The 10 dos and don’ts of pitching to journalists and bloggers

Want to get free PR coverage in the media? Read the 10 dos and don’ts of pitching to journalists and bloggers, and make sure you avoid common mistakes.

So you want to drum up some publicity for your business. You know that advertising is an expensive – and less credible – route, so you’re thinking about doing some of your own PR by contacting the media with a story about your business.

However, falling foul of some of these schoolboy PR fails may mean that even the most interesting story might not see the light of day. So before you hit ‘send’ on that press release, read these 10 dos and don’ts from PR consultant Halima Khatun first!

The 10 dos and don’ts of pitching to journalists and bloggers

I’m in the rather unique position of being a former journalist, turned PR consultant and part-time blogger. So I have something of a rounded perspective of the trials and tribulations of media and blogger engagement.

These 10 tips are therefore an amalgamation of my own experiences from all sides of the fence, as well as some insight from contacts in the PR, journalism and blogging world.

1) Don’t push for coverage

In my years as a journalist (and now blogger by night), most PR companies and businesses that have contacted me about a story have been great. But there’s been the odd pushy PR or marketing executive who has stalked me for coverage.

The thing is, many bloggers like me blog in their spare time, fitting it in around full-time work. And while we try to be as quick as we can, sometimes we’re unable to meet your internal deadline.

So unless we explicitly state a service-level agreement (such as we’ll publish by a certain time), you’ll have to forgive us for not publishing your story as quickly as you or your client would like.

It’s the same principle when hounding journalists. Most journalists, whether staff or freelance, have no idea when your story will appear, as they submit it for publication, and the editor decides when it will be used. So don’t push.

2) Do check who you’re speaking to    

This comes from Angela Epstein, a renowned journalist and media trainer. Angela, who is a regular writer for the Daily Mail, comments: “I’ve had people emailing saying ‘Hi Epstein’. It’s a basic thing, but if you can’t get a journalist’s name right, how can you expect them to give your story the time it deserves?            

3) Do respect a journalist or blogger’s deadline    

Angela, again, says: “I’ve had businesses calling me and saying that they’ve got the perfect person for my query, but when I ask for contact details and availability, I get the response: ‘I haven’t spoken to them yet, so I’ll just check if they’re free’. This just wastes our time.”

4) Don’t promise what you can’t deliver    

An enthusiastic business owner will offer you the earth. However, when they can’t come up with the goods, they just come across badly.

I’ve had companies renege on interview offers, or just not reply to a follow-up query off the back of their press release. It’s bad practice and leaves a bad impression, so just don’t do it.

5) Do your research

A big bugbear for bloggers and journalists alike is receiving a story or opportunity of no relevance to them.

Shelina Begum, Business Journalist at the Manchester Evening News says: “First of all, know the publication you are contacting. I get a number of businesses who ring me up to tell me about a great story, and when I ask where it’s based, it’s not even in our region.”  That’s a big PR fail.              

6) Do cut the bull crap

Shelina also makes another important point: “I can’t stand jargon. I don’t want to spend ten minutes trying to work out exactly what the email or press release is trying to say. Journalists are really time constrained and if we’re on deadline, we just don’t have the time to go through something that doesn’t make sense.”

7) Don’t expect us to take your word for it    

A note about product reviews. Everything I feature on my blog has been trialled by me, or someone close to me, to offer a personalised, unbiased view.

However, I have had some PRs sending a press release saying how great something is, and expecting it to be quoted verbatim. Come on, it’s your job to say great things about what you’re plugging. If I’m going to devote column inches on your product I need to try it and vouch for it myself. Otherwise I’m fooling myself, and my readers.

8) Don’t expect glowing coverage

Sometimes I’ve secured some great pieces of coverage for a client. However, the journalist may not have quoted the benefits of the service word-for-word, or may have (heaven forefend) not included the company’s website link.

However, the reality of PR is that you just don’t have control over what the journalist will print. The only safeguards you have are to make sure that you arm them with enough information, are as helpful as possible and provide them with print-ready copy.

To actually own coverage and dictate exactly what is featured in a story about your company, you have to invest in something called advertising.

9) Do treat bloggers like journalists 

As a blogger, I have had businesses ask for repeated amends to articles, and inclusions of particular information, etc.

Now a basic rule of PR is, unless your business is defamed and slandered to the high hills, you be grateful for the coverage you’ve received. Otherwise you can’t expect many more articles from that writer. The same should apply for bloggers.

10) Don’t underestimate the power of bloggers

Remember, unlike the general press, bloggers write for a captive, niche audience who have a specific interest in our blog and what we cover.

So while we may not boast the circulation figures of the Daily Mail, we can at least say that our readers have an active interest in what we write about.

Want more PR tips?

If you’d love free media coverage, you’ll find more practical PR advice in these articles:

To find out more about how to perfect your PR for your business, check out Halima’s PR 101 masterclass.