I met this guy - let’s call him Charlie - at a summer job I had in the postroom of an insurance company. Romance blossomed over the the piles of unopened mail and, at the end of the holidays - much to my delight - he asked me out.
When I arrived for our first date, he was standing outside the station clutching a Woolworth’s bag with a CD single inside.
While the song (Kiss from A Rose by Seal) might mean nothing to some of my readers (younger ones, especially) it meant everything to me. Because every day during that long summer, as we sorted and opened mail together, that song was played on the radio. And I’d told him how much I loved it.
So when he handed me that Woolworth’s bag and I saw what was inside, I felt really special. He liked me enough to notice what I was into and give me exactly what I wanted. It was the first of many dates, and though we eventually parted, I still think fondly of him.
But Charlie wasn’t the only guy who asked me out that summer. Another guy - let’s call him Rob - also made a play for me. Trouble was, Rob had asked out every female summer temp in the building - using exactly the same chat up line - and he already had a girlfriend.
You won’t be surprised to hear he had a lot of knockbacks.
So why am I telling you this? Well, I’ve noticed that a lot of people still use the ‘Rob’ approach to pitching to journalists. Instead of taking the time to understand what they’re looking for - and giving them exactly what they want - they send exactly the same chat-up line (i.e. their pitch or press release) to journalists on completely different publications or programmes. And then they wonder why they get so many knockbacks. Or - even worse - get completely ignored.
If you want to give yourself the best possible chance with a journalist, you need to take the time to understand their publication or programme. That means reading, watching or listening to it it really carefully over a number of weeks - or even months - to get a feel for the kind of story they typically run. It also means noticing the little things, like the regular opinion slot on page 9 you could pitch to or the fact they never run profile interviews (so don’t waste your time suggesting one).
If you’re not doing this, to put it in dating terms... it’s a bit like booking a table at a steakhouse...only to find your date is vegetarian.
So with that in mind, here’s my top tips for wooing journalists:
- Read, watch or listen to their publication or programme over a number of days, weeks or months. That means studying it carefully - not a quick flick through.
- Remember that it’s not a journalist’s job to help publicise you or your organisation. In fact it would be unethical of them to do so. And it may sound harsh, but they’re probably not that interested in your business or brand either. What they care about is running great stories that are a perfect fit for their audience. But pitch them great stories they want to run - just because they’re great stories - and they’ll be more than happy to give you a mention.
- Do your homework on lead times (i.e. the time between a piece being commissioned and it being published or broadcast). Many good ideas fall by the wayside because people pitch their idea or send a press release too late and the journalist simply doesn’t have time to turn it around for the deadline. When it doubt, always pitch earlier rather than later.
- Follow them on Twitter: you can learn a lot about journalists from what they share on social media networks. As well as getting a feel for the kind of things they’re interested in (which will help ensure your pitches hit the spot) you’ll also be the first to know if they’re looking for help with a story.