I did this blog post around 12 years ago on pitching to the media. Most of it still works today but this page has much more detail directly from people in Irish media. I asked the following people the same set of questions and this is what they had to share with you.They speak for themselves of course and not for the 1000s of others that work in media in Ireland but you so see a pattern in what works and doesn’t work for them.
- KML – Katie Mythen Lynch – Yay Cork
- EE – Eoin English – Irish Examiner
- LS – Laura Slattery – Irish Times
- AW – Adrian Weckler – Irish Independent
- ER – Emmet Ryan – Business Post
- TL – Tom Lyons – The Currency
- CT – Charlie Taylor – The Irish Times
Pitching a press release
Is it best to pitch before sending a press release or put the pitch at the start and then include the press release? Would it be best if you’ve not heard from this person before to first tell them who they are?
Format: Word, PDF or plain text? Attach photos or wait until you’re asked?
LS: This depends both on the story and where it is coming from. Usually in the case of companies that haven’t had too much media coverage before, a pitch and an introduction would be best. However, including a press release or even bullet points on why the story or a company might be newsworthy will help a journalist in a rush get a sense of whether there is something there they might be in a position to cover or follow-up on. With business stories, every number helps, whether it is funds raised, people employed, audience reached, revenues, revenue targets, etc.
For less urgent pieces, it would be typical for a PR professional / company representative to send information to just one media outlet at a time on the basis that if the journalist isn’t able to run a piece (or fails to answer their emails), they would then offer it to another publication. Something that has obvious great news value – company hires 50 people, for example – tends to be sent in the form of a press release to every outlet at once.
AW: Definitely the latter.
EE: I prefer to just get straight into a press release. A well crafted press release should tell me all I need to know. Then there’s no need for a pitch. But a phone call or a text, DM etc with a heads up that a press release about a certain topic is on the way is always good. Helps journalists plan ahead, or to pitch at an early morning editorial meeting about a potential page one story they expect might land later, and maybe tie it in with something else they may be working on which could elevate the press release to another level. EG: your company is opening a bee hotel. You have nice pics. It might make a few pars on a busy day. But if that press release lands on the day a major report on the collapse of Ireland’s bee population is launched, then your press release gets extra attention that day. Sometimes it’s about luck and timing.
Would it be best if you’ve not heard from this person before to first tell them who they are? Doesn’t really matter. A good story should always stand on its own, irrespective of who’s sending it. But like I said above, a heads up, advance notice, is always a good idea.
ER: It depends on how interesting the thing being pitched is. If it’s something legitimately groundbreaking, honestly ask yourself if a stranger would find it groundbreaking, then think about that, then honestly ask yourself it again, then a pitch is good. That said, if there is already a relationship, it doesn’t hurt to call. With anything else, just send the release. It’s ok to email asking if we’ve checked it but the cardinal sin of pitching is to call asking only if you checked out a release.
CT: I’m not against receiving pitches and/or press releases cold but there are a number of
advantages to pitching at the start or even ahead of sending on a release. These include:
1. It gives you an opportunity to let me know if you are offering this story just to
me or to everyone. -This is usually the first question I and others will ask!
2. It gives me clues as to if you are aiming this release at me because you know it
is an area I cover or am interested in -If you are randomly sending it on I can
3. It gives you the opportunity to briefly establish your credibility – This is
particularly important if I don’t know you.
KML: Personally, I don’t think this is necessary. No need for introductions, just send the juicy stuff to get the ball rolling! We’ll get in touch if we need more background.
TL: We don’t want press releases unless an exclusive story or something so major it is impossible to ignore. Our business model is based on not following the news. We’ve actively tried to discourage general press releases as we probably won’t read them.
Would it be best if you’ve not heard from this person before to first tell them who they are?
AW : Yes, though a two-liner here is absolutely fine. Don’t forget that I’m scanning the entire top half of the press release in under five or six seconds for the point of the pitch — what is being pitched? A service? A product? Some new tweak on an existing product? So preliminary paragraphs are not only a waste of your effort, they lessen the chance I’ll get to the point of your pitch.
