CONTACT THE MEDIA: How to contact journalists and get them to publish articles
Whether you’re just starting out or are a seasoned veteran, effectively sharing your message with reporters can be tricky at times. Hopefully, you’ve already spent time crafting a great press release and are ready to fire it off. Now, it is time to figure out who, when and how to send your story to.
But before getting into specifics, a word of advice: calling media outlets is a task that entrepreneurs often delay unnecessarily. In our experience, the reason for the delay in executing this task is fear of rejection. This is a psychological barrier we cannot help you with, you must simply overcome it. The one thing we will say is that the only way of getting good at something is by doing it as many times as possible, and we hope these guidelines will encourage you to put your knowledge to the test as soon as possible.
Contacting reporters is one of the most important, valuable, and high return activities in the PR field. There will always be reporters that you have not had prior contact with, and it is important to make a good first impression. This is why we developed this chapter explaining the ins and outs of how to contact journalists and get them to publish articles.
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Choose the right moment
Timing is a determining component of media dynamics. Many topics are more relevant at certain moments of the year or specific periods, which means that the same story can be rejected or published depending on when you choose to contact the journalist.
A good tool for deciding the best time to place your project in the media is Google Trends. Thanks to this free tool, you can see when people search for a certain topic.
Let us give you a clear example. Imagine that you are releasing a weight loss product. When should you get in touch with journalists? Or rather, when will a journalist be more inclined to publish a story about your weight-loss project? Let’s look up google searches for the ‘Weight Loss’ topic in the United Kingdom in the last five years.
Google searches for ‘Weight Loss’ topic in the United Kingdom in the last five years. Data retrieved on 4th February 2019
As you can see in this five-year view, there is a very clear pattern that repeats every year: it peaks and fades out in cycles. This way we know that interest in weight loss is periodical: it repeats itself every year.
Now let’s zoom in on one year to see which weeks of the year people are more interested in weight loss.
Google searches for ‘Weight Loss’ topic in the United Kingdom in 2018.
We can clearly see that Brits care a lot about weight loss after the first week of January, but their interest declines progressively as the year goes by. However, this is not the case when looking at the Spanish audience:
Google searches for ‘Weight Loss’ topic in Spain during 2018.
Likewise, there is also a big spike in January, but we see two more points of interest in April and in June. Therefore, it is fair to assume that January would be a very good period to get both Spanish and British journalists interested in a story involving weight loss. Nevertheless, in Spain, you could also leverage the interest peaks from April and June to reach out to journalists.
This is how Google Trends can help you design a timeline for your media strategy that is based on real data from what people search for in google. This way, you can choose the most adequate timing to contact journalists and leverage naturally occurring peaks of interest. <br/><br/> Warning: the fact that your product is more relevant in a certain period does not necessarily mean that it will sell better. In the same way, the fact that the topic is more popular in a region does not necessarily mean that the region is the best target for a marketing strategy. Google Trends data only means that people are more interested in **hearing or reading about** that topic, not necessarily paying for it.<br/><br/>There is something else to watch out for. As we have mentioned, you are competing for people’s attention against other events that might be happening. This means that journalists will be more inclined to publish a story when there is not much else going on.<br/><br/>Sometimes the timing is simply against you. If there is a major political upheaval or natural disaster that appears out of nowhere, it suddenly changes the news priorities of the day. All the stories that were going to be covered are abandoned to throw resources and space to covering the major event. So if there is a natural disaster, a royal wedding or if something happens to a celebrity, journalists will have plenty of content and therefore will be less interested in what you have to offer.<br/><br/>And last but not least, remember that journalists are human beings with regular working calendars. If you call the newsroom during a bank holiday, it will be harder to get in touch with the right person.
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Targeting the right journalist
To get your story into the news, it’s very important that you get an idea of the hierarchical structures of media companies so that you can identify the decision maker and navigate your way to the right person. Luckily for you, journalism is a very systematic business, both in structure and hierarchy.
The content of media outlets is divided thematically into different SECTIONS. This is true for newspapers, TV, radios and most blogs. For instance, in the British paper The Sun, you have sections such as FOOTBALL, TV & SHOWBIZ, TRAVEL, MONEY or TECH among others.
In USA TODAY you will find a different arrangement, but it’s also divided into sections such as SPORTS, LIFE, MONEY or TECH.
And it’s not just for written media; TV is also divided into sections in its own way:
The idea of section applies to media outlets everywhere in the world, as you can see in the following examples from China, France, and Japan:
Understanding what the right section for your story is will make the job so much easier because you can tweak the press release in a way that fits in better with the content of that section. Due of this, effectively getting your message in the media means aiming for the right section.
