How to Best Work With Reporters

12 tips to help you ace your next pitch

As a professional journalist, I spend a good portion of my work week reading pitches from hopeful publicists. While some of the pitches I receive are on-target and incredibly useful, the majority, sadly, are not. And so instead of being able to work on a story or find a useful source, I waste far too much time wading through off-topic or wholly incomprehensible pitches. 

While many publicists learn key techniques during their studies or internships, there are some basics that aren’t included. The so-called soft skills that involve building and maintaining relationships instead of randomly peppering people with pitches in the hopes that one will be on target. 

Here’s the thing, really great publicists understand how to connect their clients with the right journalists. They also understand that creating an ongoing relationship with the right reporter could prove more valuable than a single PR hit. And really great publicists also connect with journalists to understand both their likes and pet peeves.

In no particular order, here are some tips on how to better work with reporters while pitching or relationship building. We’ll be adding more advice in upcoming posts as well.

1. Make your message matter.

You have a limited number of words –  and the writer you’re contacting has a limited amount of patience. While it can seem abrupt to get to the point immediately, try not to use so much flowery language and exposition, that the journalists you’re pitching stop reading mid-greeting. Be polite. Be friendly, and get to the point before they tune out.

2. Don’t make them figure out what you’re saying.

I can’t tell you how many pitches I receive that make absolutely no sense to me. Don’t assume that the journalist you’re pitching has any understanding of your client’s mission or messaging. In fact, assume that they’ve never heard of your client before. Try to offer a bit of background, or at the very least clarify what it is that you’re pitching.

3. Keep relevant information easy to find.

Oh, joy! Your pitch is on target and timely and the writer you’re pitching really wants to find out more about the company you mentioned. Only you forgot to include a link to their website and left out the CEO’s name and otherwise neglected to include the critical information that allows a reporter to do a bit of a deeper dive into your client. 

4. Personalize or individualize your pitch.

While you’re busy and likely feeling pressure from your client or boss, that shouldn’t come across in your pitch. Take the time to include the reporter’s first name and spell it correctly. There are few things that cause me to tune out immediately like an email that begins: Dear [WRITER]. 

5. Skip the hearts and flowers.

Unless you know each other well and have professed our undying friendship, don’t start with an affectionate greeting or end with anything too personal. And while you’re at it, skip the x’s and o’s on pitches to total strangers.

6. Create a fantastic subject line.

Challenge yourself to pique the interest of the journalist in question. Try to set your pitch apart from the get-go by creating a subject line that’s almost irresistible. I receive hundreds of unsolicited pitches daily, when doing a quick scan through my inbox I inevitably read the emails that sound interesting.

7. Create a relationship, not a one off.

When pitching a reporter, understand that as well researched as your pitch is, it might not be relevant. But the next one might. By creating an ongoing relationship with a writer you sometimes bypass the crowd and they might come to you first for sources or pay more attention to your pitches the next time around. 

8. Feedback is your friend.

For some reason many publicists bristle when being told their pitch is off-topic or irrelevant. If a writer is taking time to respond, it’s possible that something about your pitch did catch their interest. Pay attention to their feedback and fine-tune your next pitch.

9. Don’t underestimate freelancers.

Back in the day, publicists would prioritize pitches so staffers at print magazines were their first choice. While things have changed drastically— especially with the growth of digital journalism — some publicists still haven’t quite figured out how to work with freelancers. Depending on how many outlets the freelancer in question contributes to, you could be pitching a dozen publications instead of just one. 

10. Do your homework.

It is not a journalist’s job to educate you on who they write for and what they write about. It also is a huge turnoff to be pitched a topic they haven’t written about in years. Look up their profile on Muckrack or a similar site to have an idea of what their recent stories are about and who they’re writing for before pitching. Or check out their social media profiles to see if they’re posting recent stories which will give you a bit more intel as well. 

11. Don’t keep asking when a story will run.

Writers spend a good portion of their day, well, writing. In addition to that, they network with editors and other writers, research their stories, edit their stories, find sources, interview sources, promote their work on social media and more. If a reporter tells you that they don’t know when a story will run, trust them on it. Sending follow-up emails won’t magically make a run date appear. It will annoy them though.

12. Don’t pout if your client isn’t featured.

At the end of the day, there’s always an editorial hierarchy. A reporter might love your client’s quote and then have it edited out of the final version. Trying to make a writer feel guilty about it won’t cause them to sneak your client back in, it’ll probably make them avoid you in the future.


