The 5 Things Reporters Really Want From P.R. Pros

Roger H. Goun, via Creative Commons

Roger H. Goun, via Creative Commons

When you open your e-mail box, which messages are you most likely to open: generic messages from unknown senders or personal notes sent by someone you know?

The answer to this question is obvious, right? You’re going to open the personal message first.

And you’re more likely to trust that message than you would a message that comes from a stranger.

Effective media relations relies on the same idea. The nonprofits that are often most effective at earning headlines do so because they've positioned themselves as trusted sources.

They didn't develop their reputations through sending cookie-cutter press releases a few times a year. Instead, they put in the work to get to know what journalists really want -- and they took the time to position themselves as reliable sources who can deliver.

Journalists, after all, are people.  Busy people who have a lot of folks who are vying for their attention.

But while each journalist has her own tastes and needs, we do have some clues that can help you determine those tastes and needs.

This week's release of  The Cision 2017 State of the Media Report provides some interesting insights into what today's journalists are looking for from media relations professionals.

To compile the report, Cision surveyed more than 1,550 North American journalists and influencers -- and that survey offers some important takeaways for nonprofits who are looking to step up their media relations game.

Here are 5 key things you should know from the survey:

1. Know What They Cover Before You Pitch

If you've read any of my other posts on media relations, you already know that I strongly advise against sending a generic release to your entire media list.

In my experience, reporters HATE getting generic releases.

The Cision survey backs up this advice. When asked how PR professionals can improve, 72.8 percent said "tailoring the pitch to suit my beat/coverage". Another 82.5 percent said "researching/understanding my media outlet."

"A major complaint from journalists is that they receive too much spam and irrelevant pitches that sour their relationships with communicators," the Cision report said. "'Batch and blast' methods don't work and are counterproductive."

Sending 2-3 personalized pitches to high-value outlets is going to get you much farther than a generic pitch to 100.

It takes a bit more time up front, but the results are almost always going to be better.

2. Don't Bother Calling

Journalists overwhelmingly prefer to get pitches via email. More than 9 in 10 -- 92 percent -- said email is the preferred channel for pitches.

Meanwhile, only 2 percent said they like to get pitches over the phone -- and many of them report that phone pitches are strictly off limits.

During my days as a journalist, I hated getting cold pitches from people over the phone. I considered such pitches a waste of time and eventually screened calls from numbers I didn't recognize.

Journalists spend a lot of time calling sources. And they're often willing to take calls from folks they know. But unless you're on a first-name basis with that journalist, don't ring her phone.

Send an email instead.

3.  They Want Your Expertise

More often than not, journalists aren't relying on PR pitches for story ideas. They often find stories during the course of working their beats and talking to people.

What they do need, though, are experts -- people who they can rely on to provide context, facts, and commentary to help with their reporting.

Smart PR professionals understand this and take the time to let reporters know about the executive director or board member who really understands health care or environmental issues. They often share reports and data outside of the context of a pitch.

If your reports and data are useful, they will likely be cited in future reporting.

If your experts are credible, they'll reach out when they need access to their opinions.

Again, the Cision report backs up this notion.

Roughly half of journalists surveyed said PR professionals would serve them better by providing them with information and expert services.

4. Sharing Shows Caring

Want to build credibility with a journalist?

Share.

Retweet one of her news stories. Share his latest think piece on Facebook. Embed the video of a recent TV news report mentioning your nonprofit on your website.

Nearly 1 in 3 journalists in the Cision survey said PR professionals could do a better job of sharing their stories on social media.

My takeaway: journalists are paying attention to who is sharing their work. And doing so can help you become top of mind when they're looking for sources in the future.

After all, you draw more bees with honey than with vinegar.

5. Pictures -- Still Worth A Thousand Words

The Cision survey includes another important nugget -- that staff photographers are providing fewer images than in the past.

Increasingly, news organizations are relying on newswires, stock images, and sources for images to accompany their pieces.

This means you shouldn't be shy about making it clear to journalists that you can provide photos, graphics, and other visual materials.

Perhaps the biggest takeaway is that you should approach your relationships with journalists as you would any of the other valuable relationships in your life.

By taking the time to listen and understand their needs -- and being willing to share -- you will achieve much better results than you will be simply pitching them.

This post is part of an ongoing series that Peter contributes to Nonprofit Marketing Guide on media relations for nonprofits. For more advice on communications, marketing and PR for nonprofits, we encourage you to explore NMG.