You can now find and reach almost anyone through social media, making it a quick and easy way to pitch.
But should you?
Not as an opening salvo, according to Peter Himler, founding principal of Flatiron Communications LLC, a 14-year-old New York City digital media consultancy. “[Journalists] feel it’s a personal intrusion. It’s creepy and stalkerish.”
Himler, as president of the Publicity Club of New York, regularly hosts panel discussions with top beat journalists in various media, and hears their concerns clearly. “Nearly every producer I’ve spoken to about this has discouraged the PR community from pitching them through social media,” he says.
When is it OK? “If you’re working on an important story that’s on a journalist’s beat, the news value will give you more latitude on how to engage the journalist.”
It is also more acceptable if you're already friends with, or have a prior working relationship with a journalist. “You can DM them on Twitter,” Himler suggests, as long as “they will see this as a viable story.”
Email remains the best way to reach journalists, even if their inboxes are overflowing, using a tweet or direct message to check in if the idea is losing its timeliness.
But Himler cautions that PR pros still new to Twitter and other forms of social media should wait until they have a decent following, a good bio and are verified before using them to contact journalists. “Without these, you probably have less of a chance they’ll follow up. Twitter is where you need to be and if you’re not on it you’re doing your clients a disservice. Journalists have embraced it more than any other profession.” And also be sure to check a journalist's tweet stream to see if they're likely to be responsive to your pitch.
You should follow the journalists who are covering your clients’ industries, the top 20 or 30 – and see who they follow as well.
Twitter, Himler admits, can feel daunting to many PR pros, fearful of saying the wrong thing or wasting time on it. But it’s become a global water cooler, a great place to “gather intelligence on what journalists are doing.”
Here are some tips for doing it right:
Build relationships. Clients come and go. But beat journalists tend to stay where they are and keep writing. It's important to take time to initiate and build relationships with the writers who are consistently covering your clients' industries.
Be human. Don’t just rely on automated, possibly outdated lists. And be emboldened and disarming in your communication style on social media, not staid or dry. Humor can go a long way in piquing a reporter's interest.
Offer a reasonable deadline. Give plenty of advance notice for when a journalist needs to respond to your pitch— two to three weeks ideally.