14 PR Tips from Known Journalists

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    On February 9, HARO —Help A Reporter Out (HARO), the free service that links journalists looking for viable sources to clients of PR companies — sponsored a four-person panel of national scribes to talk about the do’s and don’ts of the PR world in their world.

    The hour-plus conference (paid) call didn’t provide any deep revelations to seasoned PR practitioners, IMHO (and you will recognize some of the topics below that they covered on this blog). But it did a good job of re-enforcing basic and not-so-basic tips on how journalists like to be pitched, among other topics. In other words, it was a refresher course for the crusty and perhaps, some practical help for those innocents just treading into the field.

    On the call were HARO founder and panel moderator, Peter Shankman, the small business reporter from The Wall Street Journal, a travel writer for USA Today, a freelance journalist for Crain’s Business News in New York and other publications and a contributor to AOL — who covers the Weird News beat and also does work for other media outlets.

    Here were some highlights:

    • Strong Subject lines are very important: Rarely do the terms “Press Release” ring anyone’s bell. Write an intriguing headline.
    • Know what the reporter covers and read some of their stuff before pitching.
    • Personalize your email; mass email blasts are a turn-off that beg for the Delete button.
    • Identify a strong news hook. See what’s happening in the news cycle and if your subject, client, product fits in. Then shape your pitch.
    • Is it wise to qualify news release marked as Embargoed news? The WSJ reporter says they never honor embargoed releases. The others were less forceful on that front. Use discretion.
    • All of them spoke very highly of HARO as a helpful service that some people, however, abuse on occasion by pitching off- topic — which will get you booted off HARO yesterday.
    • Brevity is always a plus on a pitch.
    • The panel unanimously turned thumbs down on pitches made through social media like Facebook and Twitter, Fax and the U.S. mail — for me this was the eye-opener of the hour. Use their email first. Be prudent about follow up phone calls. Know when the reporter’s deadlines are and respect them.

    • Most panelists rely on press releases only for facts; rarely does a news release move any of them to write a story, so really work on your pitch.
    • Never send attachments.
    • Never send products (unless asked) — or gifts. Most newsrooms cannot accept gifts valued over $20.
    • You can ask a reporter for face time over coffee or lunch but most will say no; they don’t have time. The Weird News guy however was a little more flexible and liked the idea, although he’s outside of San Diego in a small town.
    • The panelists all described the best pitches as those that are current to news making — which means you might actually have to watch TV, listen to radio and read the newspaper and web news aggregators (believe it or not, a few people I know in this profession never do!)
    • It’s fine to provide background to reporters for future news stories, esp. if you missed being part of something they just wrote about and you want your client on their radar.

    Let me know what your questions and tips are and we’ll address in a future column. Happy pitching!


    For more resources, see the Library topic Public and Media Relations.


    Martin Keller runs Media Savant Communications Co., a Public Relations and Marketing Communications consulting company based in the Twin Cities. Keller has helped move client stories to media that includes The New York Times, Larry King, The CBS Evening News with Katie Couric, plus many other magazines, newspapers, trade journals and other media outlets. Contact him at kelmart@aol.com, or 612-729-8585