by Lisa O’Neill

Anyone in public relations with a focus on media relations knows the dance we learn to do – and hopefully, well – on a daily basis with media outlets of all sizes and statures. This is also true for our work with influencers, the people who have earned significant followings online usually for a niche subject matter such as beauty, travel, graphic design, cooking or cars.

No matter how quickly we deliver the news or story idea to media and influencers, landing an actual conversation, much less a media hit, can be a tedious, long-term process.  There are exceptions such as breaking news, crisis communications and anything involving Beyonce or POTUS, but the average media/influencer pitch process can involve a timeline of anywhere from two to 200 days. Time-sensitive or specific happenings will incur timely PR/media communications… or not.  Other topics tend to fall in the evergreen category from the media’s perspective, even though it’s usually not evergreen from where the PR pro is sitting.

Over the past 30 years, one thing I Iearned early on is the art and science of patience and perseverance. Even if you have built a solid relationship with the media/influencer outlet at hand, this does not guarantee a quick response. What does guarantee a timely response is if the media target is interested at the moment that he/she actually opens your email (or listens to voicemail which is sadly a dying practice). And any PR practitioner who has been in the game for at least two years knows that being “interested” can simply be a matter of good timing.

There are no hard and fast rules for proper etiquette when trying to get the attention and response from your media/influencer targets, but here are a few guidelines I’ve found helpful.  IMPORTANT: I preface these tips with the absolute requirement that my PR peers be working from well-researched, targeted media/influencer lists.  You can throw everything below out the window if you’re sending news and information to the wrong contacts!

  • Depending on if your news involves a date-specific happening, wait at least 4-5 business days before following up on your first email release or pitch note.
  • If you have a software platform such as Cision or have installed an email tracking program, be sure to check if your email has been opened before sending the next one. You still need to follow up, but at least you can better customize the introduction of email #2.
  • If you still haven’t received a response after a second effort – and this is an important media outlet or influencer – pick up the phone.  I say “important” because PR folks usually break down media/influencer lists into priority groups. We’re not calling everyone on the list.
    • PR software programs such as Cision and Meltwater usually provide helpful contact notes on journalists and larger influencers, so familiarize yourself with your targets. A good amount of media do NOT want to receive a phone call!
    • If you get voicemail, which is often the case, leave a brief message – no rambling! Don’t forget to include your email address so they can refer back to their inbox, as well as your phone number.
    • If you do get real voice contact, it can be a beautiful or off-putting thing. Some journalists actually appreciate the real-time interaction (when not interrupting a deadline which you should usually know) and provide helpful feedback. If we only lived in a world where this was the rule and not the exception.  However, media are stretched incredibly thin, a trend that sadly looks to continue, so we must extend copious understanding for the constraints they face.
  • Many journalists don’t want to be chased via social media, especially if you aren’t previously connected. One exception is LinkedIn where you could send a succinct note requesting to connect if you feel certain you can provide valuable news and information to this individual over time. Surprise! There’s an exception to the social media rule:
    • Since influencers exist due to social media, they are more inclined to respond and communicate via social media messaging.
  • If you haven’t received a response after three attempts over the course of four or so weeks, then accept that there’s no interest in that particular news or story item – for now. Make note of the attempts and rather than cross him/her off the list, try again with a fresh story or different news item.
  • Don’t be a pest. Practice good judgement. The definition of “pest” can vary wildly from person to person on the receiving end of your efforts.
  • If you’re not getting a response via email or phone, and your high priority media/influencer contact is local, look for ways to connect at a professional or social event. Granted, many media folks stay chained to their laptops or wherever their beat takes them, and have no interest in networking outside of the office. Yet, in categories such as food and wine, retail, beauty/fashion, travel, arts/entertainment (the fun stuff!), these folks need to get outside of the office as part of their jobs.
    • If you do get the opportunity to connect in person, again, don’t be a pest. Be friendly and treat the media/influencer as any other new potential friend. Exchange business cards if possible, but the business talk can wait.

There are many subtleties to this topic as it’s all about human connections, but I think I’ve covered the basics. In this age of lightning-fast communications, patience can indeed be a virtue.