How to do PR outreach (and 10 garbage fire mistakes to avoid)
You want to reach out to the media but you don't want to look silly by making a rookie mistake.
We here at Prezly are big fans of you not looking silly. We will do our best to demystify the world of media outreach by breaking it down into 4 easy steps.
In addition, we asked some really smart people in the industry what they would consider to be some of the biggest PR pitching and outreach mistakes, and, more importantly, how to avoid them.
- What is PR outreach?
- The biggest PR outreach mistakes
- The 4 ingredients of successful media outreach
Before we get too deep into it, let's define PR outreach (often called media outreach). Simply put, PR outreach is sending the media whatever you want them to pick up and distribute to their audiences. It's not a complicated concept, but it can be remarkably difficult to do correctly.
Why does PR outreach get so complicated? Simply put, everyone wants media coverage. You would be hard-pressed to find a business or agency that's like, "No, no. No media coverage for us, please. We're doing just fine." In an attention economy, the ability to get eyes on your brand, event, or product is incredibly important, and brand recognition alone is priceless.
Because media coverage is so coveted, getting it is competitive and time-consuming. This leads to many people taking shortcuts or resorting to nefarious means when attempting to connect with journalists.
But it doesn't have to be this way. You can get media coverage and not sell your soul.
This is the juicy part of the article. We asked 200 communications professionals what they think the biggest pitching mistakes tend to be, and they gave us a variety of impassioned answers. These professionals include journalists, authors, publicists, digital marketers, business owners, and everything in between.
We wanted to know what's not going right in the world of PR outreach. And boy, did we get some strong opinions.
So, what were the biggest mistakes?
Reporters often tell me that one of the biggest mistakes PR people make is sending a pitch to the wrong reporter. PR people need to do research to determine who the right reporter(s) is. Is there beat a fit for your pitch? If it's local/regional news, does the reporter cover that city or region?
Another related mistake is doing NO research and sending a pitch out to MANY reporters at once. This is spam and should NEVER be done, although media databases are set up to allow this to happen.
The biggest mistake we found when speaking with communications folks is not researching who they're talking to when reaching out to the media. 65 of the 200 participants, or a whopping 32.5%, said that this is the most common mistake people make when pitching.
This was by far the biggest gripe we came across because it speaks to the overall culture of careless, obnoxious, mass-spamming tactics. To put it nicely, not researching the journalist or publication is a huge, annoying waste of time and nobody likes it.
To avoid this, do your research. Take the extra time out and contact the right person, at the right email, with their name spelled properly. Everyone wins! And it's the biggest, more sure-fire way to differentiate yourself from the competition.
The biggest mistake I see PR people make is that they pitch products, not stories. Many frame their pitches with the mindset that journalists work for them and their clients. They focus too much on the product they’re trying to promote and not enough on how relevant it is to a specific audience. Journalists have one goal: to inform, educate and entertain their readers. That purpose shapes the way they pursue and present their stories. When you approach them with that same purpose in mind, your pitches will be successful. The writer will see that you care about their audience and how your topic would resonate with it. Instead of being a nuisance, you’re a source they can rely on for helpful content.
50 participants, or an entire 25% of all respondents, indicated that not providing value was a huge, common PR pitching mistake. Of course, your brand wants to be in the news. Everyone's brand wants to be in the news. But does that mean your story is newsworthy? If you can't succinctly explain why your story is interesting to the journo's audience within a sentence or two, your pitch needs work.
Plus, people are generally less likely to work with you if you're not offering to provide value. We all have that "friend" who only calls when he needs a ride to the airport or help moving his big couch, but is radio silent when it's time to return the favor. Sending out a PR pitch that only addresses your needs and never theirs makes you the communications equivalent of a pariah.
It's in all of our best interests to learn how to pitch our news as a story. In fact, we spent a whole PR Roundtable with a former journalist Melanie Deziel learning how to do exactly that.
Personalization has never been more important in your PR pitching and communication with writers/reporters/editors. The biggest ‘hack’ isn’t actually a hack, but is just turning the clock back a bit to a time where communication was more personal and directed then it is today. Generic email blasts, email newsletters, and using tools like Mailchimp to send to 1000 reporters at once isn’t going to work.
