PR pitching secrets reporters want you to know

Whether she’s on an aircraft carrier in the middle east for a month, interviewing 117 people for a downtown mall opening or creating time lapse videos of freeway demolition, Leigh Gibson knows what it takes to craft a story worth reading.

While Gibson graduated in journalism and traveled around the world as a reporter, she made the switch to the public relations field several years ago. According to Gibson, “My journalism background has made me a better PR person because I know what reporters want.”

In her presentation at Brigham Young University’s PRSSA event, she gave some insight into what she wanted from PR professionals when she was a reporter. Read on to discover what her and her former colleagues wish you knew about pitching.

1. Good content, not just relationships

This picture from the Utah Department of Transportation’s blog is an example of some of the construction projects Gibson publicizes. (blog.udot.utah.gov)

This picture from the Utah Department of Transportation’s blog is an example of some of the construction projects Gibson publicizes.
(blog.udot.utah.gov)

While we’ve all heard pitching success often comes from building relationships with reporters over time, Gibson said we shouldn’t underestimate the power of good content. Reporters are usually pressed for time, so creating press releases with quality, quotable content or even attaching b-roll video to your email can make the difference in whether or not your story gets published.

Gibson currently does publicity for the Utah Department of Transportation. She uses drones and GoPros to get the perfect shot of construction projects to send to reporters.

She explained that adding media makes your story more interesting, and makes the reporters’ job easier. It also lets you craft more of the story.

“The golden rule of PR is to do everything we can to make their job easier,” Gibson said.

As you do this, keep in mind what PR Daily recommends when pitching media, “On digital platforms, too many people take their content, photos, video, podcasts and innermost thoughts public without considering what reporters really want. Construct your client’s platform, or tweak an existing one, to make it easier for members of the news media to discover that big story and give it momentum.”

2. Be genuine

Gibson also stressed the importance of pitching genuinely. Telling a reporter, “I liked that article you wrote yesterday,” will only get you so far.

Gibson recommended sincerely complimenting their previous stories by relating them to your personal experiences or pinpointing specific parts of the article you enjoyed.

“Build time into your day to read stories,” she said.

Over the years, Gibson has secured media placements in outlets like the LA Times, The Wall Street Journal and USA Today. She said the important thing is to craft each pitch for each outlet. By personalizing pitches for a reporter’s beat or an outlet’s best interest, you’re more likely to get covered.

“You really have to be creative to be a PR person, come up with a unique angle and make it unique to every outlet,” said Gibson. For one of her publicity projects, Gibson made an editorial calendar for each station she would be pitching to. She created trusting relationships after offering reporters quality stories and they kept coming back for more.

3. Follow up, but keep it casual

Gibson shared her formula she uses to reach out to reporters: first send a straightforward email pitch that includes a call to action (“would you be interested in writing this story” or “can I schedule an interview with this person”).

If you don’t get a response in four or five days, send an email as if you never sent the first email. Then follow up with a phone call, again as if they never received your pitch the first two times.

In a phone conversation, hook them in the first sentence or two. “I practice pitches in front of the mirror,” said Gibson. She also mentioned one of her biggest pet peeves as a journalist was when people would leave voice mails.

It’s not every day that you get to hear tips from the other side of the pitching table. Implementing Gibson’s insights into your pitching practice can help you land greater coverage for your clients and build better, lasting relationships with reporters.

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