Interested in public relations as a career? Or want to get your company’s name in the headlines (for the right reasons)?

Then learn how to sell.

The internet is teeming with information on strategies and tactics to make sure that you do PR well. Jason Lemkin, one of the most recognisable thought leaders in the Saas industry, also contributed some insights into what makes PR work. We responded with our agreements and disagreements to his statements in our post on SaaS PR.

But before you build media lists, or craft pitches, or target journalists, you need to understand that PR shares a lot of traits with outbound selling. We share why in our post below.

You’re selling a story

PR is a broader business practice than media relations, but there’s no doubt that working with the media is a huge part of why you’re running a PR campaign in the first place.

And what is the media interested in? Stories.

Now’s when you step into a sales role. Most often, your first attempt at communicating with a journalist or editor is through a cold email. This is the written version of a cold call! And who doesn’t love those? *sarcasm*

The journalist or editor in question does not know you from a bar of soap. Plus they have hundreds of other emails in their inboxes.

How do you catch their attention? By selling your story to its maximum effect.

Show what’s in your story for them (the media)

Selling your story to its maximum effect means showcasing as quickly as possible, in your email, why the story has value for the journalist or editor in question.

Just as sales professionals know that right off the bat the way to find, and keep, a prospect’s attention is by explaining how the product or service they’re selling can help them. A PR practitioner should also put themselves in the shoes of the person they’re speaking to.

How do you do this?

1) Research your media targets

I work for a SaaS company in Dublin that has a highly professional and qualified sales team based in the USA.

Many of the leads the sales team work with come through various inbound marketing opportunities. But it’s also been an education for me to see how our sales team have won some big accounts through outbound selling methods.

One of these methods is to research a targeted prospect thoroughly before contacting them.

This sounds obvious. And the application to media work is even more obvious. But just because it’s obvious doesn’t mean that PR practitioners are doing it.

In fact, I was at a media networking event in London in early November and from what the media panel was saying, very few PRs research the media targets they send pitches to.

I think this is because pulling a list from a media database is so easy. Once you’ve pulled the list, there’s a false sense that the job is done and now you just have to pitch.

Not quite.

One finance journalist is not the same as every other finance journalist. One technology editor will not cover the same stories in the same way another editor will. One business reporter is going to approach stories from a different angle to other business reporters.

If you’re sending one pitch to all of the media targets on your list, you can guarantee that you’ll get a poor response. Or none at all.

Now, there are only 24 hours in the day, so chances are that you won’t have all the time in the world to read every publication on your list. However, you do need to immerse yourself in what the journalists you want to work with are publishing.

Twitter is excellent for this. The social media platform has justifiably earned its reputation for being a troll swamp. But for media research, it still delivers in spades.

I also rely on Google Alerts. There are many better monitoring tools out there, but Google Alerts works just fine as a free tool to flag the latest content written by journalists and editors I want to pitch.

Every morning, I’ll spend a bit of time getting up-to-date with the media landscape. Not only does the intelligence I gather from this mean that my pitches are more focused, but occasionally a story emerges that dovetails perfectly with my one. Then the sell-in to the journalist or editor becomes so much easier.

2) It’s a numbers game

Good sales is not the result of an ad hoc spray and pray approach. Good PR is the exact same. The more targeted you get, the better the results.

But, and this can seem contradictory, you need to also expand your initial reach as far as possible when you’re concentrating on the top of the funnel.

This isn’t a license to ignore the earlier advice of researching your media targets thoroughly. You still want to make sure that you’re pitching relevant media. However, you need to do some lateral thinking about who all your relevant media could be.

For example, last year I was running a PR campaign for a SaaS product that helps financial services companies simplify their communications.

On the face of it, finance and personal finance media seemed the ideal target. But not all of them. While one finance editor might have found what I had to say interesting, another one may only have wanted to follow stories on aggressive mergers and acquisitions. And my story didn’t fit this bracket.

This didn’t stop me from building a significant media list. Inherent in my story were aspects that related to communications, customer experience and operational efficiencies. Suddenly, I had a bigger pool of media to research and pitch to. Best of all, they were all relevant.

The result was 11 pieces of high-quality research in tier one publications.

3) The art of influencing

There’s a lot riding on your pitch.

For starters, you’ve got to grab the journalist’s attention with it. How is that for pressure to get your subject line just right?

If you don’t grab their attention, they’re not going to open your mail and read further.

Assuming that they do, you then need to provide enough information in your pitch to show the journalist that this story is relevant to them. You also need to get them interested in the story so that they start thinking about how they would cover it.

Your only tool to do this is your email pitch.

And writing long emails is not going to endear you to any journalist or editor. Faced with an inundated inbox, wordy emails are going to attract the delete button very quickly.

So correction. Your only tool to engage a journalist’s attention is a short, well-worded email pitch.

You’ll do yourself a favour if you research the art of influence in copywriting, and apply these principles to your pitches. Learning how to make your point quickly will lead to more interest from the media.

4) Remember to follow up

Sales professionals rarely expect to make a sale after their first engagement with a prospect. PRs are also unlikely to land the coveted media coverage they’re after after just one email pitch.

However, you need to exercise caution in how you follow up.

My modus operandi is to follow up with an additional piece of the story one week after my initial pitch. I provide all of the highlights in the first pitch. But the follow up provides me with an opportunity to share another tidbit with the media. And it’s way more interesting than a “hi, are you interested in the story” email (which is very easy to say “no” to).

Then, even if I don’t hear back from a journalist or editor after this second outreach, I still keep them on my targeted media list. However, I relegate them to a different follow up cycle. I keep an eye out for stories appearing in the newscycle that fit with mine and I contact them when this happens.

It’s important to realise that PR is a medium term to long term game. Just because a journalist isn’t interested in your story today doesn’t mean that they won’t be in future. But you need to remain strategic and engaged with the media to earn these opportunities.

5) Keep a record of performance

Sales teams keep a record how their engagements with prospects are doing. How many prospects are converting into warm leads? How many leads convert into closed sales? How long did the sales cycle take?

It’s a good idea to do this too if you are a PR.

I maintain a spreadsheet with the following details:

  • How many journalists I have spoken to for a PR campaign
  • How many responded
  • Number of follow ups
  • Volume of media coverage earned

Understanding how PR performs for your business will give you an idea of whether it is a bullseye tactic for your organisation or not. If it is, having these metrics at your fingertips will help you refine your PR strategy for future campaigns.

PR success rests on relationships

Once you’ve built relationships with key media in your sector, PR starts looking a lot less like outbound sales. At that point, you and the media in question both understand the benefits you can bring to each other.

Until that point, adopting a sales approach to dealing with the media is a practical way to create PR campaigns that bring value to your organisation.

After all, it’s through the initial sales approach to media relations that you’ll build the highly prized one-to-one relationships. And these will make your job much easier!

 

Claire Mason

Claire works as a content strategist for various clients in Ireland, Europe and North America. She's also a writer and has been published in The Guardian, Marie Claire and Irish Tech News among others. She's originally from South Africa but now makes her home in Dublin.

All articles by Claire Mason »

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