(Hint: it’s not stalking.)
You hit send on your press release, emailing it out to your list of targeted journalists…. Not mass-blasted (bite your tongue, evil temptation of the past!), but sent to a carefully built list of only those who would find this particular release news relevant and of interest.
But since your news is obviously the best thing since sliced bread(!), you are baffled why they aren’t rocked to their core in amazement and knocking your (virtual) door down in their haste to cover your story!
What the heck? Now what?
According to this complete embarrassment of a blog post on PR Daily, a co-author of the book Guerrilla Publicity actually recommends the “Rule of Seven” – following up seven times. Horrors! That is a great way to be permanently blocked by that reporter! Yikes. I’m guessing that author is not actually a PR professional. Maybe an entrepreneur?
How to effectively follow up with journalists once you’ve distributed a press release is something most of us learn via trial by fire and many, many errors.
It is a skill rarely taught in-house at agencies or employers. So we learn via chirping crickets (as Shonali says below), by getting blasted with journalist ire for screwing up and, for the more progressive thinkers, by asking for help from our peers, by reading about best practices and constant testing to see what drives improvement.
- Should I pick up the phone and call?
- How many times should I send an email?
- Would sending the press release again help?
- How can I do my job and maximize pick-ups of the news without going over the line and being a TOTAL pain in the ass?
I can tell you how many times I usually follow up –> I don’t.
Not always. It completely depends on what kind of news I’m announcing in the press release. A fair number of them are corporate news that do not require any follow up, so why waste everyone’s time? Use your time more effectively by doing something else.
"MT @sarahw: There is an inverse correlation between the number of times you send a press release and my desire to cover it."
— Carrie Morgan (@morgancarrie) March 18, 2014
When I follow up with a journalist about a fresh piece of news that I feel is truly important – not fluff news like a new hire, board appointment, financial earnings or an award – I send the release once. Sometimes I’ll follow up with a short tweet mentioning it is in their inbox, or email them highlighting the one thing that is likely to interest them the most, THEN I STOP. I’m done.
But the story isn’t over. Instead of follow-up, it becomes about pitching.
If I’m confident my press release has potential and is truly newsworthy, I assume a journalist’s lack of response means the press release didn’t grab their attention, so I buckle down to write a fantastic pitch. Still using something related to the news outlined in the press release, of course, but other than a quick hyperlink to the release, it’s a fresh pitch transitioning MY news into THEIR NEWS. Not yet another snoozefest of a follow up.
It translates the release into something useful for them, even wrapped up with a shiny silver bow (metaphorically speaking) so they don’t have to spend time they don’t have to connect the dots. It’s packaged appropriately for them so they can just run with it.
At all times, our job is to make their job easier. Give them a story, don’t expect them to figure it out.
I also have better luck landing a story when I include three ideas. Not one pitch idea, but one pitch that includes several different story angle ideas revolving around the primary story. All of the ideas are relevant, all are carefully crafted to be of interest to their readership and focus area (not just the idea I want to promote), and all fit in somehow with the news announced in the press release, but three fresh angles. Not one; three.
I will also often look at their most recent past editorial to see if I can identify what has resonated with them in the past.
Following up shouldn’t be a thirty-second email whipped out while juggling a dozen balls, or assigned to some clueless lackey asked to “make sure they got it.” It requires more thought than the two minutes you spent choosing which pants to wear this morning.
Invest time in doing it right. Give each journalist something of value.
That’s the difference between a seasoned PR hound and a newbie. BUT it’s also a way to identify the budding rock star at an agency or company. If they are making a strong effort to build a relationship or truly connect with journalists one at a time, keep them. They are gold. And if your mid-level management is not regularly reviewing follow-up tactics and pitches to fine tune their skills, make it a requirement and/or increase training.
If your skills aren’t quite there yet or you are newer to the profession, here are a few ideas to help you along in becoming that rock star (and seasoned veteran).
1. Look at the news outlet BEFORE you follow up. There is nothing worse than having a reporter say “I covered it already.” You look like an idiot that expects coverage when you don’t even read their publication. If it isn’t something you normally read – especially a daily or radio station website that publishes news daily and you are following up within days of distribution – CHECK before you follow up. If they already ran it, send them a thank you instead of a follow up.