Once you know the right section for your story, you can directly contact the journalist of that section and introduce them to your story. Regarding hierarchy, note that each section has its own team, which is managed by THE EDITOR of that section. The editor is the leader of the section. Thus there is a Sports Editor, a Money Editor and so on. The editor of the section supervises THE REPORTERS and assigns stories to them. The reporters are below the editors and they follow their command.
Therefore, when calling a small or medium-sized media outlet, you might want to ask for the editor of a particular section. But if it’s a larger outlet, you will have better chances of speaking with a reporter. Usually, reporters get to decide their own stories, but the editor has the last word and they can push or block stories if they want to. And remember that they are very busy people who are always in a hurry, so be mindful of their time and act in accordance with their proceedings.
The 10-Step Guideline
These are the steps that you need to follow to get in touch with a journalist and get them to cover your story:
- Look for the main telephone number in the outlet’s contact section of their website, or their Google Maps listing.
- Decide which section you think is more appropriate for the story (Sports, People, Money…)
- Call the outlet’s main number. The best time to pitch a journalist is between 9 and 11 a.m. The secretary will answer, and you’ll confidently respond: –Good morning, I’d like to speak to the editor of the whatever section. Thank you.
- When you get on the phone with the editor or the reporter of a section, start by asking “Is now a good time?”. Then you thank them for their time.
- Ask their names and write them down. Don’t ever forget their names.
- Tell them about the story by reading out the heading of the press release in a way that it feels conversational. The reporter is trying to figure out if you have a newsworthy story, so stick to the press release because that’s the best arrangement of elements to show it’s newsworthiness. The editor is also judging your speaking skills and your overall personality to determine if you are fit to be on camera. So be nice, pleasant and smile – people know if you are smiling over the phone.
- Ask them for their personal email so that you can send them a press release. If they give you the section’s general email that’s also okay (i.e., email@example.com) because you know their name.
- Send the press release to their name, both attached as a Word Document, and as a text on the email itself. The subject of the email should be the heading to the press release.
- Wait 20 minutes
- Call again to make sure they have received the press release, and tell them that you’ll be happy to share further information or meet them for an interview.
The expected outcome is that the editor or a reporter will call you back to request further information or to schedule a date for an interview.
Finding out journalists contact information
<p>In step 3 of the guideline:_Call the outlet’s main number_, we talked about calling the main telephone number of the media outlet and asking the secretary to put you through the editor of a particular section. This strategy may seem to easy, but it is what we recommend most, for a number of reasons.</p><p>Firstly, because you can do it right away. You just need to find out the main number of the outlet, pick up the phone and read your press release. It will take you less than five minutes to have your first attempt at explaining your story to a journalist. Then you do it again with a different outlet. And by the time you have pitched your story to ten journalists, you will be good at it. And you can do it all over the course of a single morning. Even if you fail 80% of the times, it is still the most time-effective way of getting in touch with journalists.</p><p>Secondly, because finding a journalist’s phone number is a task in itself and is more time consuming than people foresee. You must first research the identity of a journalist, which involves some effort, and then find their phone number, and it’s not always easy. And once you finally get on the line with the right person, you get to pitch — which is the main thing you want to be good at. This process may have taken you days.</p><p>If you want to go ahead with this strategy instead of simply cold calling, that is fine; although not our first recommendation. Some of the companies we have worked with over the years have had great success with research-and-target strategies. For instance, with a company called Watchdog Labs from Boston, we looked at the stories published by media outlets regarding topics related to the company, and then searched which journalists were writing about those particular topics. Then, they followed the journalists on Twitter and messaged them with info about the story.</p><h2 id="follow-up">Follow up</h2><p>One of the most important and overlooked steps when contacting the press is following up with reporters. You should always follow up. If the reporter does not get back to you, you should remind them of the story. Likewise, if the reporter publishes an article about you, you should thank them for it. Either way, you should follow up.</p><p>The key to a successful follow-up is knowing the name of the person you need to talk to. It’s so much easier to get past the secretary once you know who you want to reach, that’s why step 5 of the guideline:_Ask their names and write them down_, is so important.</p><h3 id="following-up-after-a-rejection">Following up after a rejection</h3><p>Once you have pitched your press release, if neither the editor nor a reporter gets back to you after a couple of days, you should call again and kindly remind them about the story. They may have forgotten about it because they are very busy people, and they will actually appreciate you following up on the lead.</p><p>However, it is possible that the journalist tells you that your story is “_not a good fit_” or that “_their boss didn’t like it_”. If they are not interested in the story, try to find out why. They will provide very valuable feedback. Maybe it is not the right season? Maybe the story is not interesting enough? This will help you rethink the press release and call again.