The onset of a public relations (PR) campaign can feel like a daunting task. Your client or your company wants to tell the world about their idea, product, or company, and it’s your job to get the word out to as many people as possible. Ideally, they want their story in trade magazines, local papers, and on the nightly news.
How can any one person or PR team achieve that?!
Take a step back.
Your job at any given moment is to get the attention of an editor or reporter who will decide whether or not to write about or feature your company. That’s all you need to focus on at a given moment.
After you’ve reached out to that one person, you’ll send a note to another.
And then drop a third one a line.
And so on, until you’ve contacted every publication on your list.
Much success in PR is out of your hands: timing, market factors, and (frankly) luck have a big impact on whether or not your story will make the cut for an article. But since so much is up in the air, you need to do your best as a PR professional to make the parts of the pitching process you can control as likely to succeed as possible.
If we can only control 25% of the process, you had better make sure that is the strongest 25% of the whole campaign.
The best way to be a reliably effective PR representative is to build relationships with editors and reporters who cover the industry you pitch in. And in order to successfully build those relationships, there are some simple do’s and don’ts for etiquette when you work with the media. Let’s dive into them.
Do’s and Don’ts of Public Relations Etiquette
DON’T: Think of reporters and media outlets as being there to do you a favor.
DO: Position yourself as a resource to reporters. Editors and journalists love nothing more than quick and reliable access to experts in the area they cover. If you represent such an expert or a leader in the industry, establishing yourself as someone they can reach out to when they want a quote or another perspective is mutually beneficial for you both. You can get here by thinking in advance, what do they need for their next stories, and how can I get it to them?
DON’T: Follow up a couple hours after your first email to see if the editor got your note.
DO: Follow up—but only after a couple days have passed. If the announcement is time-sensitive and you think it’s of particular interest to a certain publication, reach out a couple days beforehand to offer the reporter or editor an early look at the news under embargo.
DON’T: Send the same email to dozens of reporters. Especially not all on the same chain (or in a clearly informal, BCCed email).
DO: Take the time to understand what the reporter is most interested in, and tailor at least the hook of your pitch to fit their beat. There will likely be similar language across pitches for a single campaign—some of the language from your client about the finer details of the announcement, for example, will stay the same—but personalizing the pitch and the introduction will go a long way toward reporters taking you seriously (and them feeling sure you actually know what they write about!).
DON’T: Send attachments in cold emails.
DO: Paste press releases or story ideas into the body of the emails. Many spam or virus blockers will make it so an email with an attachment never makes its way to your contact, and even if it does, if they don’t know you they are likely to be pretty wary of even opening your email.
DON’T: Tell them about the news or story and then disappear.
DO: Be a resource for them! Offer an interview with a subject matter expert (SME) at your organization, provide background info and research to support the newsworthiness of what you’re pitching. If they want to speak to an expert at your client or company, don’t just send them a contact info; you personally should coordinate the timing and details of the meeting with both parties, sending out calendar invites, and making sure each attendee has all the information needed to prepare in advance of their meeting or phone call.