Factors beyond our control are forcing seasoned PR pros, including CurrentPR, to use over-the-top, pushy publicity tactics we never dreamed of resorting to just a few years ago. There are many valid reasons.
Incredible shrinking pressrooms. Attention spans shorter than the average goldfish. Rising fake news fears. The relentless race to beat not only the conventional, but the ever growing social, media competition today.
These circumstances and more mean ambitious journalists must multi-task as if on steroids, leaving them little to no time to adequately process the tried-and-true PR phone and email pitches of the past. In the “good old days,” you could usually count on reporters to respond one way or another to your idea. Next, and more recently, came the era when you could safely assume that no reply after several attempts signified no interest.
Nowadays, however, we’re finding it can simply mean your pitch hasn’t been seen, let alone, read.
So where does that leave us? Media stalking for the greater good.
Stalking in Earnest
Given its main association with illegal and unsavory practices, the word “stalk” justifiably elicits images of dangerous prowlers, evil lurkers and obsessive exes and celebrity fans. But according to vocabulary.com, the verb also means to “pursue carefully.” And when it comes to publicity tactics, we recommend adding the words “earnestly” and “strategically,” too.
At this point, you might wonder if it is really possible to “pursue/stalk earnestly, strategically and carefully.” Yes, it is! Here’s how we do it to successfully serve the needs of journalists while reaching end-goals for brands.
To Stalk or Not To Stalk
At our agency, we relish our role as the client’s biggest cheerleader. In fact, I truly believe—and my 25+ years of experience in media relations has proven me right—that every solid story idea has an audience. We equally enjoy the part both big or small we play in making it as easy as possible for journalists to find and file compelling stories for their readers and viewers.
With this in mind, we always start every campaign with a unique set of creative publicity tactics, including a custom email pitch with an attention-grabbing subject line, a topical press release replete with substantiating fast facts, eye-popping artwork and a targeted media list. This used to be—and sometimes still is—all that’s necessary to generate initial interest and begin editorial dialogues.
Lately, however, we’ve experienced complete radio silence, requiring us to honestly answer some version of the question below:
“In the right media outlet(s), is our proposed story as newsworthy as Trump’s latest tweets, Prince Harry’s royal wedding and Apple’s hottest product?”
If the answer is “no,” we regroup, brainstorm new angles and outlets to pitch, and start over. Or we switch from publicity tactics to content marketing strategies that provide on-message digital exposure in brand-friendly distribution channels, thus circumventing the challenges of media pitching altogether.
If the answer is “yes,” we cautiously proceed with our media stalk. Sometimes a brand’s story deserves to be told by established broadcast and print journalists who are uniquely qualified to give it that third-party perspective as well as potentially greater audience reach.
We recommend you do the same. If you believe your pitch still holds up after a ruthless assessment, then go for it, especially in these scenarios below…
You’ve worked with the journalist before and know for a fact that your pitch is right up their alley—but the window of opportunity is closing. Whether they cover or not, they will appreciate your sincere efforts to keep them from missing out on an important piece of news.
As part of your routine publicity tactics, you’ve thoroughly researched to confirm they’ve covered similar stories in the recent past. (Emphasis on storiesnot just the random one-off. There needs to be a consistent pattern of coverage.)
They’ve expressed interest in initial conversations, but now you’re getting the silent treatment. Before stalking, google to see if they’ve been busy covering breaking news and check their socials to make sure they haven’t just been on vacation. If you find a legitimate reason for their lack of response, then proceed. If not, then they are probably blowing you off. Move on.
Though the response to your pitch at a particular outlet has been favorable, you haven’t connected for various reasons with the right reporter to cover it. In this case, you are stalking the outlet, not one specific journalist.
By the way, this same theory holds true for publicity tactics in general. If the media reactions to your story are mostly encouraging, then it’s just a matter of time before you find the right home for it. Don’t give up before the magic happens.
Proper Stalking Etiquette
It might sound like an oxymoron to use “stalking” and “etiquette” in the same breath, but even with pushy publicity tactics, there are certain lines that can be crossed, and others that never should be:
- Email more than once. Three times is our average.
- Follow-up by phone.
- If you don’t reach them after the third try, then leave a voicemail. (In my Media Post story last year, many pros disagreed with leaving a voicemail but we still find that reporters check their messages. In many cases, our quick, concise and sometimes clever recording has prompted them to respond in the affirmative to our email pitch.)
- Tweet them, but given that this is a public forum, don’t give away the details of your pitch.
- Call/text their mobile number if they freely provide it in their outgoing official email and voicemail.
- Monitor (daily or even hourly) their stories and socials to determine the strategically best/most convenient times to reach out to them again.
- Rinse and repeat as appropriate/necessary.
- Ask a fellow reporter or their editor to locate them for you and/or deliver your message. (This is different from pitching multiple journalists at the same outlet.)
- Pitch them over Facebook, which is meant for friends and family not publicists turned stalkers.
- Call/text their mobile after hours or on weekends and holidays. (Unless you know they are working.)
- Interrupt them during peak hours and times:
- A daily newspaper reporter is usually filing in the afternoon, so call in the morning instead.
- Fashion writers are deluged during Oscar week so wait until the dust settles—unless of course your pitch is somehow related.
- When someone famous dies or a crisis hits, TV news assignment editors and producers are swamped, so avoid stalking at all costs.
- Attempt to re-pitch them the exact same story idea they’ve already declined.
In summary, pushy publicity tactics are sometimes a necessary evil today. Under the right circumstances, journalists might even thank you for stalking them. But on second thought, probably not—they simply don’t have the time!