How to Build Constructive Relationships With Journalists You Want to Pitch

It's not a secret that our inboxes are forever overflowing, and journalists' inboxes are no exception. Too often, PR pros' expectations for journalists to cover their campaigns or initiatives are laced with entitlement, assumption and a lack of mindfulness for how journalists choose what to cover, or what their beats actually are.

That's why PRNEWS is hosting a pitching panel at our Media Relations Conference, going down Dec. 12-13 at the Georgetown Marriott in Washington, D.C. We've assembled a stellar group of PR pros and journalists to hold an honest dialogue around how developing this crucial relationship can not only increase your earned media success, but also provide you with a press ally who knows you, and your brand, personally.

Ahead of this session, we spoke to panelist Laura Brusca, VP, corporate communications, at Forbes. We asked her what she learned about working with journalists from the communications side of a global media brand.

PRNEWS: We often hear the advice “think like a journalist.” What has working for a media brand taught you as a PR pro about pitching and working with journalists that you didn’t realize before?

Laura Brusca: For me, it certainly has a lot to do with understanding how important it is to have relationships with them, open communication to stay in touch about things. There’s a real power to keeping an open chain of conversation, maintaining relationships that could bud into stories.

Laura Brusca, VP,  Corporate Communications, Forbes

PRN: To that point, I’m ten times more likely to cover a story if I know the PR pro pitching it as a person, even just a little bit. Even an automated pitch sent through Constant Contact doesn’t feel so anonymizing. I know that there’s a human being behind it.

LB: Yeah, and sometimes it’s even just having a cup of coffee and setting up a time to meet with them. Sometimes you’ll pitch a story and it’s not the story they want to tell at that exact moment, but you can have a conversation and something you’ve said, an idea you talked about or something your company might be doing, could spur interest or connect well to what a reporter’s beat or topic is.

Along those lines, understanding their beat, or focus, is really, really key. We have reporters and we also have contributors, and everyone has really specific coverage focus areas. Really understanding what they write about, who they are as a writer, what their interest area is, really helps when you’re developing and trying to share your story as a company, as well.

PRN: The expectation that we can always have an open conversation does wonders toward making me feel understood as a writer and a person, that you understand my niche. When I’m getting pitches that are off-topic, I don’t even bother to respond because it shows that the communicators haven’t done their research.

LB: Totally. Reporters are getting so many emails a day, and have so many people reaching out to them. We’re all in this email overload time right now, and sometimes you really need to prioritize. You need to do something to get their attention, or have a pre-existing relationship that gets their attention. Whether it’s the subject line, or, if you’re reaching out for the first time, make it really clear in the first line why they should connect with you—tell them what the news is, make it clear what you can offer them. We’re all in that world right now where managing and prioritizing when you have so many focuses is really key.

PRN: For sure, but that being said, there’s such a thing as being too direct and too glib, as well. I don’t want to receive something that’s so much of a tightly-angled news item it feels like I’m doing their bidding, even if I am. Some subject heads or ledes go out of their way to be so grabby or clickbait-y, but don’t deliver once I open up and read the pitch. You have to deliver and make sure the first lightning bolt you toss out actually strikes.

LB: Agreed. That’s why being concise and careful with your language is key. To your point, not using too much lingo or language that has too much marketing speak.

PRN: What’s your optimal mix for how much context and data/background to include in the first pitch? Facts and figures?

LB: Yeah, I’ll usually put two or three key bullets or data points that can intrigue them, then link to the full study. In general, with studies, if you want coverage on them it always helps if you can get it out on embargo before it’s released to the public, or give it as an exclusive to one reporter if it’s really newsy.

Be thoughtful about what makes this study different from every other study. What is the true news value? Sometimes with data and studies it can take a while to get to the news point. It’s our job to make sure you look for the news story and call it out very clearly. Sometimes that’s not always clear at first. It’s about understanding what makes it new and different.

PRN: One other thing about those mass pitches—we talk about something similar in the context of measurement—the difference between ‘qualitative’ and ‘quantitative’ insights. Working first with people who trust you has a much stronger qualitative element to the ask than casting out a big number to people who don’t even know how you work. It’s less about the blast radius of the number and more about the quality of the people you’re reaching out to.

LB: Absolutely, I agree. Also, it’s great to get top-tier coverage, but don’t forget about the trade outlets. If they get the story right, and do the story well, that’s a huge win.

 Our 2019 Media Relations Conference, Dec. 12-13 in Washington, D.C. at the Georgetown Marriott, will feature sessions on everything from pitching to measurement, crisis to influencer relations and more. Register now to hear from speakers at MSNBC, The Daily Beast, C-SPAN, KFC, Hilton, FEMA and others, including a special keynote with Soledad O'Brien!