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Don’t Get Ditched on Pitch

Robert Chilver

Having joined the WalkerSands team a few months ago with a background as a reporter for a newspaper in the Chicago suburbs, I thought I’d share some insights from my experience “switching to the dark side.”

It wasn’t long ago that I was the contact on the other side, receiving numerous calls, e-mails or faxes from, well, let’s just say “persistent,” PR people. I essentially moved from being pitched to doing the pitching.

But having that experience did teach me an awful lot about how a reporter handles the PR industry and that knowledge has proven valuable now that I am the one contacting reporters on behalf of clients.

One of the most basic tasks for a PR professional is the follow-up.  While it may seem like just another e-mail, I can’t stress enough how important those follow-up e-mails or calls are.

As a reporter, I was constantly concentrating on my most current story or, perhaps more importantly, my current deadline. I had a brief understanding of what was next on my plate but that was something I’d deal with when it came time.

So when I received an e-mail or call from a PR professional, it was never high priority. If they called, I’d just ask them to send an e-mail with the necessary information. And if they e-mailed, I’d let it sit there until I had some free time to go over the pitch, which was not often.

As the stories and e-mails piled up, that PR story remained at low priority. But a follow-up e-mail can do wonders in changing that. By sending that second contact, you’ve at least made the reporter feel like they owe you something, even if it’s just a “no” response.

But if there was a good angle or relevant topic in the pitch, I’d likely speak with my editor and with his approval, get started on an article. Now I must admit that sometimes I would write up a quick story just to get the PR contact to stop e-mailing or calling. But even when that’s the case, that PR professional has done their job.

As I now pitch clients for Walker Sands, I have already noticed how well the follow-ups work with other reporters as well. And as more and more newspapers, magazines and other media outlets cut staff, the time for a reporter to connect with a PR contact is limited.

So here are a few more tips to reaching my former colleagues, the reporter:

- Personalize a message: Even a quick “Have a great weekend” or “How was your holiday?” interaction helps the PR contact form a small relationship with the reporter. That will make it tougher to blow off e-mails or calls.

- Be persistent, not annoying: It pays off to keep following up with reporters but there is certainly a line to draw as well. Give them time. I had one PR woman call me basically every day about a possible story. I had to tell her I couldn’t write anything just for her to stop. I may have done something, however, if just given some time.

-Give me the story: Don’t just send an e-mail saying you have a “source” or “information” you can send me. Include the details so I can start envisioning how the story will end up. If I can’t see where this is going, I probably won’t take the time to investigate.

Feel free to add comments with any other helpful tips you know of. And don’t forget to follow-up if you want a response!