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HOW TO DELIVER GREAT RESPONSES TO JOURNALISTS LOOKING FOR A SOURCE

16 May 2019 Guest Contributor

A big part of my role at digital marketing and web development agency Evoluted is to generate external coverage via valuable, relevant backlinks and mentions for both ourselves and my clients.

Computer Weekly, Buzzfeed and Campaign Monitor are just a handful of the sites that I’ve seen success with - but coverage from sites such as these doesn’t come easily.

You always need to be refining your approach and attempting new ideas. One great way can do this is through SourceBottle. Here, I take a look at some of the things you can do to improve your chances of a successful pitch to journalists using the tool.

Be Fast

With any journalist callout, the quicker you respond, the more likely you are to be chosen as the source. Obviously exactly what you pitch is vital too, but time will arguably be the decisive factor. The bigger the publication, the more this typically comes into play.

Massive websites like Forbes, Huffington Post and Buzzfeed are likely to generate an incredible volume of responses to a journalist request. If the journalist wants something quickly, that means the first replies are likely to get the most exposure.

Speaking from experience, even if the deadline is specified as a few days ahead, I’ve only typically gained coverage with responses I’ve provided within around an hour.

A couple of potential exceptions to speed being the key factor could be: 

  • The request has been put out on multiple occasions, suggesting the initial replies have been unsatisfactory.
  • The publication is ‘smaller’, or the exposure is less clear. In this case, definitely don’t write off the opportunity, as you can still gain great links and coverage from highly-relevant domains. Equally, a bit of digging can identify where freelance journalists using gmail addresses, for example, typically write for. 

This is an example of a link I secured for business intelligence and machine learning provider Peak Indicators from Computer Weekly, after responding to a request for a source within five minutes. The piece was also published on US site Tech Target.

Have A Bank of Information Prepared

If you have the time and budget available, it could be worth investing time in building up an information bank around common requests that could apply to your client. Get them to sign it off and then you won’t need to do the back and forth and waste valuable time that could see the coverage go to a rival.

Let’s take a provider of machine learning software again as an example. If you prepare a base of information around the following areas, you’d quickly be able to respond to a lot of requests:

  • How machine learning can benefit companies operating in retail, marketing etc.
  • Trends in machine learning
  • How hard machine learning is for companies to integrate
  • How to build a machine learning team

The list could go on.

It’s perhaps unsurprising how often the same issues recur, as the media will often revisit common themes around a core subject area.

Once you have your information bank ready, you can then adapt and add to it. Then, when you see a relevant request in your inbox, you’ll be ready to respond quicker than anyone else; even if you need to edit what you have slightly.

Don’t Hide Away Information

Don’t be tempted to hide away your best insight by tempting the journalist into a response. Generally, they simply don’t have the time to delve further and all leaving the information out will do is reduce your chances of gaining coverage.

Instead, make sure you give them enough to satisfy the source request, then offer the option of more information if they would like it.

If the topic is more vague, then naturally you may have to dig deeper to find out more, but you’ll often find there’s enough clarity in the original request to give the journalist what they need. The easier you make their life the more they will like what you have to offer.

Add Credibility to Your Response

If you want to be used within the piece being written, adding credibility to your response will definitely help your cause. There are several ways you can do this: 

  1. Reference other features: If your company has been featured, quoted or mentioned on other notable websites, let the journalist know! This will help add credibility to the information you’re sending and show that you’re an authoritative voice on the subject.
  2. Mention some key clients/projects: Provide a brief list of some of the more notable projects your client has worked on, or businesses they provide services for. This can help to spike interest by showing they are an authority voice in their field.
  3. List individual credentials: If you’re offering insight from yourself, or a specific team member from one of the companies you work with, add a brief bio summarising your/their experience. 

A great place to include the information above is at the base of your feedback, beneath the actual response you’re making.

We secured coverage at Evoluted regarding a piece on Data Privacy by AAT Comment after providing them with access to our comprehensive GDPR guide. This showed the journalist that we were an authority voice on the subject.

Ensure Your Content Ties in With the Publication

When you respond to someone looking for you to be their source, make sure that what you’re offering fits with the publication it’s intended for. If the request is quite broad, or it’s unclear exactly where it will be featured, don’t be afraid to ask for more information. That way, you can gauge whether you should be looking to provide comment that:

Offers more general advice around a subject area, educating the audience it’s going to reach

Speaks directly from the perspective of your company, if the piece is to provide direct insight within an organisation, for example

One way to satisfy this point without losing the opportunity is to provide information from both perspectives upfront. This way, the website/journalist in question can pick the option that suits them best. They’ll also recognise that you’re a contact capable of going the extra mile for them and hopefully use you again.

This was a piece we put together for reporting software provider DashThis. It came after we secured a separate backlink with them by helping with a callout for a previous piece. This enabled us to nurture the relationship and secure a full piece of our own.

Don’t Forget Imagery

Great imagery can be hard to find and waste valuable time. So adding imagery to your response, that can be easily used within the context of the article being written, can definitely win you friends.

Don’t send over stock imagery or images that you don’t have the right to use. Instead, try and put something bespoke together. If you have in-house design resources, this should be a relatively simple task.

Offer Extra Information

It will do you no harm at all to think beyond the actual request for a source. Whilst it can be tempting to focus all your efforts on trying to secure the initial coverage, there could actually be more exposure to be had in the future.

Offer the following information as concisely as possible and they’re more likely to come back to you for a future/follow-up piece too (just remember not to make the response too long): 

  • Relevant information beyond their original request: You never know - this could help them pad out their story and take it in a different way to their initial intention.
  • How you could help them in the future: Don’t be afraid to reference alternative ways you could help the journalist in the future. That way, they may make a note to come back to you if they need a source for a related piece.

It’s worth separating the examples above within your response via headings, so as not to confuse things. The journalist can then see the information clearly labelled if they want to find out more.

Reference the Request Early On

Ever wonder why you don’t always hear back after pitching to be a source? It’s not always because you didn’t provide a good answer. Consider this:

If a BBC journalist puts out a request for a source on a story around technology, how many potential responses could that generate? Think of: 

  • All the industries tied to that area
  • All the companies encompassed within them
  • All of the marketing and PR professionals/agencies who will be fighting to be that one source
  • All of the tools competing to get the source request to you (such as SourceBottle)

That could be hundreds of notifications/emails to the journalist’s inbox. It’s simply not reasonable to expect them to read, let alone reply to them all - and even if you do get their eyes on your response it’s likely to be a fleeting glance.

With this in mind, make sure you reference the request early on in your response and be concise with your feedback.

Set Up Notifications

One great way to ensure you’re always up to speed with the latest callouts for sources is to use a provider such as SourceBottle that enables you to set up notifications.

You can easily specify your callout topics and subjects and then receive email alerts letting you know when a journalist that meets your criteria is looking for a source. This can save you hours of time trawling online for potential opportunities for coverage.

That’s A Wrap

These tips should be useful in your hunt to secure your clients and your own company coverage on relevant, high-authority websites.

Remember not to give up hope and to improve your methods instead. You can get the coverage you need, no matter the budget you’re working with. You just need to be persistent, effective and driven. 

This post was put together by Sean Potter, Content Manager at Evoluted. You can read his posts on subjects including content marketing, SEO and email marketing on the Evoluted blog. 

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