Last week, New York Times Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Segal aired his grievances about untargeted PR pitches in an article titled Swatting at a Swarm of Public Relations Spam. He called blanket PR pitching antiquated and a waste of money, urging fellow journalists to contact Vocus, Cision, and similar services and ask to be removed from their reporter lists.

This was alarming news for our technology PR firm because we know bad PR tactics can ruin the practice for everyone. For an industry that is supposed to be expert at reputation management, we need to watch our own backs and encourage integrity and smart PR best practices. Here are three ways we try to target our pitches to appropriate journalists:

  • We do our homework. Before we reach out to a journalist with a pitch, we spend time getting to know the individual and their work. At the very least, we do some research on the journalist’s recent articles to make sure their reporting beat matches with our pitch. This way we can cite a recent article in our pitch, indicating that we’ve done some work towards crafting a pitch that may help inform a current and relevant news trend. It also helps to follow them on Twitter. Twitter is a favorite social media platform for journalists and is often helpful in gaining even more insight about which news stories an individual reporter finds interesting. Sometimes reporters even ask for sources via Twitter.
  • We limit mail merge. Mail merge can be a handy tool in the instance of breaking news when you need to get a message out fast, but in most cases we customize individual emails. Individually reaching out to a reporter shows respect and trust, and allows us to create a unique dialogue and cadence with the journalist. In addition, an individual email is more likely to make it past a news outlet’s firewall than a mass email blast. Further, individual pitches reduce errors often found in email blasts, such as inverted first and last names. A good rule of thumb is to always individually pitch the reporters you have relationships with. If we have worked with a reporter on an interview or story in the past, we automatically take them off of the mail merge pitch list. And when we do mail merge, we ensure the lists are carefully researched, organized, and updated to create as much targeting as possible.
  • We become an industry resource. In order to build a trusting relationship with a journalist, we contact them even when we don’t have a client pitch. If we think it would help them, we email reporters with breaking news and analysis even if it doesn’t directly benefit our client. This gesture helps differentiate us as a third-party subject expert in addition to being a client representative. Similarly, offering ourselves or our clients for background interviews helps relationship building down the road in addition to helping a reporter understand the industry and how our client fits into it.

Interested in more media relations tips? Check out some additional RHetoric Blog posts about media training and how to navigate a breaking news story. Have a PR best practice you’d like to add to this post? Leave a comment below. We’d love to hear from fellow PR professionals and journalists alike.