Our Toronto office recently hosted a panel discussion with three guests from the National Post: Matt Hartley (FP Tech Desk), Dan Ovsey (FP Executive) and Nancy Truman (FP Entrepreneur).
On the agenda were a range of topics, including updates on where the Canadian newspaper business is heading, how online journalism is changing the game and what the National Post is doing to differentiate itself. However, the liveliest element of the session was a discussion around the dynamic that exists between PR professionals and the media.
While many journalists regard PR as little more than “a necessary evil”, all three of our guests acknowledged the value that PR has brought to their respective beats. That being said, there were tips aplenty on maximizing the relationships for both sides and plenty of lessons to be learned on how best to pitch (and not to pitch) media of all kinds.
Here are five simple tips that PR pros can follow to endear themselves to their friends in the media.
Do your homework, know your target: It sounds elementary but it’s really important to have a clear understanding of what an outlet is covering at the time that you’re pitching them. Truman pointed out that she receives many pitches that are wildly outside her section’s mandate of covering Canadian entrepreneurs doing interesting, entrepreneurial things. Too often, she says PR professionals will try to shoehorn a story or angle into a beat where it is clearly not a fit and this wastes time for all involved.
Embargos can be a deal breaker: Embargoes are inevitable for many organizations and both PR professionals and the media make an effort to accommodate them. However, the ability to respect embargos is often dictated by production cycles (such as the Post’s 5:30am ballpark delivery time each morning) so an embargo can often make a potential news story a non-starter.
Creativity is great… but get to the point: Newspapers like the National Post have limited space and limited bandwidth in 2012, so the primary focus for our guests and many others in the Post newsroom is hard news. While journalists like Hartley enjoy hyperbole as much as anyone else (which is to say, not very much), he most appreciates being pitched in a clear, straightforward manner: what is the opportunity, what is the access to the newsmakers and (most importantly) what is the story.
Don’t shop your pitches around the newsroom: If you’re looking to get yourself on a journalist’s “do not call” list, a clear path is to pitch multiple people in the newsroom on the down low. Ovsey says it’s completely understandable that certain pitches may have relevance in multiple sections of the newspaper. What’s important is to be upfront and honest about it. You can copy each potential target on a single email, outline the potential angles and see whom it might be the best fit for. Media are far more likely to be collaborative with you if you’re willing to be collaborative with them.
Respect deadlines, at all times: Daily print publications like the Post go down to the wire every day in production and even fledgling PR pros should recognize that content is almost always locked by mid-afternoon. Focus your pitching efforts on the morning hours and never put media in the situation where they’d be forced to write about your client under duress. These situations never end well for anybody.