Offer access, not a coffee: how PR pros can avoid the 'great unread' inbox

As PRs we should know our stuff, know our contacts, know how to reach them, and know what makes their jobs easier.

Offer access, not a coffee, advises Edward Clark
Offer access, not a coffee, advises Edward Clark

Don't ask WIRED's Matt Burgess out for coffee if you're not already on speaking terms; he can't commit the time for a meeting so potentially low in value.

And the same goes for most journalists on the WIRED UK team – they want press releases well ahead of time, exclusivity and more access than other publications, not a coffee.

Reports of the press release’s death have been greatly exaggerated

But, as Matt and his colleague James Temperton commented at a recent breakfast briefing, this doesn’t stop half a dozen ‘let’s grab lunch’ requests rolling in each week.

It’s not surprising to hear that journalists at WIRED, like many other publications, have a generic inbox which is simply left to fill up.

And it’s clear from some horror pitches (‘Dear Outlet’ emails, etc.) shared on the day, that many PRs are ill-researched and simply play a numbers game.

We all know that pitching stories is a mixture of art, science, and a little bit of luck on timing. But happily, I think there are more than a few ways to avoid ending up in the Great Unread.

In a previous life, as a freelance journalist on the news desk for several national radio brands, any inbound PR communication was directed to an email address which we rarely checked.

Instead, the smart PRs knew to call the duty editor directly, on a different number.

It was this knowledge, not too difficult to come by, which gave them a much better chance of getting their story some airtime.

Now on the other side of the fence, it can be helpful to remember that just putting in an extra couple minutes of research will reap rewards for your story (and most importantly, your client).

On any editorial team, there will always be one journalist in particular who is best placed to approach.

Information around which journalists cover which topics is most likely on the publication’s website, and of course, researching and reading what they have written about recently will also provide a good guide.

How do they want to be approached?

Twitter is increasingly the preferred option for some. Don’t be afraid to DM instead of crafting a four-paragraph email that won’t be read.

A good way to find out what someone wants is to ask them.

For PRs, opportunities to listen to journalists and/or publications aren’t necessarily ten-a-penny, so we should make the most of them.

In a recent interview with Tom Allen, special projects editor at Computing, he envisioned a better future PR/journo relationship as having more personalised communication, and including assistance with arranging CIO interviews.

Not surprisingly, Allen said that, going forwards, the irrelevant press release should not feature.

He summarised by stressing the importance of taking time to talk to the media and getting to know each other as people, not just a name behind an email address.

So as PRs we should know our stuff, know our contacts, know how to reach them, and know what makes their jobs easier.

While content is critical, let’s not forget that the magic is also in the medium.

Edward Clark is a senior account executive at CommsCo

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