How should PRs and press offices approach journalists and newsdesks? What is the most effective way of pitching your stories and securing coverage?
Those were questions I recently put to a friend who as a producer on the BBC One O’Clock news, is certainly on the receiving end of a lot of pitches from public relations professionals.
His message was that newsrooms now take social media very seriously and use it as a way of generating stories and of finding examples to use in stories.
Nowadays, all a journalist looking for examples or case studies to illustrate a particular story – say April Fools Day – needs to do is to search the hashtag #aprilfoolsdays and up will pop a whole timeline of examples, stories, photos and videos.
His advice is that PR pros should use hashtags and mentions wisely – make sure you use ones relevant to a particular story and if you want to reach a particular news outlet or journalist, hashtag or @ mention them directly to ensure they’ll see it; the hashtag #BBCNews for example is monitored continually.
He also suggested following #journorequest plus journalists relevant to your or your client’s field as they often put out requests on Twitter for interviews or case studies.
He said that for the BBC and other broadcasters, Youtube is more problematic: although news programmes do use videos posted there, they have to be careful about who has the rights to the footage, and in addition, they would rather have it exclusively.
So, his advice for press officers wanting to promote video footage is to either invite a camera operator or journalist along to the event or film it yourself and in both cases, offer it exclusively.
However useful social media is to journalists, one overriding message from Tim was not to lose sight of traditional methods of PR.
The most effective way of securing coverage is to have good stories and good contacts.
As you can imagine, the BBC newsroom receives thousands of press releases and emails per day, so blanket emails which aren’t targeted to a relevant person, programme or story are unlikely to break through.
You just really need to be savvy about when and where to use press releases and email pitches – if you’re contacting a very busy newsroom like the BBC, use sparingly, but if you’re contacting your local newspaper, you may have more success.
My friend said the most successful pitches are from PR pros who take a personal approach & have bothered to ring up and find out who the right person is, and who call to discuss the story with them.
So his advice is to make an effort to find out the editor or correspondent who covers your field, build a relationship with them through phone contacts and networking, and then use that relationship in the email
“You might remember we met at …”
He had two final pieces of advice:
Firstly to familiarise yourself with how newsrooms work so you know when the busy times are and don’t call then; he frequently has calls from people wanting to pitch stories to him at 10 to 1 – just before he goes on air, when he is never going to have time to talk. If that person waited until mid afternoon, he’d be far more receptive so there would be a bigger chance of success.
And secondly, to employ at least some people in your PR department with a background in journalism, as they’ll have an insight into how the industry works and the best ways to secure coverage.
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