Lindsay Taub is a seasoned news journalist who has covered everything from environment and health to arts and entertainment. She currently covers adventure, food, travel, and music as a freelance writer for newspapers and magazines like The Tennessean, American Way and Travel + Leisure online, and for her own website, Voyage Vixens.
Taub’s unique combination of experience in investigative journalism, culture writing, and digital content makes her a great resource for the PR person looking for advice on pitching writers across genres and outlets. I interviewed Taub recently, and she shared the best ways for PR pros to form relationships with reporters, from interesting subject lines to in-depth conversations.
Start With a Strong Subject Line
“I get on average of 15 pitches a day. Probably 2 out of 10 interest me enough to keep reading,” says Taub. “If I don’t know what it’s about in the first paragraph–or the subject line in the email– it’s probably going to lose me.”
“A great subject line might include the word ‘new’ or ‘only,’” Taub explains. But that’s just the start. An example of a poor subject line is: “‘XXX city has a new art & culture development.’ Although the word ‘new’ is in it, this tells me nothing and sounds boring.” Before she even opens the email, “the subject should create intrigue or curiosity.”
Follow it Up with Relevance
Past the subject line, the next hurdle is the pitch. “When the publicist shows they know me, they’re one step ahead of the game: they target the pitch to what I cover and not what I don’t.
But it’s okay if you’re still getting to know Taub: “If a publicist doesn’t know me they can start with an introductory pitch: I’m so and so and I would like to know what you cover and how we can work together.” Show that you are interested in tailoring your pitches to her, and passing along useful content. For example, “One time a PR person said she saw one of my stories in a magazine and learned that I cover adventure travel. The PR person said she had things coming up later in the year that I might be interested in. It showed she had an idea of what I cover and what’s in my wheelhouse and targeted her pitch as such. The result? I went to the client’s destination and covered them in a story.”
Timeliness is a Virtue
Timeliness goes hand in hand with relevance. “I don’t like getting generic emails that are not tied to any particular newsy event,” says Taub. “If the pitch is not timely, new, or unique, there’s not much I’ll be able to do with it.”
“PR people sometimes forget about the difference between long and short lead publications. For example, I’ve gotten a ton of emails the last 2 weeks for the holidays, but I’m pitching stories to magazine editors for March, April or May. If you want real concrete results you have to put together a pitch in plenty of time so you can do the research and gather sources.”
Timeliness isn’t just about looking ahead, it’s about looking back at what’s already been covered. “I look for PR people to offer something completely new that hasn’t been done before. For example, the PR person pitches a restaurant and the chef who is doing something really cool with gluten free dishes. Maybe their chef has appeared in Saveur or Bon Appetite before, but he hasn’t been covered in two years or more. I’ll take a look.”
“That’s a critical element in deciding whether to explore the pitch,” Taub continues. “I need to know when was the last time your topic was covered and by whom.”
Offer a Unique Angle
“I will consider anything, big or small,” says Taub, “though I tend to be more interested in the very small, off the beaten path, boutique, one-off properties or destinations that have something unique to offer in terms of their culture and what makes them special.”
To keep pitches fresh, “studying publications and knowing what they cover, how they cover it, and what they’ve done recently is always good.” On the other hand, “pitches or releases that are too self-promoting or salesy in nature are pretty much a waste.”
If you’re hosting a press tour, Taub advises that you keep the journalists’ goals and work interests in mind: “Press tours–aka media FAM trips–can be an amazing way to get familiar with a place you’ve never been. The challenge is that the journalists tend to get the same story. I always appreciate when a press trip includes at least a day or two on my own so I can find my own unique angles.”
Facilitate Great Conversations
“You get the best quotes by having great conversations.” You can do your part by prepping interviewees “about the nature of the interview” and making sure they’re willing to speak honestly and in-depth.
To get to the good conversations, Taub says to PR people, “Give me the real story. What is the client really interested in? What are you really after? The bait and switch will never work. I level with the person and I expect (or hope) that they’ll do the same so we’re not wasting each other’s time.”
Use Press Releases Sparingly
Press releases are not dead but they are changing,” affirms Taub. “Some are so marketing-focused that they become irrelevant. I prefer ones that are more conversational and creative, especially if they pull out facts that get my attention, or if they tell me something that raises an eyebrow, i.e., [at their destination] you can sleep hanging from a tree tent).”
Pitches for product reviews need to be especially unique and captivating. “For example, one tea company sent me an email telling me they had a brand new line of teas and wanted to send me samples, and asked for my address. Three days later I got a beautiful package of teas, no request for an review, no paper work, just a business card and a sweet note that said, ‘Enjoy!’”
“With no deadline or pressure to deliver, I enjoyed the teas and was impressed. I wanted to learn more, which encouraged me to go to the original email and actually read the attached press release. It was like a slow reveal and, in the end, I did write a glowing review of the product. That said, they happened to be pitching a product that lined up in every way I needed: a great backstory and a high quality product that was new to the market.”
Deliver Specialist Sources
“What I’d like to see more of are general pitches that highlight a highly specialized source who I could call upon as an expert,” Taub says. “I would love to get expert profiles that I can keep on hand, such as a top airline expert, or mushroom foraging expert, or the foremost expert on blown glass. Sometimes these expert/niche sources are hard to track down, so the PR person who can connect me quickly wins.”
Expert or not, the most important quality in a source is that they speak “with candor.” For example, Taub once interviewed the members of a well known national dance company: “Each one gave me the same ‘all is happy in the world’ story, as if they had been prepped with sound bites. As a result, I felt the richness of my story and the relate-ability was lacking.”
Keep Journalists’ Goals in Mind
“There are some really phenomenal PR people out there who I trust and rely on. We make each other’s jobs easier. For the most part, I love dealing with them because we have the same ultimate goals; it’s just a matter of knowing intentions, being honest and clear about it, and finding common ground.”
“It’s when they don’t understand what life is like for a freelancer and how the business works from our end, that it tends to be frustrating. And if there’s one thing that I’d like to ask PR people to NOT do, it’s follow up an email with a phone call or another email when only a day or two has passed with no reply. Give me at least a week or two, and if you still haven’t heard from me, please follow up.”
Photo credit: Lindsay Taub
Shelly Gordon, principal of G2Comm interviews journalists from time to time and asks them what they want PR people to know. For more interviews go to www.g2comm.com/blog.