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How to follow up on media pitches

Tenacity often pays off in PR, but when following up with media on a pitch there’s a difference between persistence and being overbearing. Where is that line? And how can you avoid crossing it?

Everyone defines that line differently, but in a nutshell it comes down to practicing common courtesy and learning the individual preferences of the editor, blogger, producer or reporter you are pitching. Where some don’t mind a PR professional following up, others prefer to get in contact if they are interested.

“If I can tell a pitch is sent specifically to me and not part of a mass e-mail, I will try to respond every time,” said Randi Weinstein, Phoenix Business Journal managing editor. “If I don’t respond, that means I’m either not interested in the idea or we’re not able to get to it. Sometimes I’ll hold on to a pitch that might fit a project we’re working on down the road. I’d rather not have the follow up. If I’m interested, I’ll let you know.”

Typically not hearing back can mean one of two things: they aren’t interested or they are simply too busy to respond to the hundreds of pitches they receive.

“Not always but more times than not it does mean we are not interested” said one Valley TV producer. “A good booker will at least reply with a ‘no’ but unfortunately we don’t always have that time luxury. There is a small chance that the booker is interested, but it has fallen between the cracks. That is when ONE follow up is always good. More than ONE becomes annoying and will push a booker away from the pitch.”

“Usually I’m distracted with something slightly more immediate,” said Megan Finnerty, nightlife editor for The Arizona Republic. “So call me, email me again, or send a carrier pigeon, if you can find one. Just don’t send food, gifts, liquor or a singing telegram.”

Persistence v. pushy
It should go without saying, but calling immediately after a pitch is sent just to ask if the email was received is a pet peeve of most media. Give it at least a few days, and don’t call while the show is on air, or during a print deadline. Hands down, most agree the most effective way to follow up is via email rather than phone. But how do you know when to follow up and when to let it go?

“As far as persistence and pushy goes, it’s not a big deal,” Finnerty said. “I am a forthright woman and appreciate it when others are that way, too. If I don’t want a story, I will just say so. Typically, I try to say why so in the future, you’ll have a better sense of what works for the sections I edit. And if I really say no, feel free to ask me who else might want it. It’s a big newsroom.”

The local television producer also suggested choosing one way to pitch – email or phone. Don’t try to pitch both ways numerous times. She said, “If I pass on the pitch then just understand there is a reason on my end we cannot do it. Do not overly question why I am passing on it.”

Bottom line – know the media outlet you are pitching (including deadlines), the contact’s beat if applicable, and why this particular story angle or segment is a good fit for their audience. If the answer is no, figure out why and go back to the drawing board.

“I really appreciate the PR pros who understand how the Business Journal works and craft pitches that are a fit for us,” said Weinstein. “We receive a lot of pitches for stories that aren’t part of our coverage area. PR folks who pitch good, exclusive stories and respond to reporters quickly are greatly appreciated.”

Always do your homework and understand their job is not to promote you or your client. Learn the likes and dislikes of individual members of the media and be respectful of their time so you can possibly become one of the “favorites.”

“My ‘favorite’ PR people are the ones who send clear, thorough and direct press releases that are free of grammatical and spelling errors,” Finnerty said. “My ‘favorite’ PR people tell me about big, cool things even before ALL the details are nailed down (even ones months out) so I can get them on my radar. My ‘favorite’ PR people know what sections of the paper I edit and write for, and if they’re not sure, they just ask.”

Pitching Tips (courtesy Megan Finnerty and a Valley TV producer):

  • A follow-up phone call should NEVER be done while a show is still in progress
  • Email is always the best way to contact a booker no matter what
  • Make sure it fits in one of the sections the journalist is responsible for
  • If pitching local, make sure it has a local tie
  • Always be mindful of timeliness
  • If the topic is obscure, reference larger publications that may have covered the trend and angles they pursued

Question: How do you follow up on a pitch? What have you found to be effective?

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