Article by Whitney Richardson, Director of Agency Communications, Northern Virginia Family Service
Twitter: @wprich

There’s no “one size fits all” for media outreach. Make sure you know who you’re contacting and what they’re looking for.

If there’s one thing this year’s WWPR Annual Media Roundtable proved, it’s the importance of knowing the person you’re pitching. Each reporter and editor has his or her personal preference for how and when to contact them, whether it’s how you address them, what type of punctuation you use or how much information to include in your email.

“Brevity is always best,” noted Delece Smith-Barrow (@DeleceWrites), education reporter for U.S. News and World Report. One 250-word paragraph gets to the point, and should include important data, dates and sources. Most media professionals are reading your pitch on their phones, so the easier you make it to skim, the more likely it will be read.

Particularization in contact and outreach is as much a part of efficiency as it is protecting reputation and brand, both for the media outlet and the media professional. Blasts from an unknown source can look suspicious, for example, from a security and a reliability standpoint. The more personalized it is, the more likely it will spark a conversation.

Looking for more ways to make your communications stand out? Try one of these tips:

  • Visuals: Nicholas Johnston (@AxiosNick), editor at Axios, noted his envy for great visual representations of data, such as a fascinating stat or emerging trend. PR practitioners should consider what numbers are most compelling in their pitches and find a way to tell that story visually.
  • Expert sources: Angela Greiling-Keane (@agreilingkeane), deputy tech editor at POLITICO Pro, lamented the deep sourcing that her competitors are able to accomplish in areas her department doesn’t cover. Similar sources for her beats would be extremely helpful. Even if a story has already broken, the panelists agreed that, for certain platforms, a timely follow-up pitch for an expert source can be helpful for future pieces.
  • Podcasts: Clinton Yates (@clintonyates), contributor for The Undefeated and co-host of ESPN’s The Morning Roast, forecasted podcasts would continue to grow in the next five years as part of individual brands. PR practitioners can put them together themselves, with the caveat that subscribers will most likely be people who have already bought into the brand, or pitch to podcasts hosts, such as the column- and beat-specific podcasts POLITICO Pro produces, to reach a broader audience.

One thing all four panelists agreed on: The press release isn’t dead. There’s a time and a place for the information included, even if it’s simply as a record of an event. Just don’t forget to add the date it was released.

“It’s one of my pet peeves,” Smith-Barrow stated. “If a press release doesn’t have the a date, I can’t tell how timely it is. But they’re typically well-written and have all of the information in them.”