Be a Siren, Not a Car Alarm: When Less is More in PR

Adam Myrick

Pitching stories to and following up with reporters and editors comes down to two sounds. When we practice good pitching techniques and follow up in a convenient fashion, we’re regarded in the newsrooms we serve as the blaring siren of an emergency vehicle. Bad pitching and inconvenient follow-up comes across as the continual alarm of a minivan. It’s barely noticeable and quite irritating. More white noise than anything else

Think about it. Which of those two sounds gets your attention? Which one do you routinely disregard?

As a general rule, even the faintest wail of a siren puts a driver on high alert. Which direction is the siren coming from? Is there room to get to the right and the let the emergency vehicle pass? We pay attention to that sound and immediately react to it.

What about the sound of an alarm pulsating from any of the dozens of minivans in your office parking lot? We tend to pay those no mind at all. Never once thinking the vehicle or its owner is in any kind of peril.

There are some best practices that will have the newsrooms you deal with react to your calls and emails as the yelp of a siren rather than the ho-hum sound of a car alarm.

> Put it in writing. Every reporter and assignment editor I checked with as I researched this piece said they wanted something in writing first. That should be the opening salvo. Even if it’s just a quick email with the who, what, when, where and how of your event or pitch, send it first before calling. And make sure it’s in the body of the email. No attachments, no links. Now you have something to reference when you make that follow-up call and your media contact has something to scan while you chat.

> Be brief. Those making editorial decisions in newsrooms don’t really care what your assistant VP of research and development says about anything. They want those aforementioned four Ws and that one “h.” Get to the point in whatever you send. A former TV news photographer who now runs an assignment desk suggested to me that bullets at the top of a news release followed by all the flowery language would be received as manna from heaven in his newsroom.

> Something in the subject line. One more thing about your opening salvo: Make sure there’s something in the subject line indicating what the message is about. I share this because I can’t be the only one with a personal preference of the generic, tight subject line. My most trusted media contacts gently prodded and corrected me years ago to include something that helps them instantly identify what’s in the note.

> Careful with the call. When I was on a news assignment desk, I detested calls from PR types who called only to make sure I’d gotten their email. Avoid calling five minutes after clicking send. Let the email simmer a bit. Sending the email at a point in time where you can let it breathe for a bit and time your follow-up call about a week out if you’re working a specific event is ideal.

Just a little more on those follow-up calls: Most reporters and editors are okay with them. Some aren’t. A reporter friend of mine told me she hates them. If she doesn’t respond, she isn’t interested. It’s rare she forgets to follow up. If there’s a reporter on a particular beat who you know you’ll frequently be working with, it might be beneficial to candidly check with him or her and see what their expectations and preferences are on the follow-up call front.

Make sure you call at a convenient time. If you’re pitching TV types, the best time is 10:30 a.m. until about 2:30 p.m. All types of outlets will have times that are always better for receiving follow-up calls than others. Reaching out and asking what those are, along with determining their other pitching and follow-up likes, dislikes and pet peeves makes for good media relations.

Adam Myrick is the media relations specialist at BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina.

Follow him on Twitter: @adam_myrick.