As part of our ongoing series of interviews with leading editors and reporters, we interviewed CRN’s Managing Editor Phil Harvey to learn some PR pitching tips. During our recent chat, Harvey highlighted what he thinks makes a good PR person, what a tech reporter is looking for in a story, and how good PR folks must juggle client and reporter needs. Here are four key takeaways from our recent discussion.
1. Give Context, Give Everything You Can
A reporter’s job is to uncover as much information as possible. In the modern media landscape, they also need to have a novel angle while facing quick turnaround deadlines. These challenges are doubly true for a tech journalism landscape where access to news is much easier to get. Whether a product launch or funding round, companies are not bashful about getting coverage so a journalist’s job is to provide context. For PR people, that means offering as many resources as possible when pitching. Harvey recommends offering more than a c-level interview next time you send out that pitch email.
“Include research or knowledge in your pitch. Instead of just asking to setup an interview with some expert, sneak a reporter a copy of a report. Give them something to validate an idea and prove you’re not just giving them a bunch of superlatives about a market,” said Harvey.
2. Dig A Little Deeper
It can often be tempting for PR people to take a shotgun approach to pitching. A one-size fits all email that pleases everybody, but impresses no one. While this approach might give you bylines, it won’t always give you the best story. It’s important to pitch the right outlets the right stories. To create lasting relationships with reporters, Harvey recommends PR types go the extra step and give each reporter something that fits better with the stories they work on.
“Some of the best experiences I’ve had are times when I’ve been setup to interview somebody, and the [PR person] worked a little bit harder to find me someone with better access or a better title. They upped the expectation a little bit because they could, and knew it would make for a better story,” reports Harvey.
3. Be a Resource, Not a Cheerleader
It’s key for PR people to never make promises they can’t keep. Even if your client says they can do something doesn’t mean they will, and in such cases your job is to make sure to hold them accountable. Harvey believes it’s vital for PR people to speak plainly with clients even if they might not always want to hear it.
“Credibility is a big issue. If you’ve never established your credibility with a client— in terms of being a person that will tell them the truth even when it doesn’t go their way— then when a crisis happens you don’t have a chance of dampening the effect of that reporting. You have no chance at all,” adds Harvey.
4. Remember: You Succeed When a Reporter Does
At the end of the day, a good PR person is only as good as the journalists who open their emails. Their job is to really just help a reporter do their job. A client’s needs are important, but they’re paying for access, bylines, and guidance. The nitty-gritty of a PRs’ job is to help writers write the story a business wants to share. They can only do that with the resources you provide. So if you do your job well, a reporter can do their job well too.
“I’ve had really great experiences and really awful ones. However, most of the time – in most situations – my experiences tend to be pretty neutral. PR people do their jobs well, and help us do our jobs well,” finds Harvey.
5. Bottom Line: PR is A Study in Expectations
At the heart of all the tips outlined by Harvey is the truth that reliability is a core tenant of PR. Being honest and managing expectations is vital for PR people, and that goes for their relationship with both reporters and clients. To get a reporter’s attention, it can be easy to make promises your client can’t deliver. It’s also too easy to let your client think they can give every reporter something they’d want. In each case, it’s important to make sure everyone is on the same page. So next time you’re working with a reporter— or a client— double check to make sure you’re on the same page. Also, don’t forget to follow the Witz End blog for more pitching tips in the near future.
James is the editor for Witz End and a former journalist who decided to take his talents to marketing and PR. His writing has appeared in publications like Mashable, GameNGuide, Clickz, V3, and notebooks around the world.