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The Fine Art of Follow Up in Public Relations

What’s the difference between getting your press release covered by national news and getting it tossed in the circular file? What about the difference between attracting 100 reporters to your press conference and attracting zero? It isn’t newsworthiness (though that matters) or timeliness (though that matters, too). No, the difference between attention and no attention is the fine art of follow up.

Put yourself in a journalist’s well-worn shoes. She’s a city reporter working on a piece about city hall for tomorrow’s paper, while simultaneously tracking down a lead in a corruption scandal, and still attempting to leave work in time for her daughter’s soccer game. And during the usual commotion, unsolicited press releases land in her inbox at a rate of almost 100 per day. When she sees yours, she might scan the lead paragraph and think “Hmm. That looks interesting,” but then the phone rings and her attention is diverted back to that seedy scandal down at the Department of Transportation office.  She never gives your newsworthy story a second thought.

That is, until you call two days later to make sure she received your release.   Upon hearing your voice and your short pitch – “That’s right!” – she remembers your story. The result? You followed up and gained valuable coverage for your client, product, or cause.

But not so fast. There are rules for follow up with journalists, and if a PR pro consistently breaks them, she may find herself out in the cold and her company out of the limelight. To follow up with journalists:

Keep it Snappy – Your follow-up phone call should last three to four minutes tops. If you’re new at this or tend to ramble, write a short script and stick to it. Introduce yourself, remind the journalist in a few short sentences why you’re calling, and ask if they’re interested in covering the story. If they say no, either hang up politely or ask if they would be interested in news from you in the future. (A reporter will almost always say yes, but she might also direct you to a colleague who may be more interested in your news.)

Be Prepared – The journalist you are following up with may very well be interested in your story. In fact, she’s interested right now. When you make your follow up call, be prepared to answer questions, provide quotes and facts, and put her in touch with other leads.

Don’t Sell – PR pros can be tempted to explain why their company is the best in town or why their story is the next big news. Avoid this temptation. Journalists hear that every day, and even the best sales pitch will not persuade them if they’ve already determined that the story is not a fit. Instead of trying to sell your journalist a story that does not interest her, make more news and try again another day.

As you continue to follow up with reporters, you will learn their idiosyncrasies. A feature writer contact might like to chat, for example, while a sports writer contact may snap your head off if you ever dare to call on a Monday. Until then, follow the rules of the fine art of follow up and watch your press releases transform into news stories.

This article is written by Mickie Kennedy, founder of eReleases (http://www.ereleases.com), the online leader in affordable press release distribution. To subscribe to PR Fuel, visit: http://www.ereleases.com/prfuel/subscribe/.

2 Responses

  1. Not sure I agree. If everyone who sent out those 100
    press releases made a short call, the journo would
    have no time for anything else!

    I tend to limit follow ups to those releases which I
    know are a strong relevant lead or to those journos
    With whom I have a particulaly good relationship.

    Claire Shiels

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