So, you’ve written a white paper or other piece of thought-leadership content. You’ve posted it on your website. You’ve distributed it and optimized it for promotion on multiple social media channels. You’ve included it in your email newsletter to your target audience.
Still, like any astute financial marketer, you know that distributing your written thought leadership over these “owned” channels isn’t enough. You want to amplify your reach by getting the white paper in front of reporters, editors, and other media influencers.
You want the ideas in your firm’s white paper to be written about in the most influential industry trade publications, talked about on social media, or featured in some of the most-listened-to podcasts.
So, you set out to craft the perfect email talking about the main ideas of your white paper and why they’re relevant and important. You use words like “groundbreaking” to describe the research or “highly sought after” to describe the paper’s author.
Or you use cheeky humor or what you think is an eye-catching lead or hook to capture the reporter’s attention. YOU WRITE IN ALL CAPS IN THE SUBJECT LINE.
You then assemble a massive email list of reporters, editors, and other influencers whom you want to target—curated from some professional public relations database—and you send this email to hundreds of them, all at once.
Then, you sit back and wait for the urgent requests for media interviews or byline opportunities to roll in.
And then … crickets. You get very little response, and you’re sitting around wondering where your strategy went wrong.
As a former reporter and trade magazine editor, I’m very familiar with this approach to media outreach and PR—because I received hundreds of emails a day for more than six years following this same, scripted, unoriginal approach, from PR and marketing professionals looking to get my publication to write about their pitch.
Most of these emails were deleted as soon as they arrived—or completely ignored. My personal favorite was when a PR email would arrive in my inbox addressed to “Hi [Insert name here].” This, unfortunately, was a common occurrence.
This isn’t to say that I never connected with or covered a topic pitched to me via email by a PR representative. In fact, I made countless relationships with PR folks representing many sources who found their way into our magazines and other publications and events.
How did they do it? Here are six strategies the most successful PR professionals followed in their interactions with me. And they’re strategies that we use at Wentworth Financial Communications to help our clients gain more visibility for their thought-leadership efforts.
Limit Your List of Potential Reporters, Editors, Influencers
Spamming a reporter email list you acquired through a PR subscription service or other outlet is largely ineffective when it comes to establishing the kinds of relationships with reporters that will pay huge dividends long-term.
Before you even think about writing an initial email to a reporter, you want to narrow your target list down to just 15-20 of the most important publications. You might even consider making your list smaller still. Doing this allows you to personalize your email slightly to each reporter, which will keep your communication authentic and genuine.
This is important, as most reporters assume that a majority of the PR emails they receive are mass-outreach efforts. Reporters and editors want to write about things that no one else is writing about, so it’s important to make them feel like you’re not pitching all their competitors as well—even if you secretly are.
Be Open-Minded About the Publications You Reach Out To
Everyone wants to get quoted in the biggest and highest-profile publications like The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal. And, for the most part, you should include reporters and editors at these publications on your list.
But you should also open your mind to the many smaller, trade publications that cover a given industry. Not only are you more likely to have greater success with these publications, but it’s often the case that reporters at the larger, higher-profile publications read the smaller trade publications for leads and sources.
Finally, be open to including emerging media channels like podcasts and other, smaller publications in your target list. These outlets are increasingly influential.
Your Initial Outreach or Pitch Can Be an Email—But How You Write the Email is Important
Reporters and editors are trained to look past shallow, superficial “news” that PR people typically write about in email pitches. As mentioned earlier, they want to write about things that are truly unique and no one else is writing about—often referred to as “scoops” in the hard news business. To reporters, press releases or PR pitches aren’t scoops because they’re sending them to many media all at once.
Therefore, the goal of your email shouldn’t necessarily be designed as a one-off transaction to get the reporter or editor to cover your pitch; it should be the opening of a long-term relationship where you’re looking to genuinely help them with their coverage.
As a result, your email subject line should be something along the lines of “An underreported story idea or source you might be interested in meeting to help with stories …” and not “Company ABC White Paper Discusses the Intricacies of the XYZ Market.”
When it comes to the body of the email, don’t position the white paper or piece of content itself at the top. If it’s a white paper or other piece of thought-leadership content that you’re promoting, position the white paper’s main idea as a story idea that isn’t being written about, and only mention and include a link to the white paper at the end of the email as extra background information if they’re interested in learning more about the topic.
If you’re pitching a product or a company, don’t write about the product or company really at all—write about a company executive who can be used as a valuable source to comment on trends in the industry or, moreover, to help the reporter with sources for stories they’re working on by tapping the executive’s own professional network.
Finally, keep it short—and authentic. Reporters and editors, like I mentioned earlier, are good at sniffing out “typical” templated PR emails, and they’re more likely to immediately delete them if your message is long and appears to be mass-produced. Make it short, simple, to the point, and convey that you’re genuinely trying to help.
Follow Up—Both After the Initial Outreach and Down the Road
Most reporters aren’t going to respond to your initial email. There are many reasons for this. Maybe the email got buried in their inbox. Maybe the reporter read it but didn’t think the idea merited immediate attention.
Regardless, you need to follow up. Wait a week or so after sending the initial email, and send a brief follow-up note asking if they saw your initial note and ask if they’re interested in learning more.
Sometimes, even if a reporter read your initial email and didn’t find it interesting, they might be in a better mood or have more time on another day. If they didn’t see the initial email, this is your chance to get back on their radar.
No matter how the reporter or editor took your initial outreach, it’s important to be persistent in following up. Even if the reporter or editor doesn’t respond to your follow up, wait another week or two and follow up a third time—you never know what sort of mood you’ll catch them in, and they may choose to engage.
Some outreach efforts will result in immediate results—a feature interview, byline opportunity, or podcast appearance. Still, others—especially with mainstream, higher-profile publications—take time to bear results. Stay with it. We had one client draw interest from a reporter from The Wall Street Journal, and it took nearly a year before they finally decided the story idea we pitched was newsworthy to write about.
Not continuing to engage with the media because they didn’t immediately agree to accept your “transactional” email pitch is a bad idea. Keep the relationship open by checking in with them every once in a while, see what they’re working on and interested in, and see if there are ways you can help.
Finally, be open to the ways the media chooses to include you in their coverage, because it may not always go as you initially planned. Not every opportunity is going to be a full-scale profile of your firm or even cite your thought leadership directly. Sometimes it’ll be a small quote or even a passing mention.
With our client who was featured in The Wall Street Journal a year after our initial conversation with the publication’s reporter about our story idea, our client’s inclusion in the story was nothing more than a one-line attribution to one trend, not even a direct quote. Still, appearing at the center of the conversation in a big trend story, published in The Journal, was a big win for our client.
Celebrate Your Success
Above all, realize that an outreach effort that targets 20 publications may only result in two or three editorial opportunities. This wouldn’t be a good batting average for a Major League baseball player, but it’s a great rate of return when it comes to media outreach, so celebrate it.
Becoming an influencer through media outreach takes time, and it’s just one spoke on a larger thought leadership strategy. Enjoy the successes when they come, and remain persistent when they don’t.
Media outreach isn’t easy—but when it works, it’s worthwhile.
For more insights on how financial services firms can create compelling thought-leadership content—whether on their own or by working with a ghostwriter or outsourced writing agency—subscribe to WFC’s YouTube channel.
About the Author
Frank Kalman is the chief operations officer at Wentworth Financial Communications. Frank and the team of writers and editors at WFC help professionals across the financial services industry build their brands by creating investment-grade white papers, bylined articles, newsletters, blogs, social media posts, and other forms of content marketing.