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What the Media Wants

Posted: December 17, 2014, 9:58 a.m.
by Mary Kathryn Woods.

You researched writers and publications. You built the ideal media list. You brainstormed story ideas and angles. You sent numerous emails, and you followed up with phone calls. Then, you landed it — the perfect placement. Whether your client appeared on the front page of a popular publication or was booked on a trendy TV show, the feeling of accomplishment is one that is unique to public relations practitioners and results from tireless media relations efforts.

Public relations is all about relationships, and a reliable relationship with the media is possibly the most vital relationship public relations practitioners can develop. In order to provide placements for clients, public relations practitioners should strive to discover what the media wants.

Jillion Hunter, a senior publicist at J Public Relations, explained that the relationships publicists build with the media help earn “targeted coverage.”

“As publicists, we establish and maintain relationships,” Hunter said. “When pitching a story angle, it’s vital to know what writer or editor to go to and who will want the news.”

J Public Relations is one of the top lifestyle and travel public relations firms in the country. According to its website, “JPR understands that not all PR placements are created equal and that companies need to secure press with a purpose – to affect the bottom line.” As a public relations professional, Hunter has secured media coverage for clients at various publications, including Travel + Leisure, The Wall Street Journal, Robb Report, Food & Wine and Town & Country.

Victoria Leyton, an account director at Lansons, believes media relations remains a key aspect of public relations. Leyton told PR Moment that “Having the expertise and the knowledge to know how journalists (whether print or digital) operate and the things they need will lead to better results and better relationships. In a world that is getting increasingly faceless, having a good reputation and profile, and knowing other people’s, has probably never been more important.”

Similarly, founder of fifteen media Rebekah Epstein stressed that media relations is the foundation of public relations.

“PR itself has come to mean so many different things. It sometimes is event planning; it sometimes is social media,” Epstein said. “But, traditionally, PR itself is just media relations. At the end of the day, if you can’t secure placements for your clients, there’s really no reason for them to hire you.“

Fifteen media works exclusively with public relations firms to secure media placements for their clients. After graduating from New York University and working with NYLON magazine, Vogue magazine and People’s Revolution, Epstein seized an opportunity to specialize in pitching and placing. Epstein pointed out that within the public relations world there are plenty of freelance writers and graphic designers, but not as many media relations freelancers specializing in pitching and placing.

Thus, Epstein capitalized on public relations firms’ need for freelance media relations and launched fifteen media. Throughout her career, Epstein has earned placements in a variety of media outlets, including Forbes, People,, Associated Press, Fox News, WWD and The New York Times. Epstein believes her internships with Vogue and NYLON provided her with valuable insight when it comes to pitching.

“I was able to see the other side of the industry. So, I think that helped really make me a good publicist, because I saw all these publicists pitching, and I was able to see the other way the industry worked,” Epstein explained.

Epstein noted that successful media relations stems from a tailored media list and a standout pitch.

The media list
Public relations practitioners should understand who wants what. In PR Moment’s article, Leyton said, “It’s all about getting the right information to the right people, and tailoring the messages to get the best result. The most effective way to do that is to understand the key platforms (and it’s not always print) for your clients and get to know the people writing for them, so you can give your client the right advice on the type of stories that work and who is interested in what.” Epstein also emphasized the importance of selectivity when building a contact list.

“If you’re going to spend time on one part of the pitching process, you should really focus on the list-building and making sure you have the right contacts,” Epstein said.

Epstein explained that in addition to using Cision, a global PR software, to build media lists, she researches what the journalists cover and what stories they have recently written before sending them a pitch.

“Rather than sending mass emails, craft targeted pitches to the appropriate editors who you know will appreciate the news and run with it,” Hunter said.

Similarly, Fractl, a full-service digital marketing agency, recently conducted a study on pitching to top-tier publishers that includes the responses of 500 high-authority writers and editors on what, where, when and how they like to be pitched. According to the research, “64 percent of publishers think it is of some importance that you establish a personal connection before pitching.”

Hunter also stressed the importance of forming and maintaining relationships with media contacts.

“The relationships you develop in your career are what make you a successful publicist,” Hunter said.

The pitch
What is the key to writing that attention-grabbing, placement-earning pitch? Hunter said, when crafting a pitch, publicists should conduct research on the appropriate editors and ask themselves, “What’s trending?”

“If your client wants to be in Men’s Journal, read a couple issues front to back to see what sections they’d be a fit for, and who is writing those stories,” Hunter explained.

Additionally, public relations practitioners should present a clear, concise and creative idea. Epstein said that publicists have to get creative and search for relevant story ideas. Fractl’s research found that a 85 percent of writers prefer a pitch under 200 words, and the idea should “resonate with a broad audience on an emotional level, and be tangentially related to your client.” However, Epstein said that the pitch does not need to be excessively creative and lengthy.

“When I worked at Vogue and NYLON, that’s what I really saw, is that these editors are getting thousands and thousands of emails a day,” Epstein said. “The shorter you can keep it the better, because they can glance over it really quickly while they’re scrolling through email or scrolling through their iPhone or whatever it might be.”

Hunter agreed that succinctness is essential.

“In such a fast-paced industry, media don’t have time to read a lengthy emails,” Hunter said. “Bullet out the highlights and make sure the angle you’re pitching is noteworthy.”

Getting noticed
Still, Epstein noted that the biggest challenge of media relations is “getting through the crowded inbox.” To successfully secure a placement, your pitch has to get noticed.

Author and Principal of Cutting Edge PR Kim Harrison wrote, “The challenges of liaising with the media are knowing what the media want, and in helping them to present images, ideas and information accurately and fairly.” This is not an easy or predictable task, Epstein pointed out.

“Unfortunately, pitching, there’s not a great science behind it,” Epstein said. “It’s sort of just like a timing and luck thing.”

Furthermore, when pitching via email, the subject line must be specific and descriptive. Fractl’s research showed that “85 percent of writers said that they open an email based on its subject line.”

“A subject line is always the first thing anybody reads in your email — make it short and succinct with a hook,” Hunter said. “Media receive hundreds, if not thousands, of emails a day, and many times your email gets deleted simply because it’s not an interesting subject line.”

In regards to following up, Epstein advised one phone follow-up after an email pitch. If you do not receive a response, move on to a new idea to avoid pestering the journalist.

“The best follow-up is coming up with a new idea,” Epstein said.

Although getting through to the media can be challenging, the traditional practices of media relations should not be abandoned. Securing impactful placements can positively affect your client in ways social media and special events can only dream of. Ben Burton, director of PR firm Weber Shandwick, told PR Moment, “The key is understanding the news agenda and what will work for different media — that will never go out of fashion.”

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