Avoid the ‘Snapchat’ Press Release

I was at a PR News Conference a couple of weeks ago, and during a Q&A with a panel critiquing press inquiries, the question came up of when and how to follow-up with a non-responsive reporter.

I was the moderator of the panel, and I counseled persistence. I’ve found in my career as a journalist that it’s best to try and produce a response. It’s a fine line. If you’re too pushy, you increase the likelihood that you’ll get a response but diminish the chance that it will be a positive one.

If you’re too passive, you stand little or no chance of getting what you want, which is engagement—in the form of a response and accessibility if you’re a reporter, and engagement and a story if you’re in PR.

So the trick is to give the person with whom you’re corresponding time to consider your pitch, and friendly and professional reminders. This timeframe is dependent on the objective. If you need an answer on deadline, you have to follow-up immediately, even a few times in a single day. If you’re working on a longer-term project, every few days is better.

So at the event, I suggested that approach to the panel—get your source to respond. But one of the panelists, a reporter for USA Today, said that’s all well and good, but it doesn’t work. He said he gets dozens of pitches every day, and that he selects 20 or more at a time and deletes them in bulk. Even persistent PR outreach can’t overcome that.

He has a point, for sure. But my approach will produce a second look and a second chance, provided you’re doing a few things right. And if you are, you avoid getting your release “Snapchatted”—that is, deleted and gone forever within a few minutes of hitting an inbox. Here are some things to keep in mind.

• Think like a reporter. So we know that reporters are very busy, and need to make instant decisions about what to publish today, and what deserves to be worked on as a longer-term piece. So your release—from the subject line, to your brief written intro, to the text itself, must solve those two things for the reporter: Is it immediate news that needs to be published today? Or is it worthy of inclusion in a thought-leadership item, a trend piece?

• Think like a reporter circa 2013. This is really important. There are many more news outlets, and many of them are non traditional, so you have lots more opportunities to get something out into the news stream. But most traditional-media reporters are in organizations whose teams have been dramatically reduced. They’re much more harried. They’re in some cases less knowledgeable about the beats they cover. Your job is to solve their problems.

• Address their challenge, not your brand’s news. This is in some ways obvious, but in others, counter-intuitive. The point is, your news isn’t what a reporter is going to respond to, unless it’s a really major development. If your reporter covers tech, for example, and her specialty is the tech economy, then your press release about a personnel move needs to be framed in a way that makes it clear to the reporter that there’s a connection to the broader tech economy. You’d be surprised how often you can legitimately make a connection like that.

• Know your subject, but don’t patronize. Reporters can be cynical. They don’t like compliments that come off as fake. However, if you’re following the coverage your target reporter does, then you see all kinds of useful things—the types of stories, the points of emphasis that crop up repeatedly, the sources she uses, even favorite words and phrases. Play to those things—but do it implicitly, so the reporter senses his or her objectives are being met.

• If you’ve followed up several times, through e-mail and voicemail, do a quick reminder along the lines of, “Hey Jane—I know you’re really busy. Just wanted to check in on my release. It’s relevant to your audience because of X, Y, and Z. I hope you use it. I’m standing by to be of assistance. But let me know either way. If it’s a “no,” that’s okay, maybe next time.”


  • http://www.gatesmandave.com Gwen Arbuckle

    I’ve been on both sides of this coin, first as a reporter for a big daily and then flipping the script and moving into PR. I would like to offer this simple care-and-feeding-of-reporters tip:

    Take the time to ask when their deadline crunch is (add a 30-minute buffer zone to be safe) and DO NOT email/call/show up with bagels during that time. EVER.

    The only deviation from this rule is if they call you first saying they need something for deadline. In that case, walk on water to get what they need.

    It sounds silly, but it’s a step people skip. And understanding that upfront can be a seed to a great relationship that will put you ahead of the line when it comes time for future pitches. Reporters like to work with people who 1. appreciate them and 2. treat them kindly (newsrooms can be a jungle). Things like this help!

    Wouldn’t advice the pelting with follow-up emails and calls and reminders of how important your pitch is, though. If they don’t respond after a time, send them something else they might better appreciate. Reporters call when their interest in piqued. If they don’t call and the pitch was done right, stop. Find something newer and shinier to flash in front of them!

  • http://www.PublicityHound.com Joan Stewart

    I’ve been on both sides of this, too, and I advise against calling and saying “Just wanted to check in on my release.” That will brand you as a pest.

    Never utter the words “press release” or “release.” That signals to them that what you sent is unimportant because journalists generally hate press releases.

    There’s a much better way to follow up.

    Offer them something else that ties into the release. Example: “I sent you information last week on the free ebook we’re offering that helps people navigate Google+. We also have a step-by-step video that shows them the smartest way to build their circles.”

    Other things to offer:

    –Other sources outside your company.

    –A quiz.

    –A free download.

    –Industry definitions.

    It’s also imperative that you follow the people you’re pitching on the social media sites. You’ll often get a reaction from them there far quicker there an you will via regular email. Just be sure they welcome pitches on those sites. If you don’t know, ask.

  • Tony Silber

    Excellent advice, thanks, Gwen and Joan. Joan, you’re spot-on with the suggestion of offering something that connects to what the reporter wants to get done–it’s not what you’re trying to pitch, it’s what they need to create an interesting story!