Sure, I laughed along with some of these jokes, but the punchline that PR is some sort of opposing, adversarial force has never rung true to me. During my career as a journalist, it was helpful PR professionals who helped me to write some of my best stories, by getting me a comment I desperately needed, or introducing me to a fascinating interview subject.
In my view, the journalist-PR relationship should not be adversarial, but collaborative. PR professionals need journalists to help shine a light on their clients and promote them, but journalists also need PR experts to help find stories and create engaging content for their readers.
This reflects one of Tyto’s core values: “Perfect Partnership” – this means we act and make decisions with the best interests of all our stakeholders in mind, including the journalists we pitch to every day.
So, as a journalist-turned-PR professional, I’ve been asked a few times how PR practitioners and clients can better pitch to journalists. For me, it boils down to three things:
1. Content is king
Whether it’s a news intern, a seasoned reporter or veteran editor, all journalists need content. They need fresh stories, original analysis and ideas for interesting feature pieces to provide content for their audiences.
But finding these stories and new ideas every day is exhausting, and so they do need help to feed that content machine. PR experts provide an invaluable role in helping journalists here, by connecting them to organisations and individuals who can offer commentary on a breaking story, are willing to be interviewed on complex topics, or provide a written byline that expertly explains a given subject.
But that doesn’t mean journalists will accept every idea. In fact, given the sheer number of pitches and content ideas that journalists receive, they are very discerning about what content they are willing to put their name on or include in their publication.
So yes, journalists need a lot of content. But PR professionals need to ensure the content they offer is top quality, targeted at the right outlet, and genuinely deserves to be published.
2. Solve a problem
The second-best piece of advice for PR practitioners (we’ll come to the best piece in a moment) on how to pitch to journalists comes from one of my old editors: treat it like you’re trying to solve a problem for them, not giving them extra work.
The fact is, journalists are incredibly busy. If you pitch an outline for an idea that will require the journalist to do a lot of legwork, they’re less likely to accept it. If you write a byline that is dull, self-serving or way off the given wordcount, the journalist must either rewrite it or ask you to do it again. All this extra work will not ingratiate you with the journalist and make it harder to get a pitch accepted next time.
But if you solve a problem for a journalist, by providing them with the quote they need or with a fantastically written byline, then they’ll make sure to prioritise your pitch the next time you send one. Which brings us to…
3. The Golden Rule of Pitching
The best piece of advice for pitching is simple. Before you pick up the phone or fire off that email, ask yourself: would you read this story? If not, then why would the journalist want to write about it? Why would their readers want to read it?
Of course, there are caveats to this. It might be important piece of corporate news that the client needs to share, even if it’s not the most exciting thing. But for everything else, such as byline pitches and feature ideas, you need the answer to the Golden Rule to be: “yes, I’d love to read more about this”. If you’re excited or intrigued by an idea, then your enthusiasm is more likely to spread to the journalist.
It can sometimes be so hectic in the world of PR and comms, with KPIs to hit and budgets to manage, that we can easily forget whether the content we’re pitching holds up. But if the content is good, it solves a problem, and is interesting enough that you want to read more about it, then you are well on your way to making sure a journalist accepts your pitch.