Christine O'Connor | March 31, 2022
Persistence is one of the most powerful tools in a PR pro’s belt. It takes various forms at different stages of the story pitching process but it’s always an element in PR success—when it’s done right.
When it’s done wrong, it can lead to blacklisting by journalists and an unwanted starring role in Muck Rack’s “This month in bad PR pitches” blog series. March’s installment, for example, highlights a tweet from Decrypt Media Editor-in-Chief Daniel Roberts complaining, rightfully, that he’d received the same pitch twice in one day. And February’s edition features Keith Stuart, a video games correspondent for The Guardian, lamenting that he’d received three “increasingly belligerent” follow-up emails to a pitch on a topic that basic research should have shown was not one of his interests.
The right kind of persistence, on the other hand, often takes months to pay off but the results make it well worth the effort and patience. We’ve consistently landed quality coverage and byline placements for clients using these three persistence-done-right practices:
1. Build persistence into the strategy
Especially when working with enterprises that are starting from zero media coverage, we expect a long build and prepare for it—we tell clients six months or more.
Trade-based strategies can be incredibly productive but require long-term relationship building with editors who already have an array of experts to tap. We spent many months pitching one energy-efficiency client to trades, tying the company to themed issues and news and trying different angles. Eventually the hits started coming in and doors opened. As the volume of articles increased, so did the reputation of the client’s expert authors, leading to invitations to comment on news topics and write additional articles.
Sometimes we can launch a client with a big-deal announcement that brings immediate hits. But unless the company frequently has news to share, we know we’ll need to do persistence-driven work like pitching features and developing thought leadership to continue scoring coverage.
2. Ground persistence in a reasonable expectation of success
It’s essential to know the difference between banging your head against a wall and productive persistence that will lead to PR success. Developing that knowledge requires careful research to ensure pitches are on target for the journalist, as well as picking up on their cues.
One Thinkshifter pitched a reporter for over a year before getting a response. That might sound like stalking but she had reason to persist. She only pitched story ideas solidly in the reporter’s coverage area, and the reporter consistently opened her emails, signaling interest. When she followed the reporter on Twitter, she got a follow back. Finally, the reporter responded. She got a good story and we have worked with her regularly ever since.
When a journalist lets us know through their actions that frequent follow-up is welcome, we’re not shy. We’ve learned from getting very long-in-coming yeses to byline pitches from one trade publication editor that articles he likes may get lost in his email, and so we follow up twice as much as we usually would—but only when we’re absolutely confident that the material is a fit.
3. Add, don’t nag, in follow-ups
Follow-up is an art form. Reporters don’t have time to read or respond to every email in their inbox and can easily miss a story they’re interested in covering. But there are helpful and detrimental ways to go about it.
PR pros who follow up on pitches with notes like, “Hey did you get my pitch?” or even worse, “Why didn’t you respond to my pitch?” are burning bridges, not building relationships.
Instead of nagging journalists who don’t respond right away or berating them for having the audacity to skip by our email, we use our follow-ups to add information or an alternative angle to pique the reporter’s interest. We might share new data on the subject, excerpts from a new client report or a quote from a source.
This way, even if they’re still not interested, at least we’re offering them something more rather than an irritating nag.
Effective persistence takes tact, research and creativity. Doing it right requires building persistence into the strategy, setting reasonable expectations for PR success, and adding new and enticing information in follow-ups. It’s work, but the results are worth it.