Emailing Reporters? Follow These Rules and Make Them Happy

My essay originally appeared as a guest blog on Muck Rack, an excellent resource for PR pros and journalists. You should subscribe to it — it’s really good! 

Photo Credit: Esther Vargas, Creative Commons via Flickr.com

Congratulations! Your fabulous public relations strategy, precision targeting and customized pitching have been rewarded with a journalist requesting a client interview.

Are you going to cap all that hard work by giving that reporter excellent service – the same level of professional service you afford to your clients, the kind of service that makes reporters feel loved and pampered? Or will you provide sloppy coordination and communication that ensures they will never want to work with you again?

Once a journalist, producer, or blogger says, “yes” to interviewing your experts, your service to them must be superb. Your service is the cornerstone of your brand and reputation. It dictates whether you’ll develop a lasting relationship with that journalist. Make it stellar and reporters will keep coming back for new sources, knowing with confidence that you will deliver exactly what they need and on deadline. Make it difficult and reporters will ignore your pitches, or say “I’ll a pass,” when you send story ideas.

Since email is pretty much all reporters use these days to communicate with public relations pros, here are my media relations tips for using email effectively and efficiently, to avoid loading journalists with more work. I’ve been following these rules religiously for two decades, and they truly make a difference.

1. Subject Lines – A Reporter’s Guidepost

Sure, creative subject lines attract attention. Stick to that subject line, with slight alterations as you continue your email communications, so journalists know what to look for when searching for your updates and responses in their inboxes.

For example, if your pitch is “St. Patrick’s Day Party Ideas,” keep those words in your subject line throughout your communications:
Confirming: Interview w/ John Doe – St. Patrick’s Day Party Ideas
Photos You Requested – St. Patrick’s Day Party Ideas
Answers to your follow-up Qs – St. Patrick’s Day Party Ideas

Avoid meaningless subject lines such as “Following up.” Reporters are writing several stories daily. Don’t assume they’ll remember your client’s topic by spotting your name.

2. Say ‘No’ to Many Back & Forths

Be efficient and mindful of their stuffed inbox. Give them all the information they’ll need in just one email. Otherwise they might miss something.

3. Follow the KISS Rule (Keep it Simple, Sweetie)

My rule of thumb is to write and organize an email to a reporter with the same care that you would give to writing a message to your CEO. That means:

  • Short and succinct, with proper grammar and spelling.

  • Use bullets. Who has time to read lengthy paragraphs?

  • Give them only what THEY need to know. Avoid chitchat.

  • Confirm how many images are needed for their stories and send only your best.

  • Pay attention to their requests for high-resolution photographs. One reporter called this her number one pet peeve – her photo size requirements, such as 300 dpi or 1500 pixels are often ignored. Double-check what you’re sending and save them time.

  • Don’t bombard them with extra stuff (aka work); if they need only one photo, send just one.

  • When providing a link to an online photo gallery, flag the best ones in your email.

  • Clearly label all image files, so they’re not guessing about your content or forcing them to send you another email.

  • Speaking of labels, use descriptive caption-style file names such as 01-CEO-John-Doe-Eating-IceCream-GroundHog-Party.jpg, 02-CEO-John-Doe-HeadShot.jpg.

4. Sew Just One Thread

Keep all your conversation in one email thread. It becomes their guide to your ongoing communications. Instead of hitting reply use the email forward option, so they can easily spot where their latest conversation with you left off.

5. Send Calendar Invites?

Many reporters prefer receiving a meeting invitation from my personal online calendar. Ask if they want to be invited, so they get a reminder about their interview with your client.  The more ways you make life simpler, the better. Plus, you can see if they are paying attention when they accept the invitation, which ensures it appears on their calendar.

6. Don’t Forget…

Send a reminder email or call the day before. They’re nearly always grateful when I email, and I’ll pretty much always get a reply. If I don’t get an email response, I’ll call. And if they still forget about the interview, at least you have a paper trail if your client asks.

Before clicking the send button, put yourself in a reporter’s shoes, and ask whether your email gives him exactly what he needs or makes more work. Eliminate their busy work and they will return to you again and again for their next source.

Want more tips on establishing great working relationships with the media? Send me an email and let’s talk!

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