Get noticed by the media: Press Record Communications’ Justin Goldstein imparts how to effectively pitch your story to journalists

By Jim James, Founder EASTWEST PR and Host of The UnNoticed Podcast.

Based in New York, Press Record Communications helps clients get noticed using the media. Speaking on The UnNoticed Podcast, founder and president Justin Goldstein talked about how they handle strategic media relations — or, in layman’s terms, publicity and pitching the media.

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Press Record Communications uses a very targeted approach when helming their clients’ media relations. First, they find what their clients’ goals are. Next, they search for media outlets, reporters, and other press contacts that they think will be a fit for their clients. Then, they work with these reporters, coordinating and telling them their clients’ stories. 

Ultimately, it’s about getting that media coverage that will support their clients’ sales and marketing goals. 

The Changing Media Landscape

For Justin, the difficulty of getting media coverage for a client depends on who you’re working with.

Over the past years, the media landscape has changed: Newsrooms and their staff are getting smaller; a lot are also getting acquired by holding groups or larger media organisations. With this, the opportunity for traditional media has diminished. On the other side, this has also created new opportunities. Reporters who have been laid off or have left their previous publications have started their own podcasts and newsletters. Sites like Substack have also emerged to make it easier for people to become a reporter. 

The definition of what’s considered “media,” in the traditional sense, has definitely changed. Getting covered by the media now comes down to the effort you put into finding the right press people. 

The Press Record Process

The process of getting media coverage for a client depends on the goals of their client. 

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According to Justin, there’s a challenge when it comes to putting together public relations programs for firms with 30,000-foot goals. Somebody might say that they want to get on national television. However, this could entail different meanings. Do you want to be on more of a CNBC Squawk Box kind of show or do you want to be on more of The Today Show? Therefore, you, as a client, should have to really go around and dive deeper into those goals. You have to have a good understanding of who exactly you want to speak to and what kind of coverage you want to see.

After identifying those, Press Record then helps the client come up with a roadmap for developing pitches, identifying who the target media are going to be, and then actually going out and reaching out to reporters and other media contacts. Though they try to get those opportunities for their clients, it really does start with understanding their goals at the micro and macro levels to make sure that they’re getting the right coverage.

These so-called 30,000-foot goals are typically from the media perspective. However, it does play into the business goals as well. For instance, If you’re looking to talk to more of a business audience, it won’t benefit you to go on The Today Show or a local TV or radio station. If you want to drill down and reach a specific audience, you have to be on platforms like Bloomberg Radio, CNBC TV, or Fox Business TV. In the end, the media and business goals can be tied together. It’s a matter of understanding who your audience is and who you’re talking to the most.

Putting a Practical Roadmap

There are a lot of firms out there that create detailed presentations for proposals and roadmaps. Press Record, on the contrary, tries to keep it as simple as possible. Justin notes that they do it as such because they know that their clients are going to be busy.

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According to him, what he puts together is an action plan that essentially goes over the key metrics for the campaign. It also includes the target media that they’re looking to approach. It’s more of sampling so that the client will have a snapshot of what the campaign might look like. Some initial pitch ideas that could potentially work well are also being included. 

Once the action plan is signed off, they build the campaign and start developing pitches. They then send it to their clients for review. After the pitches are signed off, that’s when they start on their outreach. After that, they try to taper off sending pages to their clients — they don’t want to be a bottleneck or to make their clients feel that they have to put in more effort than they need to. It’s really about getting on the same page as early as in the initial plan and then moving forward from there.

What’s an Effective Pitch

Creating an effective pitch document depends on who you’re pitching. But for Justin, one of the key things that you have to keep in mind is this: In this day and age, brevity is key. 

When you’re making a pitch, the subject line should be straight to the point. Though you can put a little bit of creativity there, you shouldn’t go too far. You should aim for your contact to easily understand what it is that you’re pitching. The body of the email should also be the same. For instance, Justin always starts with an upfront note that says, “Hey, so-and-so. I know you’ll cover XYZ and you’ve been reporting this kind of story over the past weeks. I’m curious if you’re working on some additional coverage and if so, I have this client that I think would be a great fit.”

Apart from brevity, it’s also about making sure that you have the right information in the pitch. This is actually going to get reporters to keep their eyes on the email.

Then, you also have to understand what kind of assets do the reporters need — Do they need headshots? Do they need a video or audio content? If you can mix and match and put all the necessary information in there, you’ll have more chances of winning your contact’s interest. 

Another important aspect is email personalisation. But, again, it really depends on what you are pitching. If you’re inviting reporters to an event, a mass email is fine. Based on Justin’s experience, reporters would understand that you’re trying to get as many attendees as you possibly can. 

However, when it comes to pitching a story, you really have to personalise. The last thing a reporter would want is to see that they’re not being paid attention to. If you think about it, it also doesn’t feel real when you receive a marketing email or a LinkedIn message that is generic. This is why you have to take the time to do it. Justin recommends following the 80-20 rule: Focus 80% of your time on personalising emails and the other 20% on mass emails.

Let Your Pitch Stand Out

Media people are getting hundreds of pitches per week. To make your pitch stand out, Justin reiterates that you have to make your pitch brief. Brevity will help set you apart from other people who are essentially pitching essays.

