You’ve sent a well-crafted, targeted press release and story pitch to reporters and editors at well-targeted news sources. You made sure the press release contains detailed contact information, including an after- hours contact. And you’ve followed other best practices for writing and disseminating media pitches.
Yet you’ve received few, if any, replies. Don’t feel insulted or perturbed. Reporters simply don’t have time to respond to the hundreds or even thousands of emails they receive each day. But they also often miss genuine news that would be welcome by their readership.
That’s when it’s time for follow-up messages. Following up properly after sending pitches to journalists, bloggers and other online influencers is one of the most vital PR skills. Many reporters and editors like to receive pertinent follow-up communications. Because sometimes even the best media pitches can get lost in a deluge of email messages.
There are specific do’s and don’ts for successful follow-ups.
Is it Worth a Follow-Up?
First, accept the fact that some press releases are simply not worth a follow-up, writes Lisa Goldsberry at Axia Public Relations. In fact, some company news, such as minor staff appointments and updates to a company website, are not worth a press release in the first place. If the reporter has ignored the news release, so be it.
How quickly should you send a follow-up message? Preferred timeframes differ. Some suggest three or four business days. Journalists may be annoyed if you act too quickly before they’ve had a chance to review their in-boxes, but might forget the message if you wait too long.
“Waiting a week to follow up is simply too long; editors will have forgotten your pitch. I usually wait about 2-3 days,” writes Rebekah Epstein, founder of fifteen media, in the PR Couture blog. “This gives media time to respond first.” Editors are more likely to remember the email, and you can update clients sooner to let them know if the pitch is working.
Avoid numerous messages. If a reporter or editor doesn’t respond after one or two follow-ups messages, the next step is clear: Move on. Don’t take it personally. They likely were not interested. Start working on the next story.
Epstein suggests one phone call and one email. Leave a message, as most reporters screen calls, then send a short email. Send a fresh email message rather than forwarding the initial message. “There was a reason that first email didn’t get a response,” she says. “Chances are slim that the same subject line or content will pique interest a second time.”
Focus your efforts. Calling every possible media contact is too time consuming — for both you and your contacts, warns Casey Delperdang, PR manager at MMI Agency. Learn something about the publications and journalists to know who you’re calling. At a minimum, browse the journalist’s recent coverage and Twitter profile. Rather than repeating your initial email message verbatim, recast your phone call to highlight key points.
Adjust your approach. Phone calls can yield feedback that you can use to improve media pitches. “It could be something minor, such as a word you’re using to describe your client that’s throwing journalists off, or something more significant—for example, the angle you’re taking is not grabbing interest,” Delperdang says. With that strategy in mind, save the most valuable media outlets for last in order to deliver them your perfected follow-up pitch.
Add to the original message. Instead of just resending the original message, offer something new or exclusive that was not in the original email. Consider a customer testimonial, links to data or research supporting the original pitch, or links to additional information or photos, suggests Connie Sung Moyle for Vertical Response. If your pitch involved an event, you can send links to photos of the event.
Learn how email works. Avoid calling reporters to ask if they received the email. They’ll likely feel you’re wasting their time. Of course, they received it. That’s how email works. If you must call, offer something new, be succinct, and be prepared for them to say, “Put it in an email.”
Don’t just “check in.” The “just checking in” message is the worst, says Leslie Ye, editor of HubSpot’s sales blog. It’s obvious that you’re checking in and it provides no additional value to the message recipient. “Just checking in” messages are as worthless as they are easy to write.
Ye suggests 23 better email subject lines. Although addressed specifically for salespeople, some may also apply to PR and marketing. Here are a few follow-up approaches:
- Respond to a social message, and then follow up with more resources.
- Reference a relevant blog post they just published.
- Ask them “Did this email get buried?”
- Give them the pitch gist and a keyword to search for the previous email.
A “just checking message” may be warranted in some circumstances, Ye adds, such as when the contact has previously committed to an action but hasn’t done it and hasn’t replied if they told you to check back in a certain time.
Contacting through social media. Twitter provides an excellent way for PR pros to research and connect with journalists, although most reporters still prefer to receive pitches by email. Keep in mind that more than one message on a topic could be considered spam and that Twitter is too public a forum for messages that are best kept private. Get to know the reporter’s preferences and tendencies.
Follow Up at Proper Times in News Cycle
Know the news cycle. Understand the media outlet’s news cycle and deadlines to avoid contacting journalists or others at inopportune times. “If you are pitching a weekly news outlet that publishes every Friday, don’t follow up on Thursday afternoon,” Goldsberry notes. “They are probably done with that issue already.” Also know when the reporters and editors are preoccupied and on deadline during the work day – and don’t interrupt them during those times. The deadline times depend on the time of publication and/or broadcast.
Review your strategy. If your pitches generally elicit little interest, consider reviewing your overall strategy and consider the right questions when planning a press release. Perhaps you aren’t contacting publications that cover your niche. Review the recommended elements of eye-catching press releases. Review your targeted publications to see the type of content they are publishing currently. Talk with reporters and editors to determine what they want to cover. Tailor your stories to their expressed needs.
A final tip: Document your follow-ups and monitor and measure brand mentions to record successes. Effective media measurement that tracks data such as the number and reach of placements, social media shares, and inbound traffic to your company’s website can help PR gain influence within the organization.
Bottom Line: Following up on media pitches can be one of PR’s most controversial and challenging tasks, but the right messages can turn a miss into a publicity win. The most common pitfall is simply asking if they received the initial email. The most effective technique is to add value to follow-up messages by including new information or images.
This article was first published on Sept. 7, 2017, and updated on May 28, 2019.
William J. Comcowich founded and served as CEO of CyberAlert LLC, the predecessor of Glean.info. He is currently serving as Interim CEO and member of the Board of Directors. Glean.info provides customized media monitoring, media measurement and analytics solutions across all types of traditional and social media.