ER : Honestly, you have 15 words including hello to explain what the pitch is about and another 10, tops, to make me care. I have days where I get up to 300 emails. Get to the point and don’t give me your life story. After that, you can be verbose but I should have made a decision on whether I am replying by then.
Format: Word, PDF or plain text?
EE: Plain text, please. In the body of the email, please. Cleaner, quicker. Easier to copy and paste, rewrite, edit to fit our word count requirements. Less hassle from our perspective
ER: Plain text wherever possible. If needs be, Word. Never a PDF.
CT: Happy to receive in plain text within an email or in Word but hate receiving PDFs unless it is for a full report etc.
AW: Plain text, please.
KML: Plain text or Word is ideal, always include high res images or a link to a DropBox.
TL: Plain text. It is faster to read.
LS: Plain text in the body of the email is best. PDF is especially awkward
Attach photos or wait until you’re asked?
ER: This is one where you need to know who you are sending them to. I will always want high res, colour photos that are more than just head shots. That’s pretty normal for our place. I know other publications/journalists find them a pain. It really is something you need to work out as the relationship develops but it’s not a bad thing to ask the first time you are in contact with the journalist.
CT: Don’t mind receiving photos but even better is to get links to something like Dropbox WeTransfer or Google Drive. On this, it is very important to ensure that images are high resolution as if they are not then we can’t use in print. Also need to be landscape rather than horizontal. Really smart PR people send in a selection of different shots AND ask which ones we would like to use on an exclusive basis.
EE: Attach. Sometimes, a good photograph IS the story or can MAKE the story.
And not just photos. Newspapers love photos, but our websites can display all forms of content – we’ll take video, audio and graphics too.
TL: I’d tend to wait as it can clog up mailboxes.
LS: Different journalists might give different answers here, but if every article on the outlet’s website carries a photograph, it is often helpful to attach one to eliminate the uncertainty of whether there is one available, speeding the process along. A reporter can’t guarantee a photograph will be used, particularly in print, because that will be decided by the desk editor on the day. Photographs of five/six people standing in a line or holding logo cut-outs will rarely be used at all (though some slip through).
Press releases that don’t stick
What are the press releases that you’ll skip over if in a hurry?
ER: Our survey of X or Y says this. Those are the biggies. Other than that, I can usually work out pretty quickly if it is worth anything.
CT: 1. Releases for stories that have already run elsewhere – Seriously, we read what
are our competitors are writing
2. Releases that aren’t relevant to my beat
3. Releases from PR people (and sometimes companies) who have screwed you
over on stories before
4. Press releases from PR that are sent out to all and sundry – I can’t stress how
much this ruins your credibility
5. Press releases that have no news element You might think your company is
amazing (and it might be). But if you don’t have a news element to it then it makes it
hard for us to cover
AW: Almost anything UK based (usually irrelevant to this market). Also, filler pitches with minor announcements or minor products/services.
KML: Mass mail-outs and anything that begins ‘Dear Sir or Madam’.
LS: There are some days when journalists won’t have time to read any email from people they don’t know, usually because they are working to a deadline on another piece. There will also be subject matters that are outside their normal beats. They may be assigned stories outside their normal beats by their editors, but they won’t seek them out. If they have time and think it should be covered, they might refer the sender to another more appropriate colleague. Press releases and emails in general that are too long and contain too many dense paragraphs can defeat their own purpose as well.
TL: Anything non-exclusive or where the subject line is dull or trying too hard.
EE: The ones that bury the news angle. A good press release should contain all the info a journalist needs – the who, what, why, where and when – in the first paragraph, followed by extra info and good supporting quotes from those in the story. Journalists get hundreds of emails a day. Dozens of those are press releases. The ones that get to the top of the pile are the ones that grab your attention immediately.
I will also skip press releases that have nothing to do with my patch, my news beat.
Don’t send me a press release about your tech company winning some niche ISO award because I don’t really care. And most of my readers probably won’t care either. That’s a press release for your in-house newsletter or maybe a trade publication. It’s not of huge news value to the readers of a daily newspaper. But if your firm is about to double its workforce, then send it to me.
