When your nonprofit has something newsworthy to announce, you spend hours putting together a pitch and press materials to accompany your big announcement.
Then, you take the time to review your media list to make sure your contacts are up to date and decide who you should be sharing the pitch with.
Then you hit “send” — with the hope that you’ll get a flurry of responses from journalists who are eager to share your news with the world.
And then … crickets.
What should you do?
Your initial reaction might be to follow up early and often — with the hope that your persistence will convince the reporter that your story is worth covering.
This urge is likely amplified when you have an anxious executive director wondering why her phone isn’t ringing off the hook with reporters who are looking for the scoop.
Instead, take a deep breath … and take the following steps instead.
Step One: Follow the 3-day rule
Reporters get a lot of pitches — and they often have pressing deadlines.
As a result, it’s rare that they’re just sitting at their desks waiting for your email to light up their inboxes.
Give them some time to actually read your email and consider whether they’re interested.
Unless the pitch is extremely time-sensitive, I typically like to give reporters three to four days before I follow up to see if they received the pitch and if they have any questions.
Sooner than that and you come across as aggressive and desperate. You also send a signal that you’re not being respectful of their time.
Step Two: Keep it short and sweet
You don’t need to send a fresh pitch or go into sales mode when you follow up.
Instead, you just need to keep it simple.
My preferred tactic is to reply to the initial email with a short note saying that I just wanted to follow up to see if they have questions or need more information.
Again, the idea is that you want to be respectful of their time while also giving a polite reminder about your pitch.
More often than not, you’ll get a reply to your follow-up note with either a request for more information, an update on where the story stands, or a note saying that they’re not interested.
Step Three: Avoid pestering
If you don’t receive a reply to your second note, you can assume that the reporter isn’t interested and move on.
At this point, resist the urge to follow up again — or to try calling.
You want to avoid getting blacklisted by the reporter for future queries — so there’s little to gain by sending multiple notes or bothering them with an unwanted call.
Treat the reporter how you’d like to be treated by someone who was pitching you.
Step Four: Pivot forward
All is not lost if a reporter says no or gives you the cold shoulder.
If the outlet is really important to you, you can consider sharing the idea with a different reporter or editor — noting that you had reached out to one of their colleagues previously.
If you’re hoping the reporter will consider future pitches, you might consider sending a separate note a week or two later inviting them to provide you with some guidance on how they prefer to be pitched and the type of stories that they are looking for.
I used this tactic recently on behalf of one of our nonprofit clients with a reporter at the Wall Street Journal who was not interested in a previous pitch.
She took me up on my offer for a quick call so I could learn more about how I could provide her with ideas that would be valuable to her — and by the end of the call I had offered her an idea that sparked her interest
If you’re smart, you send your pitch days — or even weeks — before you want media coverage in order to give reporters a chance.
The bottom line: You shouldn’t be afraid to follow up with reporters after you send your initial pitch. But you should be thoughtful about how you do it.
By being patient and polite you’ll get more coverage — and you’ll help build relationships that will pay off in the future.