Making the cut: targeted pitching for the culled newsroom

Targeted pitching for the culled newsroom

Newsrooms are under increasing pressure to deliver more with next-to-nothing. PR has a role to play in filling the gap. But it comes with a responsibility not often considered – thou shalt not waste the journalist’s time.

Posted by
Peter Somerville

If I had a dollar for every time I’ve fielded an irrelevant pitch from a PR person… I’d probably still be here writing to you, just in a nicer suit.

Really though, I wouldn’t change a thing.

But, over a decade working as a journalist, it would have mitigated one of the frustrations of the job.
To be fair, the pitches are necessary. As our willingness to pay for news wanes and newsrooms face round after round of cuts, journalists increasingly need PR to plug the gaps.

While reporters may resent the calls from “PR people” (“what would they know!?”), they overlook the value of having a media release as a springboard to a decent story.

At a bare minimum, an archive of press releases can be a great tool for holding governments to account.
The frustration journalists feel towards PR is warranted, to some degree. But if you’re looking to lay blame – there’s fault on both sides.

The number of irrelevant pitches journalists receive can be staggering.

It’s hard not to feel jaded when you’re being harassed by someone who has clearly made no effort to investigate the type of stories you cover, or who has no knowledge of the program or publication you’re trying to fill.

It’s a small consolation that most of the harassment now happens through an easily deleted email, rather than over the phone.

Here’s a confession: I’m one of those people who can’t cope with an inbox full of unread emails. Towards the end of my time as a journalist, I set up email rules for “PR people” who consistently sent me press releases I wasn’t interested in.

Three strikes and you were automatically deleted.

Perhaps the joke is on me – maybe there’s a lead for a Walkley-winning story lurking in my deleted folder. Somehow, I doubt it. It’s a bit like The Boy Who Cried Wolf.

That said, drawing from personal experience, I can tell you that sometimes journalists themselves aren’t across their program brief.

It’s not what you know…

I’m now four months in at Currie (and loving it, thanks for asking). Being able to bridge the gap between the world of journalism and the world of PR for our clients is fascinating.

But just a few days in at Currie, I remember finding my profile on a press release distribution site (which, of course, I’d never seen before) and feeling perplexed.

The contact details and my bio were spot on. But that’s where the good news ended. I’d spent four years reporting on agriculture.

If it didn’t affect farmers, I wasn’t interested.

My profile said I’d care about stories including “business, finance, local government, regional government, local news, national news, current affairs, politics, ‘countryside and rural interest’ and regional interest”.

Perhaps farming, food production or agriculture simply weren’t available options. It wouldn’t be the first time they were overlooked, but that’s a subject for another day.

Some of the profiles for other staff purported to be my colleagues at ABC Gippsland were years out of date. This led me to wonder if it’s not what you know (how to use a PR database), but who you know.

An impossible task

Despite questioning the value of the platform, I still use it. It’s great to be able to see who opened a press release (and therefore who was interested) and – perhaps more so – the black spots.

I’m lucky I have a lot of current industry contacts and can sort the fact from fiction in contact lists.

But I realise keeping up to date is going to be a challenge. The staff turnover rate is huge at many media outlets.

If you’re on the PR side of the fence, trying to work out who you need to speak with is quite a task. It’s not helped by the ambiguity in job titles in some sectors of the media and the feast-or-famine nature of the news cycle.

How do we get out of this mess?

At Currie, we start by thinking of the people whose money we are talking about. We take the time to truly understand clients’ businesses and industries.

We tailor our approach to ensure our most appropriately skilled and connected consultants work on our clients’ projects.

We take the time to research which journalists we should be pitching to and consider the topics they’re interested in. Wherever possible, we seek to connect with our existing media contacts to gauge their interest.

After all, sometimes who you know really makes all the difference.

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