Target your press release to the relevant journalist – tech related stuff to tech correspondents, business related stuff to business correspondent etc,
Will you cover something that’s already been seen in another publication?
AW: If it’s important to my beat, and it’s not that busy a day, yes.
LS: If it has been in another publication on a previous day, it is unlikely, except in the case of significant breaking news. There would have to be a clear way to follow-up on it. If a company founder has done an interview in one publication, for example, it may be some months before a rival publication is prepared to entertain the same idea and there will have to have been some development in the business in the meantime.
ER: Rarely if ever. All journalists are in competition, not just with other publications but with their own colleagues for slots. I need fresh and relevant angles. That means money (investment, spending, fundraising), job creation, or expanding into a new market or nobody else gets it. Obviously there are exceptions but those are stories that are really interesting and it’s almost impossible for those to hold up if they have been printed before.
CT: Vary rarely. Perhaps if it has appeared outside of Ireland but there is no point trying to sell me a story that has been covered by one of our rivals. Part of what we hope makes The Irish Times a must read is the fact that we lead with exclusive stories.
EE: Not usually. But there are always exceptions. For example: take a big story on our patch, one of significance and interest to our readers that has been covered first elsewhere. Maybe it was covered in just a few paragraphs, and placed on an inside page or buried somewhere online. If we think it deserves better treatment, a bigger splash, or if we have a better angle or new insight, then we’ll cover it too.
KML: Occasionally but only if we have a new angle, we’re using our own photography or we’ve received new images.
TL: No. Unless there is an exclusive angle – like an interesting back story or a look at what is next.
Please FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, STOP
What are a few things that make you shudder, trigger you in a press release? (This is not me asking you to trash people just what are rookie mistakes to avoid)
ER: – Not getting to the point.
– Being obvious in showing you haven’t checked the type of work I do, you should have checked it but at the very least be good at faking it.
– Jargon, I speak it fluently but I really need to get to the point with my readers.
– Trying to pitch something that is reliant on the number (be it jobs or dosh) to be relevant and not providing it.
– Saying “hope you’re well”…unless you know me AND are clearly saying it ironically, this grates.
– Not being clear on exclusivity “print exclusivity” and “Sunday exclusivity” are terms I’ve had to clarify with people before. If someone else has it, in any medium, it’s not exclusive.
– As mentioned above, calling just to check if I got the press release. Send the email again.
CT: 1. The word ‘exclusive’ when you’re not really being offered one. There is nothing more
irritating than someone pitching you a story as ‘an exclusive’ than either seeing it
somewhere else or just as you are about to run it being told ‘I didn’t think you’d mind if we
also sent it to…publication X.’ Everyone is our rival, whether it be another print publication,
a website or a broadcaster.
2. A failure to tell me succinctly what it is you are selling. If you’re using jargon etc then it
means you aren’t confident enough to sell your story well.
3. No contact details – seriously how can you think about sending out a release without full
Charlie also adds:
One key one for me is spokespeople not being available. Amazing the amount of times you go to follow up on a release only to be told the person you need to chat with is on holiday.
Also, basic info in releases should include: when company was founded, who by, how many employees. Lastly, decent photos need to be available. It can take longer to source photos than to write articles – In moments I find myself in those situations I am never happy.
KML: It’s always very clear when someone hasn’t really looked at our website or considered the vibe of our content before sending a press release. For instance, we don’t cover sports or review albums on Yay Cork – if that’s the content you’re sharing then it’s always wise to choose the publication that’s the best fit.
Another bugbear is when companies send out a folder of portrait images – if you check the site you’ll see all our imagery is landscape. In many cases we can cut and edit them but it’s not always possible.
TL: Puns – save them for Twitter or social media. Try to get the best information at the start – don’t bury it at the end. If there is big negative news don’t disguise it with minor positive news – take the story on.
AW: – Long intros
– Jargon and industry abbreviations or acronyms (they really don’t make you look any more qualified)
– Stupid quotes eg “I am delighted to bring such a quality service to the market.”
