive far more pitches than we can actually work with – it’s a total myth that we’re all dependent on PR for news.)

But if you contact us hoping to promote your company, service, or product, you’re not going to get anywhere.

Also, please, please read the publications you’re pitching to. Religiously. Understand whether they’re hard news-focused, or if they report on fluffier things like new appointments, or if they like to provide commentary and analysis and practical tips. And tailor your pitch accordingly.

My do’s and don’ts for PR

Do provide context for your pitch. It might not be immediately apparent to a journalist why the topic you’ve chosen is a good one, so to avoid just getting deleted, your email should explain things like: What is the issue? Who does it affect? How much does it affect them? 

Do make sure your client is available to talk about the pitch. What is with PR people sending media releases quoting people who’ve just headed overseas for three weeks? Are you deliberately trying to drive us mad? Get your client to clear some diary space for interviews, or even better, say “My client is available on Wednesday afternoon and Thursday morning on this number”, etc.

Do think about the timing of your pitch. If I quoted your client last week I don’t want to hear from them again just yet! Find out from your target journalists how often they are happy to quote someone.

Do tell your client not to ask to approve the story before it goes out. Please explain that journalists take very seriously our responsibility to get quotes right and not misrepresent what was said. But ultimately it is up to us to decide what angle to take with the article, because we know best what our audience want to read.

Don’t let your client go to the trouble of writing an article before checking whether we might use it.

Don’t request a coffee or meeting to talk about something simple. Phone interviews are so much more convenient.

Don’t send a vague “My client can speak about recruitment” message. That tells us nothing. Talk about specific topics they’re an expert on and pitch some actual story ideas.

Don’t ask about follow-up stories. Please don’t say: “I read your recent article about Company X doing its awesome thing, and my client does that, too! Can you write something?”

(You are, however, welcome to let us know when your client strongly disagrees with something we’ve published. At the very least it will be interesting to hear and might position them as a critical thinker who we want to speak to another time.)

Don’t use “corporate speak” in your press releases. Big, vague words don’t make you sound smarter. Write like a normal person would speak.

Really, my biggest tip for PR is just to understand what your target journalists want, so you can deliver it. We’re not actually as fussy and hard to get along with as I might make us sound – but you can’t take a one-size-fits-all approach when dealing with us.

Jo Knox is the editor of HR Daily and manages the HR Daily Community of bloggers. She also has a cartoon blog: More than a trace of nuts.

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