The 30th episode of the DesignRush podcast offers the best practices for pitching a story to a journalist.
Our senior editor Vianca Meyer had the opportunity to speak with Muck Rack CEO Greg Galant about the strategic necessity of a tailored approach that is the best path to boosting the chances of a story being picked up.
Listen to the full episode to discover:
- Why it’s of utmost importance to customize every pitch you send to a journalist while ensuring it’s short and to the point
- How to build long-lasting partnerships with journalists by being supportive beyond pitching stories
- What it took for a fully remote business like Muck Rack to succeed
Join us as we explore the insights from a leader who has redefined PR effectiveness and discover how personalized communication transforms PR.
Gregory Galant is the co-founder and CEO of Muck Rack, a PR management platform that helps organizations build relationships with the media, manage crisis risk and demonstrate PR's impact on business outcomes. Greg is the co-creator and executive producer of The Shorty Awards, which honor the best of social media. He's a frequent speaker and writer on topics related to social media, marketing and PR, and has been cited in and interviewed by numerous media outlets.
Vianca: Could you share Muck Rack's mission as a platform?
Greg: Muck Rack aims to improve organizational communication and support a free press while providing resources for journalists.
We initially focused solely on journalists, creating a platform for them to find each other, create portfolios and showcase their work. This approach attracted over 10,000 journalists who signed up for free.
However, we soon discovered that PR professionals were using Muck Rack to identify journalists for pitches.
This revealed a gap in the industry: PR tools weren't helping professionals find the right journalists, leading to irrelevant pitches and spam for journalists. So, we leveraged our data on what journalists share and write about to help PR people connect with appropriate journalists, enhancing the efficiency of both sides.
Muck Rack has evolved to include AI tools, aiding users in pinpointing the most relevant journalists for their stories, rather than mass emailing.
We've also expanded to media monitoring, helping brands quickly identify when they're mentioned in the press for prompt action, whether it's capitalizing on positive coverage or addressing crises.
Our reporting feature offers real-time dashboards for big brands to understand the impact of their media coverage, assess public perception, compare with competitors and refine their communication strategies.
Could you elaborate on how AI is integrated into Muck Rack's operations?
AI has been a part of Muck Rack for over five years, playing a crucial role in processing and categorizing the millions of articles we handle daily.
Recently, we've implemented more advanced AI applications.
We launched Presspal.ai, a free service using generative AI to help draft press releases. Users input the basic details, and AI generates a comprehensive draft, which can then be refined and edited. This service also assists in writing concise pitches, a key requirement when reaching out to journalists.
Moreover, it also suggests relevant journalists to whom the press release or pitch should be sent.
This recommendation feature is similar to creating a media list, where, like building a Spotify playlist, the AI suggests additional journalists to target based on your initial selections.
This ensures a more targeted and effective outreach.
What were some of the most unexpected findings from Muck Rack's recent report on AI in PR as of January 2024?
The report revealed a significant shift in attitudes towards AI in the PR industry.
Initially, there was some hesitation, but recent months have seen a dramatic increase in AI adoption. PR professionals are integrating it into their workflows, resulting in greater efficiency in their roles.
A longstanding issue in PR is the gap between the desired role of a communicator or storyteller and the actual, often mundane tasks involved, such as extensive data entry into spreadsheets for media outreach and coverage tracking.
AI has addressed this by automating these tedious aspects, enabling PR experts to focus more on strategic and creative aspects of their work.
Another notable advancement is in providing insights.
For example, our Spike Alerts tool has been instrumental in monitoring broad terms like brand mentions. It identifies spikes in media coverage and offers analytical tools to understand the reasons behind these trends. This capability allows for a level of analysis that would be virtually impossible for humans to achieve in such a short time frame.
What are the essential elements that make a pitch to journalists truly stand out?
Brevity is key — It's important to write succinctly and clearly.
Many people, especially those with traditional PR training, tend to write long press releases answering the who, what, when, where, and why.
While this is suitable for a press release or a news story, a pitch should be more about sparking interest and prompting further questions. Think of it like a conversation starter at a social event — you share something intriguing, not your entire life story.