– Futile, assuming teasers eg ‘I may have a story for you. I can be reached at 08X1234567’ (Especially if I don’t know you.)
– Releases with no helpful detail eg Company X sees new growth with launch of service Y. Me, following up: “Growth?” Them: “Yes.” “Me: “How much?” Them: “Can’t tell you but it’s a lot.” Not only not useful; I’m left feeling that you’ve wasted my time and that that’s the type of release you’ll give me from now on. If you can’t qualify a figure or assertion, just leave it out and no worries — putting in something like the above is only ever a negative.
– Deals signed with no detail whatsoever as to value or extent (deployment, number of outlets etc)
EE: Being sent info that is of no relevance to my patch or my area of expertise.
Covering a murder or another form of tragedy, and getting a call about a press release about a tech company winning an ISO award. Try to be aware of what the journalist may be working on when you’re calling.
Press releases that force me to do the work of the person who sent them – press releases that bury a really good story.
Starting an email by asking how my weekend was, or if I’m enjoying the weather. Chances are I’ve been working, so don’t rub it in.
I don’t want to sound rude, but I haven’t got time to chat. Just give me the info, and let me move on to my next story.
Write a good, clean press release that answers questions, not raises them.
If you’re going to include a phone number for a contact to follow up, please ensure that person is available to take the phone call that may come, and is best placed to answer any additional questions the journalist may have.
LS: Overly effusive and also very long quotes attributed to executives. Don’t overegg the pudding. Journalists regularly use press release quotes in reports, but sometimes entire slabs of attributed comments contain so much self-praise, they cross the line and become unusable. Adjectives like “world-class” are fairly meaningless and sound like an advertising robot talking. These can originate from larger companies where quotes have been signed off by multiple people.
Also something to note: since the dawn of email, PR professionals have known not to simply put “press release” in the subject line, as they are aware that dozens of these will land in a journalist’s or outlet’s email at once, so “press release” conveys no information. Sometimes people who are not PR professionals forget this.
I’ll tell you what I want what I really really want
Specifically for yourself, what stories/releases would you love to see more of from people/companies
AW: Cool *new* products
LS: Timing is everything. If a company is launching something new, the earlier they can pitch a story on it to a journalist the better, as then the journalist will be able to juggle existing workloads and cover it in time… before everybody knows about it anyway.
ER: The number of small or start-up companies who don’t get that creating jobs, investing in anything, raising money, or entering a new export market is a reason to toot their horn is unreal. Breweries are a great example. Timing any of the aforementioned, or publicly stating the aforementioned, with a new beer release is the easiest win they can get and they almost never do, and I’m saying this about people I’m friends with. There’s definitely the odd large company that’s overly modest as well, like I know one successful and established tech firm has the same modesty as my mother about its successes and it’s not a controversial business. It is more common the smaller or younger down the grades you go though. You’ve done something that shows real progress, give me a shout so I can say “Hey, this fucker did something good. They’re worth watching.”
EE: Just as long as there’s a good story behind it, with something new, interesting, different, bold, daring, exciting, then I’m interested. Just make sure it’s of relevance or of interest to our readers, or to the widest audience possible.
And if you’re stretching to find that angle, then it’s probably not worth pursuing – stick to trade publications or you’re own newsletter.
CT: I’m always interested in hearing from people with a story to tell and am particularly interested in people who are doing something with tech that really makes a difference. This includes
companies working in areas such agtech, medtech and so on, where some really exciting things are going on.
I also like to hear from companies whose founders come from different backgrounds. Lastly,I’m keen to cover companies founded by Irish people who are building businesses outside of Ireland.
KML: At Yay Cork we love details. You don’t need to launch an entirely new menu to get in touch with us – just shoot us a mail with details on your new double hot chocolate/vegan hotdog/ food truck pop-up and it could well be enough info for us to run a short story on-site.
We’re also very visual so a release with gorgeous images will always catch our eye.
TL: I’m always interested in how a deal was done type stories; the failure and then the comeback; a human story that is inspiring; or an entrepreneur who is trying something exciting.