Instead, be more picky with your targets and take the time to put together a personal email chain with them. Personalize your first pitch to them and do the same with follow-ups each week to try and gently nudge them with the story idea you have in mind. If you are correct in your targeting, have an actual PR story to tell, and are persistent in your personalizing strategy, then you should at least get word back from your recipients and - possibly - have it turn into a good opportunity.
Similar to the problem of not researching your media contacts, sending out a generic, boring mass pitch to anyone and everyone is a good way to get chucked into the spam folder. 21% of participants indicated that impersonal pitches are a huge industry problem. You certainly don't need to write a heartfelt poem for each contact, but some individualization and personalization will go a long way.
Individualize your pitches. Discuss how the journalists' previous body of work compliments the story you want to tell in some tangible way. Get as invested in them as you want them to be in you.
One of the most common (and consistently made) errors in the PR world is people crafting press releases that have no real worth – So many times PR agencies are placed under pressure by clients to send out a press release that touches upon all their key points an strategies, the problem is the end result is often overtly promotional in nature and is of no use to any decent journalist. Your pitch must always be relevant, noteworthy and newsworthy otherwise it will not get covered. When drafting a release I always ask myself, 'would I write/read a story on this?' to ensure I never lose sight of the end goal.
Earned media is about having a story to tell. 12% of our comms respondents indicated that too many PR pitches are far too self-promotional. They don't sell the story and only focus on the product or brand.
When pitching the media, keep the reader in mind.
You did it! A journalist wants to run your story and they are messaging you to follow up and, crickets. Tumbleweeds. You're MIA. Where did you go?
If you pitch to the media, be available for a nearly instantaneous follow-up. Maybe they want an interview, maybe they want some more additional assets, or maybe they want to ask for clarification before running your story. The reality is that we have to be on the journalists' timeframe because they simply do not have the flexibility to wait around forever for a response.
Remember the acronym ABRTFU (Always Be Ready to Follow Up). Never heard of it? That's because it's a new thing I invented just now. But regardless, it's still great advice.
Making your pitch too long or too complicated. Keep it simple and to the point - you don't want to confuse or lose the interest of your prospect.
19 of our communications professionals (9.5% for those doing the math) indicated that media pitches are often way too long. It's tempting to want to tell the complete story of your brand and not leave anything out, but you run the risk of losing the attention and focus of your already too-busy media contact.
Keep your pitch short, sweet, to the point. Include all necessary links to assets but don't clog up your pitch with massive image or video files.
In fact, you know what's great to prevent this? An aesthetic press kit full of your highest-quality images and multimedia.
Your brand is great, but is it literally the best? Like, life-changing, revolutionary, unbelievably amazing? Maybe it is! But substantiate hyperbolic claims with facts and figures, or else it seems smarmy and overhyped.
Your press release headline is super important, but it has to be believable and supported by cold hard facts or you will be the communications equivalent of the Boy Who Cried Wolf. Be honest when pitching, even if it's a little underwhelming. Better to sell what you have in the best way possible than over-promise and lose credibility.
In today’s very competitive media landscape, showing common courtesy and respect will go a very long way in developing a solid relationship, and enhance the likelihood that an email pitch is not ignored or immediately deleted.
Building relationships with the media is critical. Not only do you get a great contact for future news stories, but you also have the possibility of making a new best friend.
Okay, best friend might be a bit much. But frankly, having a good working relationship with people in the media is always a good thing. If they know you to be a reliable industry leader and you consistently deliver them content for their publications, who knows? There may be matching "best friends" necklaces in your future.
Jargon is one of those things that just happens when you get too close to a subject and you forget that not everyone knows your niche as well as you do. Sometimes details can get lost in the weeds, or a pitch can peter off (not unlike an exceptionally long article on PR outreach). I'm here all week, folks!
The average reader is likely not going to be an industry insider in your field, so breaking down the pitch into digestible, understandable terminology instead of dense jargon means your story is more likely to get picked up.
Don’t be aggressive or antagonistic; don’t act like the reporter or editor works for you; don’t blow people off. Always try to be helpful and give the media something they can use. Follow up to make sure they have all the context and facts they need. And never, ever, play the 'friend of the owner or publisher' card.
