PR top tips for selling in

You have a great story (at least your client thinks so), but how can you make sure it gets picked up by the media? The right sell-in can’t guarantee coverage, but it will certainly help. Below, PRs offer some winning tactics.

1. Target the right journalists

Raman Davies, owner of agency Jind Communications: "Do your homework. Set some time aside to search who's written on the topic, or a similar topic, in the recent past. A simple Google News search or Readly are great for this.

"Targeting a journalist who has already written on the subject, or has an interest in it, may mean that they’d be more inclined to cover it.

"But don't stop there; Twitter and LinkedIn are also useful resources to check what journalists are looking for or working on. Follow the key journalists in your sector and regularly check their profiles for call outs. To widen your net, search #journorequest along with a key word relating to your sell-in and you may find that your press release is already in demand."

2. Then get to know them

Liam Rawson, senior programme manager and media strategy at PR agency Hotwire Global: “It goes without saying the last two years have been a volatile media landscape. All PRs have had to be smarter and savvier than ever before to establish and maintain a strong press office. There is still no substitute for knowing your target journalists inside out. You have to invest time and look beyond connecting with a journalist just when you need to pitch. At Hotwire, we have focused on media meets in the last six months which have provided valuable insights for pitching. A lot of journalists’ workloads and focuses have changed during the pandemic and it’s a good time to get a refresher on what stories they’re really keen on, and how they like to be pitched. Don’t be afraid to ask questions of journalists and try to find out as much as you can.”

3. Decide the story’s focus

Liam Rawson: “I also recommend that, before pitching any story, you look at which of the following four high-level outcomes your story would fit into for the journalist to make sure they can quickly see what would appeal to their audience; educating, advising, informing, or differentiating/evaluating. This allows you to fuse your client communications and media outcomes together to develop a robust media strategy, and clear focused stories.”

4. Unearth a golden insight

Holly Ryan, account manager at PR firm Citizen Relations: “Research and the culture you consume are your best assets when coming up with a creative story angle that sells. Good stories aren’t always obvious and it takes skill to uncover something compelling from a simple fact, service or product. It’s a skill that can be practised and, with research into what will land well with individual journalists, unearthing the golden insight can truly add to the success of your sell-ins.”

5. Add value

Holly Ryan: “By offering journalists captivating, untold stories tailored to them, you become a valuable source which is crucial for building rapport. In ‘partnership’ with journalists, we can both gain from telling a great story. We want to share great results with clients, but it’s important to remember that journalists also have goals. So give them a story that adds value to their to-do lists and complements their previous work.”

6. Find unusual angle

Sarah Holland, media strategist at design agency PR specialist Red Setter: “Stories I seek out have to be a bold, fresh take on a pertinent issue that isn’t being talked about. Ideally, it’s a novel or unusual look at it. The key questions to ask are: does this have wider cultural relevance in the world? Why now? What does this mean for the future, and what does tell us about our past? Why should they care, and why are we the right people to tell it?

“Think beyond the brand, the client, and look at the human at the heart of it. Does this story have an element of vulnerability, failure, or dramatic change? How have they got here, what unique experiences have they had?”

7. Write like a journalist

Jessica Pardoe, account manager at agency Source PR says: “Write the press release in a way a news article would be written, with a good headline and the important information at the top. I also am a big advocate of the ‘news test’ - making sure that a press release would make an interesting story that you would actually read in a newspaper; if you don’t think it is, then the journalist probably won’t appreciate it either.”

8. Don’t spray and pray

Nikki Kitchen, founder and MD of PR agency Purple Riot: “Don't spray and pray! Don't send the same pitch to hundreds of journalists praying it'll get picked up. Ensure that what you're pitching is relevant to that journalist and what they write about.“

9. Offer an incentive

Nikki Kitchen: “If you're able to provide a free sample or an exclusive interview opportunity, make sure to include this in the email; let them know what's in it for them!”

10. Use good quality images

Nikki Kitchen: “I cannot stress this enough; it's incredible how many businesses provide poor photography or assets. Give the journalist easy access to good content.”

11. Less is more

Sofia Leadbetter, senior account executive at PR agency Lem-uhn : “I have found that less is definitely more when it comes to sell-ins. Many traditional agencies are still practising outdated methods which often involves sending out a press release to journalists that's then followed by multiple rounds of follow-ups via both email and the phone. We've heard from many journalists that they have had to block PRs for sending too many follow-up emails so we always ensure that we're only sending one. Lots of journalists also hate attachments, so whenever we're reaching out to them we include our press release in the body of the email and a hyperlink to images.”

12. Use searchable terms in the subject line

Sofia Leadbetter: “It’s also important to make sure that your press release is memorable to journalists and for this, we like to make sure that we’re including searchable terms wherever possible in our subject line.”

13. Pick your team’s brains

Dylan Brown, PR and communications assistant at PR agency 23red: “I think having a creative brainstorm to identify all potential angles can be crucial to sell in success. I like to have a huddle with the team, go through the media list and discuss different angles and aspects of the press release that would be of interest to different titles. Another tip is to utilise the contacts and knowledge of your team. My team has a diverse skill set and a range of experience over different sectors, so we often pick at each other’s brains to deeper our understanding of what journalists in that industry are looking for and their pitching preferences.“

14. Back up the story with facts

Cheryl Morris, founder of agency Creative Word PR: “Journalists get hundreds of press releases every day so it needs to stand out and not just look like a sales pitch. Research and back up your viewpoint, with case studies, quotes or facts and figures. The more you bring your story to life the better.”

Sometimes your story will fail to get picked up. If this happens, Tim Gibbon, founder of communications consultancy Elemental advises: “Have a solid content strategy in place to communicate to a range of publics pre, during, and post the story cycle.” You can’t win ‘em all, but at least you can be prepared.

If you enjoyed this article, you can subscribe for free to our twice weekly event and subscriber alerts.

Currently, every new subscriber will receive three of our favourite reports about the public relations sector.


ESG Awards The intersection of Data, Insight and PR Planning PR Analytics 2022 SUBSCRIBE NOW