Public relations specialists have a hard job: getting publications to cover their clients. When journalists and writers receive dozens or hundreds of PR pitches each day, it can be difficult to stand out from the crowd.
However, you can reliably secure coverage for your business if you craft pitches in an engaging and interesting way. We interviewed journalists on their perspectives and preferences, and they told us about the five PR tactics that they think work best. Before you go to the expert opinions, though, we recommend you take a moment to learn about what public relations encompasses, whether you might need PR, and how PR is done.
What is public relations?
According to the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), "Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics." In more familiar terms, PR is the practice of exposing journalists, media figures, and other influencers to a product, group, brand, or person's accomplishments, ideas, or other unique merits and encouraging them to write about, air broadcast segments on, or otherwise cover, promote, and spread the subject matter at hand.
What are some common PR activities?
A standard public relations strategy or PR plan almost always involves these actions:
- Sending a press release or, ideally, several strategically timed press releases to a list of media contacts
- Media relations, which involves the targeted pitching of your product, brand or story to carefully selected journalists, media contacts and other influencers for media coverage
These are some other common PR activities:
- Social media marketing campaigns using ad platforms on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter
- Press conferences given to a group of invited journalists
- General branding strategy, with a focus on brand image, consumer-facing communications and social media
- Special events intended to expand your audience, provide a personal interface for promoting you or your product, and allow for networking and business development opportunities
- Market research to determine the viability and resonance of your product, brand or messaging
- Blogging on your business's website to expound upon your merits, significance and unique attributes
Who needs public relations?
In theory, anybody looking to promote a product, business or message could benefit from a public relations campaign with feasible goals. However, a trustworthy public relations professional will know when to turn away a potential client, as not every person or organization requires PR. Additionally, some entities that will eventually require PR may not need it immediately. Generally, PR clients fall into one of three categories:
- Businesses: From small businesses selling futuristic, potentially game-changing products to large businesses such as leading department stores, businesses need PR to make sure their products and services receive proper attention from the media and present themselves to the consumers who ultimately power their profits.
- Nonprofit organizations: Like businesses, nonprofit organizations need their goals and messaging to be well known to the public to succeed in their missions, and PR is crucial to these efforts.
- Individuals: Public figures – be they performing artists or Fortune 500 entrepreneurs – may hire publicists to promote their recent works or accomplishments. In addition to performing and offering the many common PR activities and PR tools, publicists act as a buffer between public figures and media figures looking to speak with or cover them, allowing the public figures to focus on their work instead of relations with their followers.
What tools are necessary in public relations?
Although anybody with an email account and a phone could theoretically run a PR campaign, PR tools make a public relations strategy far more organized, efficient and effective. These are some key PR tools:
- Pitching tools: Certain platforms allow you to find and contact journalists, create visually appealing press releases, and maintain an online newsroom more effectively than you could if you used standard emailing and calling techniques.
- Email marketing tools: Email marketing tools allow for easy creation and distribution of press releases and other publicity emails, and you can use them to track engagement on your press releases and see who among the recipients has read the press release.
- Social media monitoring tools: With proper social media monitoring, you can make social media a powerful part of your PR plan and stand out from your many competitors on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Some social media monitoring tools let you set alerts for when journalists or other influencers use certain hashtags or post about topics relevant to your brand.
- Coverage monitoring tools: After you send a press release, it can be tough to keep track of every news piece about it. Coverage monitoring tools allow you to gather news about yourself or your brand and organize it in a neat, easily understandable manner.
- Database tools: Whether you use a platform where you pay for access to journalists' contact info or an organizational tool to store new contact information and log your pitching activities, database tools are the single most important organizational tool for PR.
How do I create a PR plan?
If you're convinced that you, your brand, your product or your business need PR, you might be interested in creating a PR plan. If you hire a publicist, you'll usually leave it to them to develop this plan and present it to you. Even if you're not going it alone, though, you might want to create your own plan so that your PR goals are clear to everyone involved.
Start by listing your key objectives, such as these:
- What you need to promote
- Which issues you want to discuss surrounding your brand or product
- Whom you want to reach
- Which kinds of publications and influencers you want to discuss your product
After sorting these objectives and any others you have, you should identify publications and influencers that fall within your desired realm and reach your target audience. Then, figure out the most effective communication methods, language, and images for sharing your product with your targeted journalists and influencers. Reach out to them directly with a compelling personalized pitch (which you should vary somewhat with each journalist you contact), and compile your media contacts' email addresses into a list to which you'll send a press release.
During your outreach, document all the emails you send, phone calls you make, press releases you distribute, responses you receive, and coverage you achieve. Be sure to note any press conferences, events or social media marketing campaigns with which you supplement your fundamental PR techniques.
When formulating your PR plan, you'll also want to consider the following five PR tactics that work best, according to journalists.
1. Do your research.
"To reach a journalist with a meaningful message, research that journalist. Know their publication, beat and reporting interests, and hone in only on those who are a match to what you are trying to promote. This not only can gain publicity for one event, film, product, etc. – it can create a lasting relationship with great value. Make the pitch to the point, and do not be afraid to make a brief follow-up call. If the journalist is not interested, thank them for talking with you and move on. You can, however, make later pitches to that person following the same procedure." – Don Allison, former senior editor of The Bryan Times and publisher at Faded Banner Publications
2. Follow up on your promises.
"PR professionals know how to mass-pitch. The problem is with the follow-up. Journalists work on tight deadlines. If you offer a product to review, when requested, actually send the product. When you offer an expert to interview, have the expert available … If you cannot do what you said, do not offer in the first place." – Dan Shube, CSP; golf, travel and entertainment journalist; and CMO of Labor Finders International Inc.
3. Speak the outlet's language.
"The tactic that worked best on me as a journalist – and which I use all the time now – is to speak the language of the outlet. TV shows, magazines and newspapers have columns and spaces that have names, things like 'Up Front,' 'Mudroom,' 'Closer Look.' If you're pitching a specific space, name it in the pitch. If the space isn't named, describe in terms that might be used in the newsroom. For example, 'This seems like it could be a good fit for one of the short front-of-the-book features you write,' or 'It seems like this might work as one of the interviews you do toward the end of hour.' This helps journalists share your vision of how the story idea fits into their work." – Jason Simms, former journalist for Willamette Week and The Oregonian, and principal of Simms PR
4. Be original.
"I've been a journalist for a long time – mostly human-interest and feature stories – and I've always learned that for PR, the best tactics always lie in novelty. Just shock the audience; give them something new, unique, something worth talking about. I believe that no single person is boring, and there is always an angle that you can take advantage of to make a story worth sharing." – Karla Singson, journalist, and events and PR lead at PREP (PR, Events & Promotions)
5. Personalize your pitch.
"My No. 1 tactic would be to target the right reporter and make your pitch personal. Reporters can spot a copy-and-paste job from a mile away. My inbox was constantly filled with publicists from Los Angeles and New York trying to get their clients on our morning show. News flash – I'm a general assignment reporter, not the executive morning producer. Sending some positive feedback on recent work lets a reporter know you went the extra mile to read their stuff and identify the right contact." – Adam Yosim, former journalist for Fox45 and senior account executive for Stanton Communications Inc.
Sammi Caramela contributed to the reporting and writing in this article. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.