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2 veteran journalists offer straight talk on PR techniques

The Journalist

‘The keys to pitching journalists successfully are building a solid relationship and making your content useful—and the core element of both is simply doing your homework.

So said veteran media professionals Chitra Nawbatt and Lauren Young as they discussed “What Journalists Want” in a webinar hosted by NASDAQ OMX in partnership with Ragan Communications. Nawbatt is a New York-based anchor and correspondent for CTV’s Business News Network; Young is the money editor at Thomson Reuters and hosts the Money Clip Series on Reuters TV.

The hourlong panel discussion featured key topics covered in a free white paper (also titled “What Journalists Want”) available to PR professionals seeking to improve their chances of cultivating media contacts and securing valuable coverage in an increasingly competitive landscape. 

Young urged PR pros to get to know the reporter through simple research, which is easy online. Specifically she said:

• Find a way to connect on a personal level and build a relationship.

• Look at a journalist’s work, and follow and connect with him or her on Twitter. 

Once you are ready to offer your story idea, Young said:

• Research before you pitch.

• Don’t always pitch a one-dimensional story; find what unique aspect would interest that specific journalist and craft your suggestion accordingly. 

For Nawbatt, the emphasis is on concise, cogent content. 

“When we were young, we all learned the 5 W’s,” and those fundaments are still crucial today. She warned against “data overload,” both in pitches and in online newsrooms—which can be a great help to journalists, if they are well organized and clutter-free. “Cut through the noise,” she said.

Nawbatt’s other guidelines include:

• Focus on what is desired for a news story vs. what is commonly offered.

• Give the reporter the essence of the article—what he or she needs to know.

• Find the “so what?” and explain.

• Pitch what is relevant and consumable (clear and concise). 

In the hourlong conversation, which included questions from audience members and the panelists’ responses, several other key points were offered:

• Press releases still have value as an official source, specifically for hard data and official quotes.

• Subject lines are essential to grab attention, so they must be clear and potent. Important: If the topic of an email correspondence changes, the subject line should be altered to reflect that. 

• Spelling errors and poor grammar get you attention—all the wrong kind. Don’t set yourself up as the target of ridicule.

• Follow-up methods vary according to the journalist and the relationship a PR pro has established; knowing beats and preferences, again, is a product of doing your homework.

• Once you land an interview, make sure your client brings forth energy, delivers useable sound bites, and stays on message.

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