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8 ways to not put off journalists when you pitch

8 ways to not put off journalists when you pitch

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There is growing distrust towards the media, with 46% of respondents surveyed by the 2022 Edelman Trust Barometer saying that media is a divisive force in society, along with 48% who cited the same sentiment for governments. The lack of faith in media stems from the rise of disinformation and division, and consumers feel that the media as well as governments are feeding the cycle and exploiting it for commercial and political gain, according to Edelman.

The symbiotic relationship between journalism and PR will never change. In an era where disinformation is on the rise, it is even more crucial for both parties to work together for factual messaging and news pieces. That said, mutual understanding and trust is important for the media and PR professionals to work together effectively and effortlessly.

During MARKETING-INTERACTIVE's recent PR Asia 2022 conference, Ibrahim Sani, executive producer and senior current affairs editor at Astro AWANI and Intan Maizura Ahmad Kamal, editor, New Straits Times shared their experience when dealing with PR professionals as well as tips to note when dealing with the media.

1. Don't call immediately after sending a press release

Yes, PR practitioners are often acting on instructions when it comes to following up on pitches or press releases but hold your horses on calling immediately. "Don't send a press release and then call us about it because we would respond if we had read the release," Ibrahim said, adding:

If the story is so compelling, we would call you. 

Meanwhile, Intan said that journalists are human and as such reading the mood of the person is important. PR professionals also often find themselves caught in the middle having to juggle the needs and requests of their clients with the media's editorial requirements. While that can be a tough feat at times, Intan said it's quite easy to pacify the media -  simply build a relationship by asking them out for coffee.

2. We are either really busy or just aren't interested

Those in the PR industry would know all too well the radio silence they face when pitching to the media. Let's face it, not all pitches are successful and it's usually either the journalists are busy or they just simply aren't interested in the pitch.

According to Intan, it's most obvious that she isn't interested in the pitch when she doesn't respond after the first email. However, if there is still silence on her end despite multiple follow-ups, this means she is either really busy or uninterested. 

Intan said: "If we actually take the trouble to reply via WhatsApp, means we want to talk to you." Intan is currently the editor of Sunday Vibes, the weekend publication of the New Straits Times. In addition to managing her team of writers and designers, she also goes out for stories and conducts interviews, writes, edits, and assists the design team with layout, as well as oversees the overall planning of the publication and liaise with PR folks and clients. She’s also the producer and co-host of the New Straits Times’ podcast, Sunday Vibes @ NST podcast.

3. Build real relationships

Like PR, journalism is a fast-paced industry too and there will always be several intense moments for journalists and editors when they are chasing stories. When things get really busy, this is where the relationships that you have built with the media come in handy.

"If we've been having chats several times, the next time I see your phone number when you call, I'm going to be like: 'Hey, what's up?' I'm responding to a friend rather than a customer so that's a real relationship," Ibrahim said. He stressed the symbiotic relationship that journalism and PR have, especially in the era of social media where users can publish content as and when they wish without having to go through official channels. 

"I can't think of 365 stories. I need your help but if we don't know each other, you will most likely [get ignored]," he added. Ibrahim currently produces and hosts Notepad, a show that focuses on the intersection between tech and business, with a splash of finance. Notepad speaks to captains of industry, up-and-coming startups, and organisations that bring meaningful impact to the community.

Citing an example, he said he caught wind of the news concerning UOB acquiring Citibank's consumer banking businesses in Malaysia and Thailand and reported on it quickly. "How did we get that done quickly? The corporate communications person was an ex-colleague and I was sent the news, that's how fast it's going to get done," he added.

4. Know who you are pitching to

While this might sound like common sense, there are still occasions when PR professionals make the embarrassing mistake of pitching to the wrong media. Intan was once asked if she worked for competitor The Star. "What gets me most is the fact that they sent [the pitch] to the wrong editor, they have no idea who they are sending it to," she said.

Meanwhile, Ibrahim said the moment a PR or communications professional does not know which email to send the pitch to, they are in trouble. "You are supposed to know who to go to. If you just Google and find a generic email online, then it's game over," he added.

(Read also: Study: Only 3% of PR pitches get a response)

5. Be honest in your pitch

If journalists are promised a one-on-one interview, it should stay that way. "I don't want your whole gang to be there," Intan said. From her experience, what usually happens is she gets promised a one-on-one interview but upon arriving at the venue, she sees the whole PR team sitting in. 

"What I'll do is, I'll make a note of it and remember the PR company's name because they did not deliver what was promised," she said. Intan explained that journalists would not want to be in the room with three other PR people, for example, because what tends to happen is that the interviewee gets really nervous and he or she will keep turning to the PR person to check if he or she is on the right track. "That's not going to flow nicely and it puts me off," she said.

6. Curry favours do not work

While building relationships is crucial, it is also important to remember that curry favours do not work. Just because a journalist is your friend does not necessarily mean the story will get picked up. "My own integrity is based on my name, that's the only currency I have, nothing else. If I no longer have credibility among my readers, I'll need to find another profession," Ibrahim said.

Meanwhile, Intan said that while she has friends in the PR industry and that it is because of their friendship that the PR professionals would know what to pitch and what not to. "If they know this is something that's not going to sit comfortably with me and also questions my ability, they will not go there. I appreciate that and that's every respectful," she explained.

7. Read the room and angle your pitch

Being timely is important for the media and journalists are always trying to ensure that their stories reflect the atmosphere of the country. With the General Elections coming up in Malaysia, for example, Ibrahim said he would be interested in angling stories that cover topics related to it. 

"There was a law firm that wanted to come onto my show and the only moment I would say is when they are able to talk about the policies of politics since it's elections season right now. And then perhaps we can angle it to mention the law firm and its proposition. Indeed, the law firm came onto the show and talked about elections-related issues such as GST and inflation," he explained. Ibrahim added:

Read the atmosphere, angle the clients to what we need and the moment you do that, there is trust and there will be opportunities for you to put forward whatever you want to.

At the same time, Intan also finds it very respectful when PR folks have done their homework and know how and what to pitch. "I respect your profession, you respect mine so let's meet in the middle. At the end of the day, if you know what we do, how we deliver our stories and you tailor your pitch to that, chances are your story will be picked up," she explained.

This is especially crucial in today's day and age where newsrooms are facing manpower crunch. As such, they aren't able to send journalists on the ground to hunt for fresh news and stories. "So we do value input but please do some homework, know what we are looking for and we can help you back," Intan added.

8. Don't expect a story from media drops

Media drops are a good way to raise awareness about a new product or fresh piece of news that a brand wants to launch. While media drops can be fun, it is important to not expect a story out of it. "I don't like receiving gifts. What happens is [PR professionals] will say, 'You don't have to run a story, we just wanted to visit and drop off a basket of bread.' But what you're saying to me is you don't want me to write about it now. So the next thing I know, I get asked when am I running the press release," Intan explained.

Related articles:
Quiet quitting in PR: It isn't new and it isn't so bad
Struggling with quiet quitting? Here are 3 tips for PR professionals

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