One of the most challenging parts of being a publicist is being the middleman (or woman). Your clients hire you to help them earn media that will ultimately increase exposure and boost sales. But to be successful in your job, you are reliant on media professionals who may or may not decide to include your client in their work. Your client will often ask for updates on stories they contributed to, but you are worried about coming across as pushy. It’s tricky to know how to follow up with a journalist politely and professionally while also doing your due diligence for your client. If you ask tenured publicists, it’s an art that’s perfected over time. And one that becomes easier once you have an established relationship with a media professional.
If you’re new to the game or you can’t seem to receive the coveted reply, consider adding these steps into your PR strategy:
Try to answer all of your questions yourself.
Have you ever had an assistant that drove you mad because they were constantly asking questions that they could easily find the answer to? When you are touching base with a journalist to request something you could figure out with a quick Google search, you risk coming across as lazy. That’s why it’s essential to do everything you can to fill in the gaps before you draft an email, says Sophia Feleke, a senior manager at SourceCode Communications. “This will help ensure that you’re asking all of the right questions. Not to mention, it might also give you a bit of insight into what’s keeping them from responding,” she continues. “Start off by checking out their latest stories, scan social media and be mindful of the general news environment. Doing your homework will help you be a better, more informed publicist.”
Get to know them.
The most accomplished publicists sought after from the biggest brands earn their reputation through their established relationships with the media. These leaders make time investments to get to know the top journalists, their preferred methods of communication, and what type of pitches or brands grab their attention. The vital work in building relationships with writers and editors begins way before you need to push them for a follow-up gently, says Barbara Marks, the founder of Barbara Marks PR.
“Today, there are so many ways to connect with a journalist through social media to understand better what’s important to them, their passions and their interests,” she continues. “So spend the time getting to know a journalist way before you need to get a response from them.”
This is super helpful in tailoring your emails — and getting a response. As Marks says, by doing a bit of work ahead of time, you can easily see a journalist’s preferred means of communication and what format they like to hear from you. “While you may think picking up and calling them may get you a response; usually journalists are working under tight deadlines, and being interrupted by a phone call is incredibly distractive,” she notes.
Keep it short and sweet.
While you may think it’s nice to begin your email discussing the weather, current events, or something else, in reality, journalists would prefer if you would cut to the chase. Because their inboxes are already flooded with emails, by keeping it short and sweet, you’re more likely to get a reply, Feleke says.
“When sending a follow-up note, have a clear ‘agenda’ in mind of what you want to get out of the note,” she suggests. For example, if it’s a pitch you’re following up on, don’t simply ask, ‘Are you interested?’ Instead, show the added value of the storyline. “You want to have a clear understanding of your ‘why’ — why are you following up, and why is this relevant to the reporter,” she adds.
Make sure the follow-up is relevant.
Here’s a golden rule to keep in mind if you pitch freelance writers: they want to know when the story is coming out as badly as you do. And unfortunately, most journalists have little idea of publication dates since editors don’t share them with their contractors. As stressful as it may feel, it’s essential to refrain from asking the same question over and over again, says Patrick Gevas, the vice president of GreenRoom.
“We know that many of our friends in the freelance world have little control over when stories publish, so a follow-up asking them to send a link or give a publish date won’t land well,” he says. “If you’re unsure when working with a new person, phrase the question politely and pay special attention to the answer. The follow-up to that person should be only focused on the stories on their radar, not about publish dates.”
Never take it personally.
When it comes to navigating the waters of being persistent but not pushy with following up with editors, it’s clutch not to take it personally, says Jaime Maser Berman, the founder of Maser Communications.
“Editors are pulled in a zillion directions between writing, interviewing, ideating, events, internal and external meetings,” she says. “Not to mention, everyone is dealing with inundated inboxes, so even the most organized and responsive person might need a gentle nudge every now and then. It's easy to get swallowed up by the sheer volume of correspondence that comes in daily.”
There is no shame in following up, but patience is vital. As Maser says, give someone a few days to respond before you send a follow-up. Then, when doing a round of follow-up via email, clarity is importat, from start to finish. This includes a clear subject line and a well-organized email. “The body of the email should be concise as well and include hyperlinks,” she suggests. “I personally use bullet points whenever I can/it makes sense and highlight or bold anything that’s important or timely or requires next steps. The goal is to make the email easy to digest and respond to.”
Don’t overthink it.
The art of following up with media can take time to develop, but try not to put too much pressure on yourself. As Gevas says, journalists get bombarded by emails, so one of the most important things is always approaching the conversation from a place of being a resource for the media.
“Blasting a mail merge to a list that hasn't been curated and then calling directly after is not a way to foster a genuine relationship with media,” he continues. “In approaching the conversation with effective media relations, you may also find the need to follow up becomes much less since you’ll have an ongoing dialogue.”
As with relationships, timing is also everything. Gevas says there should ideally be a week in between the initial outreach and following up. “In some cases, media will pass, which is an opportunity to probe deeper into what is on his/her/they radar,” he continues. “In doing so, you can actively work to connect the dots for a story and keep that follow-up cadence much more targeted and useful. Seek to keep the conversation warm whenever possible, which can make follow-up much more effective.”