‘Know Your Audience:’ Top Takeaways from Day 1 of Cision’s State of the Media Summit

If Day 1 of Cision’s very first State of the Media Summit could be boiled down to three words, it would be this: Know. Your. Audience.

Throughout the Summit sessions, our panelists – esteemed journalists and editors from media outlets across the U.S. and Canada – reiterated this point. The universal message was knowing who you’re reaching out to, having familiarity with the topic (or topics) they cover and understanding their audience is critical. They also shared tips on getting a reporter’s attention, how to effectively build relationships with journalists and what it takes to get better coverage.

Of course that’s not the only takeaway from Day 1 – far from it. In case you missed it, I’ve done my best to provide the Cliff’s Notes. In no particular order, here are just a few of the top (paraphrased) tips and helpful insight our panelists let us in on:

  • Pick your battles. Journalists understand that PR pros are extremely busy, but “if you have something that’s really important to place, narrowing your field is important,” as one journalist put it. On that note…
  • Taking a “shotgun” approach to pitching can do more harm than good. When a journalist or editor keeps seeing your name in their inbox – and it’s attached to pitches that have nothing to do with their beat, they’re likely to block you.
  • If nothing else, get their name right. Nothing turns journalists off – or lands your pitch in the trash bin – faster than addressing them by the wrong name (or gender).
  • To follow up or not to follow up – that remains the question. While a reporter who gets 300 pitches a day might find a follow-up email helpful in pointing out something they may have missed, another might find it annoying (and cause for blocking you) – especially if the pitch wasn’t relevant to begin with. And then there’s the subject of timing. A follow-up email that comes two days later may already be too late, given the fast-paced 24/7 news cycle. When in doubt, only follow up “if you’re absolutely sure the story is right for the reporter you’re following up with.”
  • Practice prompt replies. Journalists are on tight deadlines and the news cycle is fast and constantly changing. If you don’t respond quickly, by the time you do, it may be too late.
  • Don’t be discouraged. Just because a journalist doesn’t use your pitch doesn’t mean it wasn’t a good pitch. Journalists are covering multiple beats and only have so much bandwidth that it’s possible they couldn’t cover your story in time.
  • Give them an ‘aha’ moment. “We’re in the business of telling people things they don’t know yet,” one reporter said. Stay ahead of the news cycle and pitch stories that are timely and top of mind for audiences. Ask yourself, “How can I help this reporter tell his/her audience something they don’t already know?”
  • Think before you name-drop. Trying to pitch a story that’s been covered in the New York Times? That might give it credibility, but why would someone want to cover old news? Again, if you’re not pitching a story that’s never been told before, at least provide a fresh take on it.
  • Bring in diverse voices. With a renewed focus on diversity, equity and inclusion, reporters are interested in stories that are more inclusive, more well-rounded and represent different perspectives and diverse voices.
  • Put your press release to work. Journalists find press releases incredibly helpful – especially if they can act as an all-in-one place to get the information they need for their story. That means providing relevant links, data, expert analysis, quotes and images to accompany the story and add context.
  • Embrace the awkward. Establishing relationships with reporters isn’t always easy, but the past year has made it nearly impossible. After all, it's not like you can grab a cup of coffee, or introduce yourself at a conference. But you can do the next best thing with virtual "getting to know you" meetups. Sure, they're not ideal and even more awkward than the real thing can be, but they can still be effective.
  • Keep pitches short, sweet and relevant. “That’s the best way to get one of us to respond to what you’re pitching.”

And that was just the opening session. Take a peek at some of the bon mots from our industry-specific breakout sessions:

  • State of Travel Media: Multimedia elements increase the odds of getting coverage. If given the choice between two pitches, the one that includes a photo will almost always win out. Even if a journalist can’t cover something in an article, if the photo is “Instagram appropriate,” they may share it on social media.
  • State of Healthcare Media: Healthcare journalists are burnt out from COVID both professionally and personally. Most stories still need to be pandemic/COVID-related, so if your story isn’t, find an angle to make it relevant.
  • State of Retail and E-commerce Media: Lead with numbers. Pitches that include concrete data help journalists feel more secure and comfortable with what they are reporting out (which in turn will likely bump that pitch up to the top of the list).
  • State of Finance Media: When pitching financial reporters, focus on why things are happening more than what is happening (e.g. more people are getting life insurance because they are evaluating their mortality). Stories that focus on ESG (environmental, social and governance) are also big with financial reporters right now: Their readers want to invest in companies who invest in ESG.
  • State of Tech Media: Don’t pitch a story that has already been covered (no matter how impressive the publication it appeared in may seem). Tech reporters want stories that provide new information or a different angle that provides value to their readers.

Final Thoughts: On Pitching

We closed Day 1 out with “PR’s Got Talent,” an “America’s Got Talent”-style contest where PR pros pitched journalists in real-time for candid feedback and the chance to become America’s next PR pro (or win a gift card. I forget). It was a good way to wrap up the day, with panelists offering up a few final pieces of pitching advice for all PR pros in general.

  • Keep it brief and don’t bury the lede. Get the facts out right away. Answer the “so what?” in the headline.
  • Give someone an idea for a story. You can send a press release, but if you give them a good idea for a story, you’re doing the job for them.
  • Step into the journalist’s shoes. Think about how the story benefits the journalist’s audience – not your client.

Looking for more takeaways? Check out the Day 2 recap or watch (or rewatch) the entire Summit on demand. You can also follow the Summit conversation on Twitter using #SOTMSummit

About Mary Lorenz

Mary Lorenz is the Content Lead of Software for Cision, where she writes about best practices and thought leadership for marketing, communications and public relations professionals. She has a background in marketing, public relations and journalism and over 15 years of experience in copywriting and content strategy across a variety of platforms, industries and audiences.

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