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Media relations has always been a central part of what public relations is all about. Unfortunately for those working in PR and companies looking to tell their own stories, media outlets are no longer the same beasts we used to know. Newspapers and other print and online media have ever-shrinking staff, which is responsible for covering a greater array of topics – across a greater number of channels – than ever before. Getting messages to these overtaxed reporters is no small feat.

Below are some tips to keep in mind when pitching story ideas to media:

1. Know your target – Some questions to ask yourself include: Who is the reporter? What do they typically cover? What specific stories have they written? What are their personal interests? You need to take the time to fully understand whom it is you’re communicating with. Having a little background info can go a long way toward building trust and respect between and you and reporters. If you can find a personal interest that’s appropriate to allude to, do it. Happen to know that a certain reporter has a thing for cats? Go ahead and use that fact and a little humor in your email subject line to get their attention. I once used that particular tactic, and it did in fact elicit a response.

2. Understand the story you’re telling – Be able to succinctly summarize and explain why a particular story or news item truly matters. If you can’t articulately explain the topic or situation, don’t expect a reporter to be able to. It’s your job to make his or her job easier. Be as helpful as possible in describing the key facts and ideas; reporters will be more likely to cover something they can easily wrap their minds around.

3. Avoid PR stereotypes – Don’t be a robot. Blast emails come across as such. Be sure to tailor the email to each reporter or news outlet, keeping in mind all you learned through the research you did in Tip #1. Be professional, but also memorable and genuine. Reporters don’t like overly schmoozy PR people any better than robots.

4. Quality over quantity – Target the people you most want to tell the story. Don’t mass email a huge list of folks. Be strategic, make a list of the writers you most want to tell your story, and work from top to bottom. If you think your story is worthy of being covered at the Enterprise level, start there. If you’re shot down, work your way down your list of desired targets. Starting at the bottom might get you a writer who is willing to tell your story but is unable to either tell it properly or get it the placement it deserves. You’re better off starting with your dream targets and settling if you can’t reach them than starting at the bottom of your list and precluding optimal reporting.

5. Be flexible in your followup – Some reporters only want to be contacted via email, while you’ll have better success reaching out to others by phone. If you don’t succeed with one channel, don’t be afraid to try the other when you follow up. Also, know when to check back with those you reach out to. Use common sense to determine if you’re going overboard with followup; put yourself in the reporter’s place. Don’t badger, but don’t drop the ball. Make sure to gauge the response you get from the writer, and respond accordingly. A lot of the subtlety of follow-up protocol is best learned through trial and error. See what tends to work best over time, and take note. I mentioned earlier that members of the media are spread particularly thin these days; keep this in mind in respect to follow-up frequency. Some reporters will appreciate a friendly reminder, while you’ll drive others crazy with the exact same nudge. Be aware of the response you tend to get from a particular person and keep it in mind for future interactions.

Those are a handful of what I hope are helpful tips. Do you have any that I’ve missed? Please share.

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