Reporters are often happy to work with you! But they definitely don't work for you. Incessant follow-ups are grating and a great way to get yourself on a journalist's naughty list. If they plan to work with you, they will get back to you. And many journalists may not need your angle now, but they might remember your oh-so-relevant story later down the line (if you don't burn the bridge first by being pushy).
You may have the perfect spin and the most interesting take on a subject, but if you are not speaking from a place of industry authority, a journalist is not going to publish you. If they are writing an article on, for example, a recent NASA launch and you provide them a detailed, well-constructed Space Thought but your credentials are Bob Windmere, Chief Balloon Officer at Clown Party Supply? Sorry, Bob, you failed to position yourself as an aeronautical industry expert and have disappointed the journalist, yourself, the clowning industry, and space.
Other common PR pitching mistakes mentioned by our communications sources include:
- Poor timing (pitching too early or too late)
- Incomplete pitches (missing details and media assets)
- Lacking strategy
- Poor communication (speling erors, bad formatting, not following requested submission rubrics)
- Being inauthentic
Now that we've covered all the ways to do it wrong, how can you do PR outreach right? Let's go through the four simple steps to take in order to maximize your coverage and not irritate the hell out of a bunch of journalists.
Think of media outreach like a cake. If you forget an ingredient when making a cake, can you still bake the cake? Sure, but it'll taste like crap. The same is true of your outreach strategy. If you miss a key ingredient in the process, the rest of your outreach cake will be wasted.
Strategic thinking is important. Anyone can just send a bunch of emails, do a tweet, throw a few paid adverts up on Google and call it a day. That's technically a PR outreach campaign, but it's not a very good one.
No, PR outreach strategy requires forethought and planning. It requires meetings and decisions and comically oversized corkboards covered in bits of paper.
When creating a strategy for your PR outreach, ask the following questions:
- What is the goal of this campaign?
- Who is responsible for what?
- How much time and how many resources will be dedicated to this PR outreach campaign?
- Did we write a good press release that will knock their socks off?
- What analytics will we track, and are there infrastructures in place to track the data?
- How will we know when the campaign is successful/finished?
- What value will we be able to demonstrate to justify the cost of the campaign?
👉 To learn more about building a solid PR strategy, watch this roundtable discussion.
Have you ever received an email advertisement that completely, utterly, and entirely has nothing to do with you? Maybe it's an ad for sports equipment and you don't play sports, or it's an ad for baby clothes and you've never even met a child before. You know, just an entirely off-base email. Well, journalists get approximately one billion of those every single day.
If that sounds like a bit of cheeky hyperbole, check out this quote from Cision's 2021 Global State of the Media:
Fifty-three percent of journalists receive more than 50 pitches a week, and 28% receive more than 100 per week. Yet the vast majority of journalists (69%) say only a quarter (or less) of the pitches they receive are relevant to their audiences.
Journalists, including the ones we've spoken with, are practically begging people to stop sending them unrelated crap. And since journalists and publications are essentially the gatekeepers of the media and they decide which stories they'll run, we would do best to listen to what they have to say.
Basically, a good media list starts with good research. It's more time-consuming than, say, buying a media list, but it's infinitely better for building good media relations and getting quality results.
Now that you've created the perfect media list, it's time for the pitch. Really though, if you're pitching the right people, this is the easiest part. You have a story that provides value to the readership, and you know this because of all the legwork you put into researching the journo and their publication. The email is easy peasy.
Your pitch email should include:
- A killer subject line
- A non-spammy, thoughtful, and specific pitch that provides value
- A link to your press kit or a newsroom with all of the necessary digital assets
- Contact information for follow-up
Boom, done. Review the email and hit send after doing a once-over for errors.
Your strategy is implemented and the right people have been contacted with the best pitch. Now, you wait.
For real though, this part is important. You can't decide if the media will be interested in your pitch, but you can be ready to jump into action when they get back to you.
And now you're done! Congratulations on your successful PR outreach strategy cake situation. Combining all of these elements will result in better media relations, more frequent story coverage, and less time wasted on bad pitching.
There's no sure-fire way to bypass the hard work of getting quality media coverage. It takes research, relationship building, effort, and strategy.
You can make your life easier, though, by using the right tools. Prezly won't sell you media lists or do the research for you, but we can help you craft pitches, host professional newsrooms, and send effortless campaigns – all from one intuitive tool. Want to try it out yourself for free? 👇