</p><p>These are the most common reasons for a journalist rejecting a story:</p><ol><li>Bad timing: if it’s a seasonality problem, you can call back when the right time comes, or you can change the angle of the story.</li><li>Too much going on: if there has been another major event in that week, they may be focusing on that. Try calling in a week or two.</li><li>Not newsworthy enough: you need a bigger dinosaur.</li><li>They didn’t like you personally.</li></ol><p>If they do reject your story, keep it friendly and politely thank the journalist for their time — especially if the problem was that they didn’t like you. Don’t feel despondent, your next pitch may win them over. Relationship building can be the best way to increase your media coverage.</p><h3 id="following-up-after-the-story-gets-published">Following up after the story gets published</h3><p>Likewise, you must follow up once the story gets published to thank the reporter for spreading the word. 65% of journalists track how many times their stories are shared on social media, so the best way of showing gratitude is by helping them get clicks and page views.</p><p>Whether you tweet it, post it to Facebook or just pass it around to company employees and stakeholders, the extra reach will go a long way when it comes to strengthening your relationship with a reporter. And when you do, don’t forget to mention the outlet’s social media profiles and even the journalist’s account.</p><p>Once the story is shared, we recommend calling or writing an email to the reporter letting them know that you shared the article. You can say something in the lines of:</p><blockquote><p>I wanted to thank you for the article. It really means a lot. We have shared it on all our social media and people are loving it. Thanks again for your time and energy.</p></blockquote><h2 id="tips">TIPS</h2><h3 id="use-the-phone">Use the phone</h3><p>You might be thinking that, when contacting journalists, it might suffice to send an email instead of calling. That is a terrible idea. If you don’t call, you are wasting your time, regardless of how many emails you send.</p><p>Firstly, because editors and reporters receive hundreds of emails from people they have never met. Most of them contain spammy introductions and boring press releases attached that add no value to their work. Therefore, journalists ignore emails by default. Wouldn’t you?</p><p>And secondly, finding peoples emails addresses is a task in itself and is more time consuming than people foresee. On the contrary, picking up the phone and calling the main number will take you five minutes, and it’s a much better way to measure their interest.</p><p>Get this into your head: you have to use the phone.</p><h3 id="look-for-journalists-info-in-the-masthead">Look for journalists’ info in the_masthead_</h3><p>A good hack for finding information on specific journalists in any given media outlet is searching the word ‘masthead’ inside their websites, just like this:</p><p><img src="https://whereisthedinosaur.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/huffpost-masthead.png" alt="http://bit.ly/nytimes-masthead-gsearch"></p><p><a href="http://bit.ly/nytimes-masthead-gsearch">http://bit.ly/nytimes-masthead-gsearch</a></p><p><img src="https://whereisthedinosaur.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/huffpost-masthead.png" alt="http://bit.ly/huffpost-masthead-gsearch"></p><p><a href="http://bit.ly/huffpost-masthead-gsearch">http://bit.ly/huffpost-masthead-gsearch</a></p><p>This will usually take you to the static directory of journalists that work in that outlet, which often includes phone numbers.</p><p>Please note that in British English usage, the_masthead_is known as_imprint_.</p><h3 id="google-maps">Google Maps</h3><p>If you are having problems locating the main telephone number of the outlet, something that usually works well is looking for it Google Maps.</p><p>Many outlets hide their regular telephone numbers on purpose, and instead, direct calls to a call center, where you will have little or no success in reaching journalists. However, companies tend to put their real telephone number in google maps listings for many reasons.</p><p><img src="https://whereisthedinosaur.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/Huffpost-google-maps.jpg" alt=""></p><p>For this to work, it is important to make sure that you are looking at the right city. Many outlets have offices in different cities, as well as printing and distribution facilities. So you must make sure that the place you are calling is where journalists actually come into work.</p>
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Talk to journalists as if they are your friend
Our advice is to write to journalists as if they were your friends. Treat them like people, call them by their names and be slightly informal.
When asked, why do you immediately reject otherwise relevant pitches?, 22% of journalists cited a lack of personalization. Journalists receive dozens of emails every day from PR companies and all of them tend to look the same: “Dear Susan, we thought this might be of interest to you (…)”. Thus, these kind of emails become very easy to ignore.
This is why we recommend being personal and informal when talking to journalists, both over the phone and by email.
Present yourself as the most relevant person
Remember that Relevance of the people involved is one of the seven traits of news-worth. Therefore, Journalists want to talk to the relevant people involved, which usually means the founders or the CEO of the company.
Although PR is often delegated, writers want to be contacted by founders and CEOs of companies. We recommend using the founder’s email to send press releases because the response rate is higher.
Promise them the scoop
A good way of getting an editor or a reporter interested in your story is letting them now that another channel or newspaper is interested too, and assuring them that they will be the first to get it. This is why Media Coverage itself is one of the traits of news-worth.