11 media relations tips and tricks to help your next pitch break through

Man at laptop with hands over face, hands from off screen giving him things

We‘ve been doing some crowdsourcing with our internal agency team on media relations best practices beyond press releases – tips and tricks that we use to engage and build relationships with both new and existing contacts, and ultimately, place important stories for our clients.

Finding ways to break through is crucial – according to Muck Racks’ survey The State of Journalism 2021, the average journalist gets between 5-25 pitches per week and 4% of journalists reported getting more than 51 pitches in a single day on average. 61% of the 2,482 journalists who responded to the survey said approximately a quarter of the stories they publish generate from pitches.

With that, you can see that media contacts have a lot of emails to weed through and of the good pitches, only a small portion of them result in a story. So, not only does your pitch to a journalist need to stand out from the clutter, but it also needs to be timely, relevant and personalized.

I’m sharing some of our Hodger insights below. What would you add to the list? Let us know in the comments!

  • Research beyond media databases when building and updating media lists. Media moves can happen fast, so use Google, LinkedIn and Twitter to your advantage to make sure you have the best and most up-to-date contact on your list.
  • If you are reaching out to a new contact, include a sentence at the start that shows you are paying attention and have done your research. For example, say a website lists someone as a contact for press releases but when you try that contact, you get a bounce back. When you try someone else, you would want to acknowledge on the front end that you the tried the recommended contact without success. Whoever you connect with will be more likely to help point you in the right direction if they know you have done your homework first.
  • A personal intro is also a great way to catch someone’s attention. Maybe LinkedIn tells you that you share an alma mater with a reporter, or you see on Twitter one of your contacts just got married. Even just a small personal note can help keeps things human and build a friendly and natural rapport in an organic and authentic way.
  • Engage with media contacts even when you don’t “need” something. This could be commenting on a recent story someone wrote or reaching out to say congratulations on a promotion or life event. One of our clients sends treats to media contacts around the holidays, and everyone seems to appreciate a little peppermint bark!
  • Take a hint. If you can tell one of your existing contacts is really slammed or deep in assignments, give them a break from outreach unless it is something important. They will appreciate that you offered them a little space until they are able to come up for air again.
  • Use social media to connect…carefully. If you have a comfortable relationship with a media contact, social channels can be a great way to connect on a more personal level. For example, I’m connected with a freelance writer on social media who is also an author, and once while traveling I saw her latest book in a store as part of a great display. I snapped a photo of it and sent it her way and she responded quickly with excitement asking where it was and thanking me for passing it along. It only took me a minute, but it was a step in building our ongoing relationship.
  • Don’t forget the power of a phone call, to share a story idea or work through something timely. If you have a story you think you someone will be interested in, send them a note to see if they have a few minutes to hop on the phone to talk something through. If you can get some time on the phone, you can learn a lot in a few minutes. If you are working on something with a hard deadline, a phone call can be more efficient than email to iron out the details of a segment.
  • Get lunch, coffee or set up a Zoom. Scheduling a catch up whether virtual or in person can be a great way to connect, share several story ideas at once and get a sense of what a reporter is working on and where your clients might fit in. This usually works best with established contacts.
  • Identify possible frustrations before you reach out. Many veteran journalists have vented publicly at some point about something that drives them crazy – pitches they get that are not a fit for them or pitching them a story they just covered and won’t be able to report on again anytime soon. Once you know what these frustrations are, you can avoid them. (Even if the frustrations aren’t specific to a specific reporter, lists like these can be a good place to start to get a sense of what might tick someone off.)
  • Check on preferred communication style. If I get an inbound call from a reporter who is planning a news segment for that day, I often ask how they prefer me to respond with the details they need – text, call or email. Often, they are heading into a morning assignment meeting and they let me know that text will be the easiest way to stay in touch.
  • Update even when you don’t have an update to share. If a reporter reaches out to ask if you can help them line up an interview, respond to confirm receipt and let them you are checking on it and ask about the deadline. This sets expectations right at the start for helpful communication. If you wait to respond until you have your source all lined up, they may have already assumed you were not available and move on to the next person. Sometimes, it may take some time to pull together information for a reporter depending on the request. A quick, “Hey, we haven’t forgotten about you!” can go a long way.

Above all else, the goal of a PR person in working with media should be to friendly, efficient and a source the contact will want to come back to again and again. Use these tips to do enough research before you send a pitch to know that even if your story doesn’t get covered, the contact will understand why you sent it their way and be appreciative of the outreach!

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Megan Irvin

Megan spends her days doing media relations, community relations, content creation and events for clients like Kroger Mid-Atlantic, Virginia Distillery Company and Mercy Chefs. Her favorite part of her job is working with clients and providing strategic counsel — and garnering media attention for clients in outlets like TODAY, Esquire, USA Today and Bon Appetit.

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