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One of the most popular questions from a company hiring a PR agency is what journalist contacts they have and how deep their relationships are.
While it’s understandable to think this is important, it’s not the right question to ask a PR person. Regardless of who they know, they’ll only get responses if they bring their contacts a pitch that captures their interest.
This means it’s far more essential to find someone who can help you proactively source and react to newsworthy topics, generate fresh ideas to position you as a thought leader and assist you with creating angles and high-quality pieces that outlets will be eager to publish.
So, instead of asking who they know, focus on what they know, and ask them these five questions. Each answer will show you what results you can expect and if a particular PR professional is a good fit for your needs.
1. What angle can you suggest for my story?
News agency, Reuters, notes that relevance is the number-one driver of a great story, so another way to put this question would be, “Why should people care about what I’m saying?”
Your piece should be interesting to readers (including the editor or journalist you’re pitching to!) and have a unique perspective that makes it stand out from the crowd. The right PR agency should be able to suggest at least broad ideas about your business that can be later tailored to specific publications and will resonate with their readership.
2. What is the headline going to be?
The headline either grasps attention or loses a reader. Research shows that 80% of people will read a headline, but only about 20% read further than that. There is fierce competition for readers’ attention, so putting extra attention on the headline can be the difference between your content getting viral traction or only a few clicks.
When deciding whether or not to work with a PR agency, ask them what your story’s headline is going to be, and they should be able to produce a few options in a way that grabs your attention and makes you want to keep reading. This will also give you a good idea of what the focus of the story will be and whether it aligns with your business objectives.
Even though it’s almost never useful to spend a long time coming up with a headline (editors usually want to make their own), it’s a great exercise to filter for the best PR pros who understand both business and journalism.
3. What’s the news peg we’re going to hang our story on?
The idea of a “news peg” means finding a relevant current event to tie your story to. It’s similar to the angle, but it’s more like what your angle is going to hook around. For instance, a greentech company could tie a thought leadership piece to an upcoming climate change summit or the ongoing European energy crisis. A cybersecurity company can tie a new product launch to a recent public data breach or call for government regulations on a trendy technology.
Finding the right “peg” for your story helps to make it timely and relatable. People read the news to have something to talk about with others, so pegging your story to an event is the ideal way to get it shared, read and talked about. Many large publications won’t even consider a story without a news peg. Be sure to check if your PR agency is immersed in the relevant news and can offer a way to logically insert you into the agenda.
4. Which publications are we going to target?
When working with a PR agency, you want to make sure they have experience pitching to the publications that are relevant to your business.
It’s worth mentioning that the agency might not rattle off a list of tier-1 publications, and that’s not always a bad thing. It’s normal to think that you should always aim for the biggest outlets, but that’s not necessarily true. Instead of listening for “big names only,” ask them why they chose each outlet, which media formats they plan to focus on and who the readers are.
Sometimes, opting for more niche publications can enhance your reach and give you more leverage, boosting your ability to get your story in front of the right people. This is why asking these questions instead can help you gain insight into whether or not they understand your business objectives and how to appeal to your target audience.
5. Who are we going to target, and what format will we use?
As a writer whose work has appeared in outlets like Forbes, Fast Company and other large publications, I receive pitches every day. I’ve only written for those magazines as a freelance contributor, but people would suggest opinion pieces to me all the time as if I were an editor who had the power to approve or deny publications for the site.
These pitches show me how little media training PR people have because they don’t know the difference between a staff editor, a commissioning editor and a freelance contributor, and the formats they can offer to them. I’ve even seen these types of emails from people who are working with large consulting agencies. People without any background in journalism rarely understand how newsrooms work, and it leads to major blunders like this, which may get them blocked in journalists’ mailboxes.
The piece of advice here is to always pick the right editor or reporter to target with your pitch. If it is a news piece, you don’t send it to a commissioning editor, and if it is an opinion piece, any reporter would not be a good fit. Study the formats that the people in the newsrooms work with, and try to offer the most relevant piece so that it has the most chances of getting picked and published in the magazine.