Understanding what makes your pitch newsworthy is crucial.
Entrepreneurs often mistakenly believe that anything their company does is newsworthy. However, you need to step back and assess the actual news value of your announcement.
What makes it interesting to a broader audience? One effective strategy is tying your pitch to a larger trend or current issue. For instance, if your tech platform incorporates AI, highlight that aspect, especially if it connects to current discussions about ethical AI, security concerns or developments in the field.
Staying abreast of the news and understanding public discourse is essential — Tools like Muck Rack Trends can help identify rising and falling topics.
You need to have a deep understanding of your company or client and their upcoming features or products. It's about finding the intersection between what's happening in the world and what your company is doing, crafting a compelling story from that, and then presenting it succinctly to the right journalist.
What are the other factors that make a pitch well-received?
The email template itself plays a significant role, especially the subject line.
Spending ample time crafting a compelling subject line is as important as the body of the email. The subject line should grab attention and entice the journalist to read more. The body of the email should be concise, ideally not exceeding a couple of hundred words.
Customization of the template for each journalist is crucial.
When journalists receive a pitch that's mass-sent, it often gets ignored. However, a pitch tailored specifically to them, showing that you've read their past work and understand why your story is relevant to them, has a much higher chance of eliciting a response.
This personal touch suggests that your story might be exclusive or particularly suited to that journalist, making it more appealing for them to pursue.
Could you share some common mistakes PR professionals should avoid when reaching out to journalists?
There are several key mistakes to avoid.
First, failing to properly personalize the outreach can lead to embarrassing errors like addressing the recipient as "Hi First Name." Such mistakes reveal a lack of attention to detail and personalization, which is critical in PR.
Another significant error is sending pitches to the wrong journalists.
Many PR professionals still prioritize quantity over quality, sending their pitches to hundreds or thousands of journalists in hopes of a few responses. This approach not only wastes the time of those journalists who are clearly not a fit for the story but also risks damaging your reputation and relationships in the industry.
Journalists can quickly discern when a pitch is irrelevant to their work.
If you send them something completely outside their coverage area, they'll know you haven't done your homework. The consequences range from journalists ignoring future emails from you to marking your emails as spam, which can have broader implications for your email deliverability.
In worst-case scenarios, journalists might publicly call out bad pitches on social media, which can be damaging to both your personal and company's reputation.
Therefore, focusing on targeted, well-researched and personalized pitches is essential. This approach demonstrates respect for the journalist's time and increases the chances of your story being covered.
What methods are most effective for reaching out to journalists?
The preferred method for most journalists is email.
While journalists appreciate followers and interactions on social media, they generally don't want to be pitched via these platforms. However, it's beneficial to follow them, engage with their posts and demonstrate that you value their work before pitching.
If you decide to pitch via social media, ensure it's through a private message, like a DM on Twitter or Instagram. Public pitches or comments can be seen as unprofessional and might jeopardize the exclusivity of the story.
If there's an existing relationship with a journalist and you've previously interacted through DMs or texts, it can be effective to follow up on an email pitch with a brief DM or text. This approach should be used thoughtfully and sparingly, as you want to avoid appearing spammy or intrusive.
The key is to first build a relationship and understand each journalist's preferred communication method, which can often be found on their Muck Rack profile or social media.
How should PR professionals build long-lasting partnerships with journalists?
The key to building long-lasting relationships with journalists is to be consistently helpful beyond your immediate pitching needs.
If you're a PR professional, you're likely knowledgeable about your industry. Utilize this expertise to assist journalists, even when it doesn't directly benefit your company or clients.
For instance, if a journalist is seeking a source on a specific topic, offer to connect them with an expert, even if it's not directly related to your company.
Being helpful in such scenarios ensures that when your name appears in their inbox, it's associated with positive, useful interactions. This approach fosters trust and opens doors for future cooperation.
Additionally, it's important to recognize and respect individual preferences in relationship building.
While some journalists might appreciate personal meetings like coffee or drinks, others might prefer more distant interactions, like engaging through social media or email.
Understanding and adapting to each journalist's preferred style of communication is crucial. The goal is to be seen as a reliable resource, irrespective of the communication medium.