Lessons in PR pitching from a newspaper editor

I recently met with a local newspaper editor to discuss his relationship with PR practitioners in hopes of getting advice on effective pitching...

The numbers of newspapers are rapidly declining, with total print advertising revenue in 2007 plunging 9.4 percent, according to the Newspaper Association of America. Declining revenues will ultimately force consolidation across print media in the United States, and the struggle for survival is fierce. The publications with the best stories will win the battle.
Roger Nielsen, metro editor at the Athens Banner-Herald, believes public relations professionals understand the increasing need for important, newsworthy information.
“The PR practitioner is my gateway to the important information and contacts. We couldn’t write a story without PR people,” Nielsen says.

Nielsen says PR practitioners are “shuttles” between the action and the public, so he relies on them daily. This is not to say he trusts them completely.
“I take a lot of the comments with a grain of salt. I know that many of them just put spin on things or want to sell a product. They’re doing their job.”
Ninety percent of journalists say they get story ideas from news releases and nearly the same number say they make use of public relations contacts, according to Atlanta-based Arketi Group, an integrated marketing and public relations firm.
“Well over a majority, 55 to 75 percent, of the Banner stories come from PR contacts. Thirty to 40 percent are straight from pitches.”

Nielsen underlines the importance of public relations professionals building relationships with the media. He has been covering Athens’ area government, education and health care since 1992, so he has long-standing contacts at the Athens-Clarke County Police Department, Athens Regional Medical Center, St. Mary’s Hospital and the University of Georgia, to name a few.
“The people that get their story in the paper the most frequently are those that don’t send me the traditional pitch. They’ve learned to get me to contact them for stories. It’s not what you’d expect in a typical PR-reporter relationship.”

The million-dollar question seems to be: before a trustworthy relationship is established, what is the most effective pitching method? A local connection is critical.
Nielsen used the Georgia Lottery as an example: If a PR person for the Lottery hopes to get exposure in the Athens Banner-Herald, they should interview Athens’ locals who have been touched by the system. Then, pitch the interviews, not the Georgia Lottery, to the paper.
“Chances are, the name Georgia Lottery will be published in the story a few times.”
Sending an e-mail to reporters is the most direct, efficient method for pitching. The body of the e-mail should be to the point, with a news release attached and a link to relevant Web sites.
Take the high-resolution logos off of e-mailed attachments, as they take up too much space in an inbox. Reporters are more apt to store an e-mail pitch and bring it back up on a slow day if they are small in size.
As professors at the Grady College grill students on the specifics of AP style, how important is the mastery of this skill?
“I’d rather have something that’s not in AP. What I want is a slightly longer, more flowery, detailed news release, in inverted pyramid form, that I can easily rework into a newsworthy story. Give me more to work with, and I’ll pick and choose what I want to use.”

From this, Nielsen seems to be a news reporter willing to work for a story, reworking news releases and relying on the Internet to research details. He underlines the importance of an easy-to-navigate Web site and up-to-date fact sheets.
The best follow-up method to an e-mail pitch is one phone call, but not around deadline times. It is important for practitioners to educate themselves on publication deadlines and reference them before calling or even sending a message. When a reporter asks for more information on something, he says to refer media to another contact or resource rather than take advantage of the opportunity to add “PR spin.”
The majority of reporters at newspapers and magazines have one thing in common—they love to write. Public Relations practitioners help them achieve this passion. Don’t abuse the win-win potential of the relationship.

I hope use this newly established relationship with Roger as a public relations intern in Athens this summer. I'll be sure to check his deadlines first!

Note: I showed Roger The Bad Pitch Blog, and I think Kevin Dugan has a new avid reader.

ADDITION: What are the best techniques you've heard? What has worked for you?


k said...

I'm still not changing my AP Style rules in class.

Lizzie Azzolino said...

I don't want you to. :) PR agencies care about AP style, so I do too!

Kevin said...

Lizzie - Thanks for introducing Roger to the Bad Pitch blog. And AP Style beats no style at all.

Lizzie Azzolino said...

Kevin: Roger isn't the first person I've referred to your blog and won't be the last. I love it!

Anonymous said...

Roger Nielsen is a SCUMBAG!

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