At Segal Communications we understand that while we work for our clients, journalists are our partners in the process. 

Up next: How to Fisher-Price Your News for Journalists

How to Fisher-Price Your News for Journalists

4 Sure-Fire Ways to Make Your Pitches Irresistible

Journalists receive hundreds of pitches daily from publicists eager to tell them about clients, launches, or things they deem newsy. Those pitches can run the gamut from oddly inappropriate, to blessedly on-target, to a whole lot of WTF did I just read

So, what makes a journalist take the time to read your pitch, much less decide the information is worth sharing with their readers?   For one thing, a really great pitch never leaves you guessing. From the subject line to the introduction to the description, all elements shared should fit perfectly together- which come to think of it is a lot like classic  Fisher-Price toys. 

While there’s nothing juvenile about the PR and journalist relationship, sometimes it helps to go back to the basics.

If you’re trying to make your own pitches stand out from the scrum, consider adding a bit of Fisher-Price inspiration to your approach. 

Make it easy to understand.

Fisher-Price toys may have been developed by developmental specialists and engineers, but every single colorful element seems effortless. More than that, they make sense, fit seamlessly with each other and offer a bit of fun in the process before hitting the payoff. And that offers a lot of inspiration for publicists hoping to up their own game.

Before sharing your latest pitches, check for clarity with someone who knows nothing about your product or client. Your pitch shouldn’t be like the New York Times crossword puzzle, taking endless minutes to solve, it has to naturally flow from one piece to the next. 

PR pro tips: Reread your pitch from the journalist’s point of view before hitting send. 

There is nothing worse than receiving a pitch and having no idea of what you’re being pitched. As a publicist, you may have a clear idea of what you think you’re saying, but it might not make sense to anyone outside of your agency. By making your pitch easy to understand and navigate, you increase your chances of your entire pitch being read. And while you’re at it, you probably still need to cut things down to make it clear and bite-sized. 

Don’t make the reader have to plow through endless information for a payoff. And don’t make it so confusing that they give up in the middle. Let your reader know who your client is, why this pitch is relevant or timely. 

Unlike a Fisher-Price toy, a PR pitch shouldn’t feel like a guessing game. 

Make it timely.

Part of the genius of Fisher-Price is the way every toy is geared to a specific age group. Not sure if this is the game for your tot? Read the label and you’ll immediately know if it’s a good fit.

PR pro tips: Make your pitch newsy and timely whenever possible. Just because you’re working with a new client does not mean that it’s relevant or interesting to a journalist. If you can’t find an angle that works exclusively with their beat, find one that works with current events. But since the news cycle moves so quickly, you’ll have to be prepared to hit send quickly to stay relevant.

Do the heavy lifting behind the scenes.

One of the reasons for Fisher-Price’s great success is that they track the many moving parts behind the science of fun. Sure, they create products to dovetail with a baby’s growth and development, but there’s always a deep thought process behind what seems incredibly simple. They also laser focus on who they’re targeting and why and literally build ease of use into the process.

A huge challenge for journalists is keeping editors happy by writing stories that are clickable and organically shareable. As a publicist, you can help by crafting your pitch in a way that shows you’ve not only researched the writer’s outlets or potential angles, but also the way their content is shared or consumed.  

PR pro tips:

There’s a fine line between seeming to write the article for a journalist (don’t do that) and offering bite-sized blocks of information, comparisons, or data points illustrating why your pitch matters. Remember, before you can connect with a writer’s outlet, you have to connect with them first. And in case anyone needs reminding, PR stands for public relations.

Creating and maintaining relationships with journalists is a huge part of the job, and providing consistently good leads often makes you a partner in their process.

Don’t build in too many moving parts.

Part of the genius of Fisher-Price toys is that they somehow know just how many block pieces to include before the puzzle is solved. More than that, they create experiences that override frustration for a feeling of satisfaction. 

Along those lines, if you fill a pitch with so much useless information that a journalist has to dig around to find basic facts, they’ll simply skip to the next pitch. And they might just avoid your future pitches. Always give a writer the easiest possible way to cover your news.

PR pro tips: Before you spend that extra time pasting images into a PDF, ask yourself if that’s helpful to the journalist your pitching? Instead, offer a quick clickable link with a small image and then offer a high resolution image if requested. In other words, always provide journalists with the easiest possible way for them to cover your news. Segal Communications founder Sarah Segal said she and the team “always put the text of a press release into the body of the email and never as an attachment so that reporters can easily search it and don’t have to open anything.”