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How to avoid being hung up on by media agencies

Sick of having the phone slammed down? Here are some tips for successfully following up with media agencies. 

When I first started working in public relations… eons ago… the thought of following up with a journalist was one of the most daunting things on my To Do list daily.

We worked in an open plan environment and I would have preferred to have each and every hair plucked off of my body, than have my entire team listen in as I got rejected by media time and time again.

To avoid complete embarrassment, I would book solo time in one of our meeting rooms (aptly named the ‘fish bowl’), and I would pitch my little heart out.  And let me tell you… the fact that I didn’t feel self conscious, meant that I secured some incredible results.

Albeit highly inconvenient (as I often couldn’t get the room during the times most suitable to media), I stuck to this plan.  However, with experience, I became quite skilled and confident at speaking to journalists.  And soon enough, I took pride in getting on the phone whilst my team was right there. If I had a nasty journalist make some unsavoury comments (which can happen…), I would laugh it off, take what I could from the experience and move on.

Through this journey I learned quite a few tricks that helped me win coverage for my clients, whilst building long term and fruitful relationships with media. Hopefully these handy tips below can help you cut some corners if you’re starting out:

  1. Firstly ensure that any press release you send has been targeted towards media that are likely to find the content of interest. It will take the pain out of your follow up call, as you would have already demonstrated that you know their publication and what they cover.
  2. Allow some time between sending out the press release, and getting on the phone to follow up. This will vary greatly between each type of journalist and the topics they write about:
  • For example, if it’s a news journalist, you might want to give it an hour or two before following up, as they work quickly and have very tight deadlines.
  • If they write features for a magazine, it might be better to leave it for 24-48 hours before your follow up, as they have more time up their sleeve before filing their stories.
  • If they are a blogger, and this is more of a hobby rather than a job, you might want email your follow up (regarding the personalised emails you sent them NOT a mass press release) after a few days. And if you have already built a relationship with them, then you may want to give them a call. But be respectful of the fact that they are most likely busy doing their actual day job.
  • If you don’t get an answer, leave a polite and short voicemail. However, I would not recommend leaving more than one voicemail… as you can come across as a bit of a stalker. You might want to call back at another time, but only have a chat to them if they are there, rather than leaving yet another message!
  • If you catch them, the first thing you should do is ask if it’s a good time to chat. If they say “No sorry, I’m on deadline, can you call back?”… be VERY respectful and don’t push. Just ask the best time to call, and swiftly thank them for their time and GET OFF THE PHONE.
  • If they say that it is a good time, make sure you know your stuff BACKWARDS. Point them to the release or angle you would like to discuss and listen very carefully to their feedback. Ask them if it is of interest, and if so, what is it that would make their life easy with this story… Is it an interview with a spokesperson? Is it a case study? Is it more content to round out a feature they are already working on? Do they need some good quality images to go with the story? You are there simply to make their life as EASY AS POSSIBLE, whilst working in content about your client or product.
  • Make sure that you send them exactly what they have asked for post your conversation. No easier way to screw up a relationship than making false promises. And if you told them you can get something, GET IT. If you can’t, FIND A WAY TO GET IT, or keep them updated as you work towards it in a timely manner.
  • Practice makes perfect.  The more you follow up with journalists and bloggers, the more trusty a source you become to them. And soon enough, they will be calling you for content. That’s the aim. And when you feel like you have the makings of a great relationship, it’s always a good step to offer to meet them face to face for a coffee or lunch. We underestimate how important it is to have face time in the digital age. But remember, we are all just human beings trying to do the best job we can, and we’re still all about relationships!

So… good luck in your pitch and follow up efforts! And remember to have fun, sound confident and knowledgeable and as professional and helpful as you can possibly be.

And always use any of these experiences to further develop and improve on your skills, as this is a fundamental requirement of any successful PR person.

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Sharon Zeev Poole

Sharon Zeev Poole

Sharon Zeev Poole is the Founder and Director of highly regarded boutique PR and communications agency Agent99 PR. The agency specialises in launching or relaunching brands in the food, beverage and lifestyle spaces, as well as working with corporate clients, thought leaders and authors to raise their profile.

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