2. Consider your timing and fit it to their publication cycle. If you understand a bit about how your media outlet works, this will help with your follow ups and pitching. Is it a daily, television or radio? Follow up within 24-hours, or immediately if it is truly breaking news (this is rare for a press release, though). But don’t follow up with a television station right before they are going on the air – do it first thing in the morning, right before their production meeting for the day. A monthly publication? Give it a week or two, or even longer if it’s a magazine with a four-month cycle between putting an issue to bed and publication. Is it a business journal that is put to bed every Wednesday? Don’t follow up on Wednesday!!
“Follow-up in media relations is a little bit like dating. You don’t want to call too soon, but you don’t want to wait forever, either. If you can balance your patience and need for results with the needs of the journalists, you’ll have success.” ~ Gini Dietrich, Spin Sucks
3. Verify what you sent was relevant TO THAT REPORTER or editor before you bother them. This is especially important if someone else built the media list or you blasted out the press release without going over your list with a fine tooth comb to be sure it fits that particular press release.
If your list was poorly built, it will eliminate the need to follow up with any journalists that weren’t the correct fit for the press release. Why follow up with them if it wasn’t relevant in the first place? It also flags another look at the media lists you were using. (Best practice? Look at it with fresh eyes every time you use it. Before, not after. It makes your work much more effective.)
Not only should it be relevant to them, but you want to be certain it is worth investing time in pursuing. Circling back to an earlier comment, if it is a new hire press release, a software update, a board appointment, an award, or something similar, it might not be worth following up. Or perhaps it’s only worth following up with one reporter – the most important one. For a new hire or board appointment release, for example, this could be with the local business journal “people on the move” reporter.
“Before you follow up on your press release, ask yourself: does it warrant a follow up? And be honest when you answer!
If the answer is “yes,” then a quick and polite email asking if there is any interest should suffice. Usually if you hear crickets (as we social media people love to say), it means there’s no interest/no time/no , but if you follow up once, then at least you’ve done your due diligence.
Given the email onslaught we all suffer from, these days it is relatively easy for good releases to get overlooked, or simply lost. In such a case, an email reminder (or tweet, if the reporter is fairly conversational on Twitter) can actually help.” ~ Shonali Burke, Waxing UnLyrical
4. Don’t be a stalker, asking if they received it and/or sending it more than once. If you sent it, trust they got it. And it was either dismissed as not a fit or ignored. Realize this and act accordingly. Your job isn’t to shove a press release under their nose a gazillion times, until they block your emails and have an unshakable opinion that you don’t know how to do your job.
It is to get it in the hands of the right people and do what you can to make sure they don’t overlook a great story in their nightmare of an email inbox.
“My favorite thing in the world is when I delete a pitch because it’s irrelevant (do not get me started on why I don’t respond to every email) and the PR pro resends it with “resending to get this at the top of your inbox.” Seriously? Seriously.” ~ Gini Dietrich, Ragan.com
5. Understand they won’t figure out how to make it fit into their needs. Again, that’s your job, not theirs. And following up is the PERFECT opportunity to make it happen without being a pain. Unless they are the type of publication that runs press releases verbatim, which you should know in advance because no follow-up is needed… Figure it out for them, then showcase it with a great subject line and headline, supported by just the right amount of detail to capture their interest. Don’t write them a novel, keep it short.
“The perfect news release follow-up is really quite simple – make sure the information is sent to the right person, is timely and is targeted to the publication’s demographic. An email or telephone follow-up a day or two later that is quick and to the point.
Be ready with any additional information and be prepared to answer questions – once you have the reporter interested, you want to make the most of their time.” ~ Abbie Fink, HMA PR
6. Make sure you are thoroughly following best practices before you reach out on social media. The last thing you want is to be flamed on Twitter for not doing your homework. Don’t be afraid to do it, but be certain you’ve covered the basics.
“A bad pitch can make the journalist slam the phone down on us! However, the equivalent of the same on a social media platform can be much more embarrassing for a PR practitioner.” Ancita Satija, Waxing UnLyrical
Did I miss anything?