You can’t always get it right. Sometimes, regardless of the amount of thought you put into an idea, the time you spend tweaking the pitch or the number of journalists you’ve contacted, the results you so desperately want just don’t come through.
So, what now?
Is it just bad luck? Do you draw a line under it and move on to the next thing? Or do you continue to fire off pitches with increasing desperation or even succumb to journalists’ pet peeve of ringing their desk lines to sheepishly ask “did you get my message”?
Before you do any of that, it pays to stop and objectively consider what might have gone wrong in the first place. That way, you can try and find a plausible solution to achieving some success.
Firstly, as harsh as it may sound, you need to consider whether what you are writing about is actually interesting.
It’s easy to get caught up in someone else’s enthusiasm, or fall victim to the pressure to push out every single scrap of news they feel is worth sharing. But as well as providing the contact between your stakeholders and their target media, it is also your job as a PR professional to be the voice of reason. Take a step back and consider, is this really of interest to those outside of your institution’s office walls? If you saw this in a newspaper or magazine, would you stop to read it, or just flick straight past it? Often your own instincts can be enough to tell you whether a piece of research is genuinely interesting or not.
Okay, so it’s interesting, but are you presenting it in the right way?
Is there another way you could position the information you’re sharing? If so, why not try a new angle? Rework your press release, your pitch, to give it fresh life. Or change your offering. It may be more effective to offer a journalist the opportunity for an interview with your professor rather than an entire article on their ideas. There is always a way to spin a story and freshen it up.
And to the right people?
This one’s dead simple, and should be considered from the very beginning. But if a pitch isn’t working, it’s worth looking again at those you’ve chosen to share it with and confirming whether this is really something they’d find newsworthy? This part might take a bit of research, looking into the journalists you are pitching to and seeing what articles or topics they tend to write about. But then, at least you can find out what they are interested in, and cater a pitch to this, or find a piece of research you know would really excite them.
Additionally, if your stakeholder has preferred press contacts in mind who, in reality, won’t find the information you’re sharing very interesting at all, it’s your duty to point this out and explain the reasons why rather than setting them up for disappointment. A better move would be to suggest some alternative, far more suitable options. And given the range of publications, with focuses that can be as niche as crisis management or as broad as climate change or economic policies, there will definitely be a glove to fit all hands.
Do you have to do it now?
If your story isn’t time sensitive, what’s the urgency? Don’t just consider the time of day or day of the week you’re sending out your information but even the time of year, and whether there’s any national or international events that might be diverting your chosen journalist’s attention. Be aware, and pick your moment. Always make sure you are up to date with current affairs, so that if you have a piece of relevant research, or know that a professor could comment on a certain aspect, then you will be able to work quickly to put them in touch with the right people. Use news trends to gain great coverage for your institution.
Of course, sometimes things just don’t work out. And that’s fine. But, if at first you don’t succeed, take a moment to consider whether it’s worth taking the time to try, try again.
And if it is, take a closer look at how.
Our blog is full of more useful tips on how to write effective pitches, craft genuinely interesting press releases and how to analyse whether the news you’re pushing out is actually news in the first place.
First published November 2017, updated December 2021