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You also have to focus on your call-to-action (CTA). If you want to have a reporter respond to you, frame up your email in such a way that it solicits an answer — tell that you’re looking for something in return (e.g., Would you be interested in connecting with so-and-so? Can we schedule a call to discuss more?). This puts into their head that there’s an action that they actually have to take. If your pitch doesn’t have a CTA, reporters would think that they don’t have to do anything about it. They’ll simply flag it for later or, worse, just move on and not even care.

When it comes to setting deadlines for reporters’ responses, Justin shares that it’s dependent on who you’re pitching to. If you’re pitching a story to a publication like The New York Times, you have to give a leeway because it’s The New York Times. If he’s the one pitching it, what he’d do is to send it a month or two in advance so there’d be a buffer time. This helps avoid having a deadline issue in the first place.

If the pitch is non-exclusive, pitches typically don’t have deadlines. On the other hand, if you’re offering an exclusive, you have to give a first-come-first-served notice. You could say that you’d need a response within 48 hours. This gives them a day to read emails and think about their response. To avoid putting too much pressure on the reporters, you could simply inform them that you just need some feedback or some kind of direction on whether they’d pursue the pitch or not. 

You also have to keep in mind that journalists also often have to get the approval of an editor before pursuing a story. If you’re looking to get a story opportunity, it’s still better to go to reporters than editors because they will do a better job of selling it than you. If an editor hears from a journalist why they should pursue your story, it becomes a totally different conversation. You should only go to editors directly if you’re pitching an op-ed or a byline.

Proper Follow-up

For Justin, hitting the phone is still the most important manner to do a follow-up after pitching. Some reporters are going to have an adverse reaction but some will be fine about it. It’s much like sales in the sense that you really don’t know who you’re going to get. 

In this day where reporters are getting many emails, it’s very important to do just that. If you really want to get that media coverage opportunity, calling can give you quick feedback at the very least. This will help guide you about the next steps that you need to take. 

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However, as not every reporter has a phone number, the next thing that you can do is to reach out via LinkedIn. Unless a reporter puts on their social media profile (like Twitter) that you can direct-message them, it’s still better to contact them via LinkedIn, which has a more professional setting. 

Traditional broadcast media are typically harder to reach on email than print and online journalists. The nature of a 24-hour newsroom is that they’re constantly sending reporters to the field; they’re fielding calls from everyday people about certain stories. They don’t have much time to respond via email and they tend to be less apt to fully committing to something — unless you get them on the phone.

On Storytelling

Doing storytelling on your pitch is effective depending on the kind of media coverage you want. 

Personally speaking, Justin considers storytelling overrated. For him, it’s more about effectively communicating the kind of story that you want to tell. However, it’s important to do so as a brand because reporters have to understand who you are and what you do. And these details are essential in sealing the deal — in moving the media coverage to the finish line. But when it comes to getting a reporter’s initial interest, you have to consider brevity. Going into an entire, detailed story in an email pitch isn’t going to work as well as just giving the facts of the story.

In terms of delivering the rest of the story, or more details about your pitch, the timing depends on what the reporter’s request is. If you’re working with a broadcast outlet, there’s typically a list of assets that they’d require, such as headshots and B-rolls. Some also need suggested questions, because many broadcast producers won’t have the time to think about it due to their tight schedule. Some even send a booking form where you need to fill out questions.

This is a little bit different than print and online publications. Reporters on these platforms are not keen to do those as it will make it seem like you’re doing their job for them. For these journalists, it will depend on how exactly your conversation is. Typically, unless they ask for something in advance, you don’t have to send something. For instance, if you’re the spokesperson and during your conversation, you happened to bring up about a certain study that relates to the story you’re pitching — if they’d tell you to send that study after the call, that’s only when you should send that. So, typically, the assets that need to be sent only come after you’re done with your conversation.

Handling Journalists who Can’t Make It

There are instances wherein journalists won’t be able to make it to a scheduled interview opportunity. For whatever reason, they may postpone or cancel on you. In this situation, Justin emphasises how essential it is to communicate to the client that this is something normal. Ultimately, if you want to build a relationship with a reporter, you have to let it go. Complaining about it will only create friction and it’s not going to lead to a productive conversation in the future.

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To handle this scenario, ask the reporter if it can be rescheduled. Find their availability or vice versa: Get the availability of your client’s spokesperson. Most of the time, if a reporter has committed to a conversation, he or she is going to reschedule.

When Press Record books an interview, they always ask the reporter’s schedule first. This will lessen the chance of having them postpone or cancel the interview. But if it does happen, you have to be understanding of both sides. Be calm with the client and understand why they’re frustrated. Also, understand the situation of the reporter (e..g, He or she may have been pulled into a time-sensitive coverage). If the reporter doesn’t want to have the conversation, he or she wouldn’t even commit in the first place. If he or she has committed, it’s because he or she has found some value in your pitch. It’s not like it’s being postponed because he or she just feels like it — there’s usually a good reason behind it.

This is why you really have to coach your client and let them understand that, while it’s understandably frustrating, they have to accept the consequences of building a relationship with the media. This is akin to when you’re building a relationship with a customer. You’re not going to go and tell the customer, “What did you do that?” Instead, you’re going to try to smooth it over and make it as good of a situation as possibly can.

To find out more about Press Record Communication, visit their website.

This article is based on a transcript from my Podcast The UnNoticed, you can listen here.


Cover image by Markus Winkler on Unsplash.