Journalists such as reporters, editors, producers, hosts and bloggers follow a rhythm for press coverage determined by deadlines, competitors, show times and breaking news beyond their control.
Infiltrate that rhythm seamlessly with perfectly timed guests and sources to ensure incredible press coverage with journalists for your client or organization. If that sounds easy, it’s not.
Opportunities abound, however, to gauge that rhythm and work within it to ensure absolute benefits.
1. Know when to hit send on a pitch.
Media researchers annually study the when part of pitching to the moon and back. Anecdotal evidence supports their findings.
The journalists with whom I spoke largely identified 7-10 a.m. ET weekdays as when they are most receptive to pitches. Fridays are out unless someone is writing or producing a weekend story. After 5 p.m. ET on any given day is a nonstarter. Sending emails or calling on weekends is ridiculous unless you have the perfect guest for a breaking story.
“When I’m back at my desk around 9:30, I start reading in and review pitches for the next day,” a veteran cable network morning show producer tells me. “Others who run a show at different times may read-in at other times, but hitting inboxes in the morning by 10am is usually a safe bet.”
“When I was a journalist, the best time to reach out to me was mid-morning,” adds Jeremy Gonsior, a former Holland Sentinel reporter who now runs a content marketing agency in Holland, Mich. “I was usually developing stories then and pitching them to my editors. As far as days of the week, Thursday was especially effective because I was preparing to write a few stories for the weekend and I needed some ideas.”
Shelley Irwin, host of “The Morning Show” on WGVU in Grand Rapids, Mich., says that she prefers to hear pitches by 9am ET, “…when I am sharpest.” She especially favors those sent by email as far out as two weeks or longer.
2. Do the homework to personalize the pitch.
Irwin stresses that the author of the pitch must “personalize” the message to attract her interest.
Personalization relates to the how part of public relations. It’s where experience and understanding become invaluable because it involves meaningful connections such as trustworthiness at a professional and personal level.
Seth Leibsohn—co-host of “The Seth & Chris Show” on KKNT 960AM in Phoenix, Ariz. and former producer of “Bill Bennett’s Morning in America”—describes the difficulties radio hosts encounter when considering new guests.
“Radio hosts typically go to guests they know or have had on because of certain dynamics of radio that don’t exist for television,” Leibsohn says. “The guests radio hosts want, or go to, ‘get’ how to do radio. They know they have to sound clear on the telephone, they know they need to be sensitive to wrapping up answers as music comes on leading to a hard break, they know since there are no visuals or other visual props or chyrons that the conversation itself has to be interesting and draw people in.”
Liebsohn says that guests represented by credible public relations professionals help because they have built a record of delivering high-quality guests. A relationship that required years to build can disappear with one or two flakes.
“I can’t tell you how many publishers and others have given me really bad guests with no training and I’ve tried to politely tell them after that I am happy to help train them but they were terrible, etc. and they just couldn’t care less,” Liebsohn explains. “They cared about the numbers and the next booking.”
3. Spend time on the message.
Another great opportunity to earn the disdain of journalists is to blast pitches to anyone with a publicly available email address or disguise a marketing email as a pitch.
Jonah Bennett, National Security and Politics Reporter for The Daily Caller, says that he prefers the meat of the message in the first two sentences, at which he point he decides whether to continue reading.
He works best with those whom he develops relationships over years of trading tips and talking about much more than the content provided in a single email. Public relations folks who incorporate gimmicks to trick him into opening mail become infuriating.
“I find that people are starting to rely on clickbait email headlines when the content they’re pitching, frankly, sucks,” Bennett says. “Then I just get annoyed and immediately delete the email.”
Brian, another long-time producer with a top cable television network, stresses the importance of spending time on brief, descriptive subject lines. He considers subjects that include ICYMI (In Case You Missed It) as the worst violators.
“It almost makes it certain that I will kill the email without opening it,” Brian says. “For one, it suggests that the news is already well-known and therefore a terrible pitch, because what you are pushing should be new and exciting. ICYMI is another way of saying, ‘here’s some old news.’”
4. Prepare for breaking news.
Suppose an expert or CEO finally establishes a relationship with someone in the media. The interview is scheduled or the article is confirmed for publication. You’re holding your breath by this time. Then the worst happens.
It is the bane of every public relations pro. It disrupts the media rhythm, and all of the best laid plans are tossed aside as bookers and reporters scramble to secure sources.
Yet, it can work to your advantage.
Julie, a sophisticated producer of several premier cable network programs, says that guests with insight into breaking news such as a terror attack, financial crisis or military engagement move to the front of the line. She appreciates those who pitch clients or themselves as news unfolds.
“Relevancy beats timing any day,” Julie says.
She isn’t unusual. As a reporter, I dropped anything on which I might have been working to speed dial through a short list of sources relevant to the breaking news. I took quotes from the first four or five and then stopped taking calls.
I didn’t enjoy it—especially because it isn’t fair to those I called who might have spent time on a more thorough response—but that is how the dance works to gain media exposure.
Accessing coverage is a skill like any other that requires practice and experience. It is a matter of understanding the rules to get in the game!
By Dave Yonkman, Founding Principal, DYS Media
@DavidYonkman is a former Washington Correspondent for Newsmax, Capitol Hill Communications Director and the founding principal of DYS Media, LLC, a public relations and marketing firm with offices in Washington, D.C. and Holland, Mich.