Seven Ways to Get the Attention of a Journalist

Carnegie Higher Ed Jul 10, 2012 Carnegie Higher Ed Persona The Visionary Frontrunner

I’m going to be honest with you: I’m a career flip-flopper. In college, I worked at newspapers and at a PR firm. Even in my pint-sized career, I started as a public relations associate, but then took on the role of assistant editor, online specialist (this is the point where I’ll cease flip-flopping—I love my job). I learned quite a bit in PR: some lessons that are tried and true, and others that I disagree with vehemently. But on the editorial side, I’ve seen the good, the bad, and the ugly when it comes to story ideas from communications professionals.


We’re a society that loves lists, right? With that in mind, here’s a list of seven ways to get my undivided attention:


Don’t make a story out of nothing


Someone once told me the fact that our client existed was a story in and of itself. That would make sense if this client was newly founded, but that wasn’t the case. If there’s nothing going on at your school, don’t send a press release just to send a press release. As a journalist, it’s a nuisance to get an inundation of e-mails. Rather, make us wait for that brilliant pitch where we think oh, this is SO good…


If you make a typo/error, I die a little inside


It’s true—as an editorial person, errors kill me. With this in mind, though, it’s not unforgivable, and I’ll likely still take your pitch into consideration. But always have someone proof your e-mail and subject line before you send anything, no matter how timely the story. I always hated sending a pitch that no one had proofed; as much as I’d like to think I write mistake-free, I don’t, and though I say this with love, you probably don’t either.


Don’t yell at me


I’m not sure when it was decided that headlines should be in all caps, but when I receive story ideas where that’s the case, I cower in fear. It’s harder to read, it doesn’t add anything to your release, and additionally, most (if not all) major wire services use regular headline capitalization formatting anyway. So please, simmer down.


Know my audience


One of the very first pitches I received in this position had a subject line: “SPRING BREAK FREE PICS!!!” (again, please stop yelling at me). If this PR professional had known our audience, they would know that we don’t post half-naked images of beer-sipping celebrities. I’m not telling you to read every single one of our articles, but at least know who we’re targeting, how we target them, and what tone we use.


Smile with your text


You know how Tyra Banks always tells her models to smile with her eyes? Well, I love a good, friendly smile, so if you can find a way to do that with a pitch, you’ll make me feel all warm inside. If your story idea is laden with staccato sentences and corporate diction, there will be little desire to collaborate with you. Of course, don’t take the amiability too far, though; if your first e-mail talks about how nice my hair looks in my LinkedIn profile picture, then I’ll just get freaked out.


Quit rambling

Journalists have deadlines to meet, places to go, people to see, and articles to write. I love reading books, and I would absolutely love to read that novel you just e-mailed me, but unfortunately, I don’t have time. If you have a boilerplate in a release you sent over the wire, take it out when you send it to me—give me a link instead. Provide me with the tantalizing tidbits of what you’re pitching; that’s all you need to have me begging for more and writing a story about it.


Take rejection like a champ


I’m a pansy: I’m the kind of person where, back in my PR days, I would cry in a corner when a story/source got rejected (one of the reasons I’m better in editorial…). I hate rejecting you guys because, well, you’re all working so darn hard. But when you take rejection like a champ, it makes me remember you, thus increasing the chances I’ll use you in the future. An occasional follow-up doesn’t hurt, either.

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