For journalists in need of expert quotes to flesh out an article, source or PR request services can be a reliable first port of call, reaching a wide database of contacts in minimal time.
For your PR team – either agency or in house – the challenge is standing out, often amid a sea of responses without over promising, which means negotiating a tricky balance between initiative and irrelevance.
So, what should your agency be doing?
In their haste to put you forward for an opportunity it’s important that they don’t neglect perhaps the most basic check of all; chiefly that you are interested in contributing and available to assist in the specified timeframe, and that you are able to do so. Some agencies fail to do this while giving every impression that you, the client is ready and waiting in the wings, when you may not know anything about it. An equally important first step is checking for any potential conflicts of interest. In the case of breaking cybersecurity stories for instance, you need to rule out whether a customer is involved and if it is appropriate to comment at all.
Meanwhile a protracted dialogue has begun with the journalist, who in good faith is sending more details on the article and line of questioning and trying to set up an interview time only to be let down at the 11th hour when it is revealed that you don’t wish to pursue the opportunity.
Think about this from the journalist perspective and it becomes clear that as oversights go, this remains one of the most glaring faux pas, punishable by blacklist, negatively affecting how both the PR and, by proxy, your own company may be perceived. Their time has been wasted pursuing what was in fact a non-starter, at the expense of other options and they must now turn to plan B often with little time left, a scenario likely to cloud future interactions.
A partnership approach
While your PR people must take care not to over promise, as the client, it does help to be accessible and responsive if opportunities are to be exploited when they arise. In the busy working day with much competing for your attention it can be easy to side line PR or assume it’s something that can be picked up later when you have the time. Unfortunately, journalist deadlines are rarely elastic. To be in the mix, you need to be flexible and work in partnership with your communication team.
Furthermore, if you do have availability to be interviewed on a specified date at short notice, let your team know as soon as possible so they can flag this up in the email they send to the journalist. In the instance where the journalist is saturated with pitches, having clarity that the individual is free the next day at the 12 is a simple box tick that can elevate a response above other comparable pitches.
Avoiding too many questions
Journalist source requests, be it for personal case studies or background information, should be clear, concise and self-explanatory. Usually, the format gives opportunity to expand the detail.
Therefore, in the first instance, the time-strapped journalist trying to sift out a nugget amid a flood of options is unlikely to have the inclination (or any need) to respond to additional questions from your agency, often asking little more than to repeat what should have been in the original request. Invariably, PRs that do will waste both their time and that of the recipient. Therefore, it is important the team strikes a balance between the proactivity you expect from them while avoiding email bombardment.
As a rule, pitches that begin with the caveat: “Appreciate this isn’t what you’re looking for but…..” probably shouldn’t be sent. If it isn’t what the journalist is looking for then they don’t want it clogging up their inbox as simple as that.
Similarly, a request says, “household name to contribute to article” means just that, not the client’s marketing director, however punchy their humour or impressive their credentials. The dark art is rooted in the need to amplify client material and use artistic license, but your agency needs to stay realistic and discerning about who and what they are working with and its alignment to the opportunity presented.
On the one hand, there would seem little harm in them trying their luck and pitching for multiple opportunities, but an excessively scattergun in approach runs the risk of denting of both their credibility and yours. If your name becomes synonymous with a PR contact offering weak suggestions which consistently miss the mark, your name is far less likely have impact when it matters, when you fit the bill perfectly and are deserving of the journalist’s attention.
Awareness of the bigger picture
It’s important your agency thinks ahead. Perhaps the subject area could offer some broader potential for future pitches with a slightly different angle, so they need to note the journalist details and consider sending over client information at a later date with a more introductory approach.
And finally, your team shouldn’t underestimate the value of a solid backgrounder. Less common than they once were, but a succinct summary the nuts and bolts of the client and their business provides useful context at a glance when the journalist is needing to make quick decisions.