PR/Media Relations – Wearing Two Hats Yields Best Practice Insights

I’ve always considered myself fortunate to have a perspective on both sides of the PR/media relations business. With my “communication consulting hat” on, I work with clients interested in receiving media coverage to help boost their credibility and establish them as thought leaders in various areas of expertise. When doing this work, I’m actively pitching or responding to queries from writers and journalists who are covering certain topics. The goal, of course, is to prompt them to “pick me” – or my client – as a potential source.

I’ve been pretty successful doing this and I think a lot of the reason for this stems from my experience with my other hat – my “business journalist” hat. As a freelance writer with a  number of years of experience I am often looking for input from experts for the articles that I write on a wide array of topics. Many contacts come through sources I’ve established  over the years, some through recommendations from my editors, and some through online sources like and (HARO) which are great resources for me regardless of which hat I’m wearing! (They’re great resources for you, as well, if you’re hoping to seek media coverage on your own: HARO is free and offers many of the same opportunities that you’ll find through ProfNet.)

But, to my point. As I receive pitches from PR people and experts themselves I have the opportunity to evaluate first-hand what works to attract my attention and prompt a request for an interview and what results in my hitting the “delete” button. Most often it is very simple errors that keep people from getting the attention they’re seeking. Here are some recent examples, why they didn’t prompt a response and what could have been done instead:

“One of my clients, a prominent labor relations and employment law attorney, can provide insight into this unusual development. Would you like to speak with him?”

The problem: I haven’t been provided with enough information to make a decision.

Advice: Provide all of the details up front in your email to help me make a decision. Who is your client? Why is his/her background or experience relevant to my specific request? What makes this individual stand out from the dozens of others who are filling my email-box with their own requests?

“I just saw your HARO request and I thought you may be interested in speaking with someone from the labor and employment practice at XYZ – a large law firm with hundreds of attorneys around the country.”

Same problem: The size of your company or your own impression of your expert’s vast experience is not enough to prompt a follow-up. Journalists need details.

Advice: You need to tell me more about why I should reach out to you. Think of your email as a sales pitch and make sure to “tell it all and tell it now.” You’re not likely to get another chance. I’m certainly not going to reach out to you to ask you to provide me with the basic information you should have given me in your original email.

“I haven’t heard back from you yet on your ___ story; please contact me.”

Problem: The reason you haven’t heard back from me is I’m not interested in speaking with your source.

Advice: Don’t badger the reporters and journalists whose attention you’re attempting to attract. If they haven’t followed up with you it’s most likely because you didn’t have something to offer that was aligned with their current request. Better luck next time. If you start badgering them, or complaining that your “excellent source” wasn’t considered, there isn’t likely to be a next time.

“I have some great perspectives on this. Call me at the number below!”

Problem:  Are you starting to get a feel for the most common mis-step I see?

Advice: Again, you’re going to need to provide more detail than that to prompt a response. Why should I call you? What’s your background, what are your “great perspectives”? Thinking that you can save those thoughts until the interview will only result in not getting an interview.

“I know you’re looking for information on ABC, but I’ve got a great expert on XYZ you should talk to.” – This happens far too frequently. In fact, I was recently seeking sources for an article on a new employment practice by a large organization that might be risky from an employment discrimination standpoint. In response to my posting on these sites I received one pitch from a “wellness in the workplace” expert’s media person who was interested in telling me about his massage business. Totally off the mark.

Problem: I’m not researching XYZ – I’m researching ABC. Consequently, I’m not interested in your expert.

Advice: Take your lead from the journalist. It’s their story and in most cases it’s already assigned.

OK – so what does work? It really is not that difficult. Journalists and other media professionals are eager to find qualified sources. Your task is simply to convince them that you, or whoever it is you’re representing, is a qualified source given the topic they’re covering and their audience. I’d offer the following tips to help boost the odds that your pitch will break through the clutter and generate a response:

  • Be on target – address the information they’re looking for and nothing more. Once you’ve established a relationship with the reporter and know the type of information they may be interested in, sure, it’s fine to pitch an idea every once in a while. But when you’re responding to their inquiries, stay on target.
  • Be thorough – provide complete details about the source and their background/credentials relative to the pitch you’re responding to. Provide detailed responses in your email to whatever questions they may have posed or to the topic in general, again with consideration to the ultimate audience and what will be important/meaningful to them. (In many cases reporters will simply pull content from your email pitch to use in their pieces.)
  • Address the audience viewpoint and consider WIIFT (What’s In It For Them).  It’s never about what you want to say – it’s always about what they want/need to hear. What audience benefit can you provide through your knowledge or expertise?
  • Be helpful, courteous and professional and do whatever you can to make the reporter’s life easier. They’ll appreciate it and remember you for it.
  • And, always remember that it’s a competitive field out there. When you respond to a journalist’s inquiry it’s safe to assume that there may be dozens of others also responding.

BTW, I just received coverage for myself through U.S. News & World Report and have received coverage for myself and my clients in publications like USA Today, The Globe and Mail, Advertising Age and a wide variety of trade and professional media outlets directed to their target audiences.

For more tactics to achieve the media coverage you’re hoping for, see our whitepaper 10 Tactics for Getting Your Name in The News.

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