Recently, I attended a panel focused on how the changing media landscape is making it harder to create pitches that catch the eye of consumer reporters. Vested’s president, Binna Kim moderated this panel and cleverly synthesized the core elements that every one of our clients in the consumer space should understand about why financial journalists choose to write the stories they do.
The panel, which included bloggers and journalists from Business Insider, Cheddar, Broke Millennial and others didn’t mince words about what makes for a good story and why they might not be replying to your pitches. At Vested, we scrutinize every pitch idea and email subject line through the eyes of a journalist, but the discussion served as an important reminder of how to help our clients rise above the media noise – and their competitors.
Today’s media landscape is ever changing. The proliferation of the blogger community, the advent of “fake news” (and deterioration of quality reporting), the digitization of data and the impossibly rapid news cycle have placed new pressures on PR professionals to master the art of storytelling or risk being overlooked altogether. This pressure is intensified in the consumer finance space where every new app, gadget or subscription service known to mankind is vying to reach millions of potential buyers through coveted spots on programs like “Good Morning America.”
Plus, increased industry layoffs mean that fewer journalists must write more stories with less time and an overwhelming amount of information to sift through.
We’ve built a tech platform, VIQ, designed to help financial journalists deal with these very issues – to provide them with all the resources they need to research and construct stories quickly. But our platform doesn’t (yet!) rule us as PR professionals irrelevant. Our value-add to journalists – and our clients – is delivered through our creative firepower and ability to bring to them timely, relevant and personalized story ideas that help make it easier to do their jobs well. Here, a peek at our secret sauce:
Catchy, “clickbaity,” concise
Journalists receive hundreds of pitches every day – Kate Taylor from Business Insider said she typically receives 100-200 PR pitches daily! So regardless of whether or not your pitch idea is any good, the first and most critical hurdle you need to overcome is getting a journalist to actually open your email. This begins with a strong subject line. Our advice is to focus on short, clear and “clickbaity” subject lines that entice the recipient to take a closer look. Without this, your story is unlikely to take root in the journalist’s mind, and your email will be destined for their trash folder.
You don’t need to break the news to make the news
Press releases might contain important news, but getting financial media exposure means creating pertinent side commentary catered to the reporter’s needs. For example, Broke Millennial’s Erin Lowry relayed a story about how, as a one-woman show, she knew she wouldn’t be able to break new details or get the inside scoop on the Equifax leak in the way reporters at a large news outlet could. Instead, she ended up writing a detailed, step-by-step piece on how to protect yourself from financial data breaches by freezing your credit. This evergreen content better suited her blog and enabled her to offer something of real value to her readers.
It’s important that we understand the varying needs and motivations of different reporters and publications, and engage accordingly. To be successful at this, we do the thoughtful creative work first to make the reporter’s job easier. If they’re not out to break a story or get the “scoop” we need to ask ourselves how we can guide them towards new angles or ideas looped around primary news topics—information that satisfies a publication’s readership but has an added edge. If you do this well, the journalist will consider you an ally in the search for differentiation and professional knowledge. And becoming a reporter’s go-to PR professional for story ideas or great sources is the ultimate win, even if a specific pitch is not accepted.
Financial journalists are people, too
Pitch to the individual, not to the average—tailor every pitch to the person on the receiving end. Once you know a reporter or editor’s focus, pet peeves and passion topics, lean into that knowledge and only serve them up ideas that are relevant to them. We unearth this insight at coffee meetings and after-work drinks with reporters, interactions that are key to building great media relationships. And if you’re not certain of what they like or don’t like, just ask. You can always rely on reporters for candid feedback.
It’s also important to remember that journalists are just like us. They have lives and interests outside of work; appealing to journalists as fellow human beings can be invaluable in forging lasting, authentic connections. Twitter is a great starting point if you don’t have an existing relationship with the journalist in question. Just as Vested believes that all finance is personal, pitches to financial journalists must have personal and sincere relevance, too.
If at first you don’t succeed, try again…but know when to stop
Once you have proofed your pitch (panelists agreed, as do we: no excuses for grammar mistakes and misspelled names), just send it and let it go. While we’ll follow up with reporters a few times via email and by phone, badgering via excessive follow up is just that – badgering and excessive. Financial journalists need solid content, so if what you have to offer matches their needs, you will likely hear from the publication. Reporters simply don’t have the luxury of replying to every single pitch; sometimes no answer is your answer. Instead of badgering, work on building the relationship in other ways so that next time you need to reach out, you’ll have more confidence that the journalist will open your email, take your call or at least give you honest feedback that will help you and your clients in the long-run.