Congratulations, you’ve landed your first job (or internship) in PR. You must be nervous and excited at the same time. Someone tells you to pitch a story to the media, and then you are just terrified. Dozens of questions run through your mind, from “What if I send the wrong email?” to “What if I don’t get any coverage?”.
Been there, done that. I remember the feeling when I pressed the “send” button on my first ever email to a journalist. It’s nerve-racking, but trust me, it gets easier after a while.
Here are my top tips for communicating with journalists when you are a newbie in the PR industry. They are all based on my personal experience from the past year.
Learn the story by heart
If you’ve been given a task to write a press release, then you will most likely attend a briefing meeting with your client to learn all the secrets behind the project. But if not, read the news release a few times. Ask your colleagues if something is not clear. You need to know the whole story like the alphabet.
Do the research
Once you have read the press release, you will know the relevant titles for the media list. If this is the first time you are sending a press release to a certain publication, research it. Open their website and see where the story could fit. Who are the journalists writing similar articles? Ask someone at the office if they know the best people to contact. If they have built a good relationship with the journalists, there’s a pretty good chance they will open an email from the same agency/company.
Get the media list approved
Always get an approval of the media list from your manager and the client! Never send anything to a journalist that’s not on the approved list.
Nailing your email pitch
Be concise! Journalists rarely have the time to read all the emails they get, so make their lives a little bit easier by being brief and to the point in your pitch. Tell them why your story might be of interest to them and even in what section of the publication it might fit. You need one or two sentences to grab their attention, so don’t write an email that will go on and on for several pages. If possible, include an image in the body of the email, so they can visualize what you are saying.
Always, always get your manager to approve the email before sending it out. Remember that anything you write to a journalist is on the record, so they can use it. That’s why you need to be sure you are not saying things about clients that the media are not supposed to know.
Be personal, avoid bulk mail-outs. Now is the time for you to start building a relationship with those journalists, so make every email count. And make them feel special.
Check, check, check!
Once you have the press release, the media list, and the email pitch approved, you are pretty much ready to go. But triple-check for any grammar, punctuation, and spelling mistakes. Are you sending it to the right journalist? Also, make sure the time is good for sending press releases. I learned that the best time is between Monday afternoon and Thursday morning. If possible, try not to send anything on Friday (obviously unless the deadline for a journalist’s request is on that day).
Never follow up on the same day to check if the journalists received your email. They all work on tight deadlines and have hundreds of emails to go through every day, so give them a little breather. Depending on when you decide to send your press release, I would say it’s good to follow up approximately after 2 days. If you decide to call them, be very clear and straight to the point about why you are calling. Listen to their tone of voice. If they sound stressed just ask when it would be a better time to call. Don’t bombard them with emails or phone calls as this might ruin the relationship.
Say “Thank you”
If a journalist covered your story and sent you an email with the link, always say thank you. They are humans too, so they like to feel appreciated. If someone says they are not interested in this type of news, that’s alright. Thank them for letting you know and ask for feedback, so you can target them with more relevant stories in the future.
A huge part of your first job (or internship) in PR will be monitoring the coverage. Check on Google, social media, and the publications’ websites. Getting your first piece of coverage (and every single one after that) is an amazing feeling of excitement, pride, and gratefulness combined. Yes, you’ve managed to get the story out. Give yourself a round of applause. And don’t forget to tell your manager about the great coverage you got, so they can share it with the clients.
All in all, just enjoy it! Working in PR can be stressful, but it’s a fascinating career path. Don’t be afraid to ask your colleagues for help. You are not supposed to have an answer for every issue. Your first job is your opportunity to ask as many questions as you can and learn from everyone around you. Enjoy it and make the most of it!