How to Outreach to Journalists & Build Relationships

Outreach is the process of contacting journalists and writers who could potentially be interested in the story and content you have to offer. The vast majority of communication you have here is done through email, which is what we’ll be focusing on in this part of the digital PR process and in this article.

Typically when doing outreach, it’ll be part of a larger campaign you’re working on, that you or someone else would have created the assets and story for. The ‘outreach’ part of the process is the amalgamation of everything that’s preceded before it and is the point at which your content is being delivered to the people who have the power to feature it or not. 

It’s because of this that outreach can be the most rewarding part of being a digital PR, and why some people choose to specialise in it. You’re on the front-line of working with journalists, compressing the best parts of your story into an outreach email and working on those key features everyone will consider a win.

Here, we’ll run-through the key elements and stages of doing outreach.

Hooks

A ‘hook’ is the key piece of information you’re going to use in your outreach to interest writers and readers. It’s going to make up the visual parts of your communication and be your lead intro to the story and content you have to offer.

The ‘hook’ is the most important part of outreach. Journalists at all publications are short on time, but especially those at the most authoritative sites. Therefore, your hook has to peak their interests and entice them enough to want to know more extremely quickly.

Pro-tip: When writing your hook, pretend you are the journalist and you are writing their headline for them. The hook must tell you what the piece is about and why someone should care all in as few words as possible.

Ideally, your hooks would have been identified in the ideation phase of running a campaign. Then, you can reverse-engineer from them, crafting the research, copy and methodologies all to ensure your key hook is backed up and clear. However, if you’re picking the campaign up from someone else (i.e. they created the assets and you’re getting in touch with the journalists) you may have to find it yourself.

Here’s how we used a hook in an outreach campaign of our own (this is a follow-up email we sent a few days after the original pitch):

There are 3 prominent positions the hook has been referred to here; the subject line, the lead header in the content, and the first bullet point of the press release. These are the most visible parts of the outreach email, aiming to get the journalists attention and then expand on the point we’re making with some facts. 

Most digital PRs will use an enticing outreach email, as well as an accompanying press release with all the details in. You don’t always need to use a press release however, some assets may be simple and quick enough to be explained in the email body.

Who to contact?

Ready to start sending some emails out? There are a wide range of digital PR tools that can help you here, but whatever you use (if anything at all) always focus on the quality and relevance of your outreach.

Discovering the right people to contact with your story is a huge part of the outreach puzzle and will help ensure your email-to-link conversion rate is as high as it can be. Otherwise, you’re sending your content to writers who aren’t going to feature it, which is not only a waste of your time but could potentially damage future contact you’d have with them – especially if they block you.

There are few tools better at helping find relevant journalists than Google itself.

More specifically, the first place to start is Google News. After entering your search, we have the option to filter to only recent articles that have gone live about the topic you’re looking for.

For simplicity’s sake, let’s say it’s a travel survey we’re working on. To start your search for journalists, this can be extremely broad and something like ‘travel survey’ as a search query is all it needs to be. Google can understand what the query is related to and any journalists featuring a survey has likely mentioned the survey itself.

Here’s what we get (I’m literally doing this as I type to show how easy it can be):

Instantly, on the first page of our results, we have two people worth looking into a little more, from the Telegraph and CNBC no less. They both obviously talk about travel and are clearly open to the idea of using survey data to feature in their articles. What better starting point than this?!

The searches you make can get a lot more specific, even using elements of your ‘hook’ or different parts of the story you’re hoping to outreach.

There are also other methods of sourcing interested journalists, such as using tools like Gorkana or Vuelio. These are media databases you’ll need to filter through to discover journalists who focus on topics or categories in particular. However, exporting the relevant list is only the starting point as you’ll need to make sure whoever you are emailing and whichever tools you use, are the most relevant people for the story.

Finding a journalists email address

Honestly, this could be an entire article on its own, but for the purposes of this guide, we’ll run through some of the most common places and methods of finding emails that will help you in 90% of cases.

Once you’ve found a person to add to your outreach list, you’re going to need their email address. Thankfully, usually this is a pretty straightforward task.

In most cases, simply clicking on the name of the person who wrote the article will lead you to their author page on that publication. Here, you’ll often be greeted with:

Hurray! Nice and easy, and we can crack on with our email to Aidan.

But, what happens when you are faced with:

Crumbs, but not to worry. Let’s Google Benji and see where the rabbit hole leads us.

Ah-ha. We’ve found out that Benjamin Parker has a website of his own, and in fact, he has a contact page. Chances are looking good, and clicking on his Contact page reveals a lovely email address…

That process is really straight forward and there’s little need to make things too complicated here. 

Don’t get me wrong, there are times where you’ll feel like the Cumberbatch version of Sherlock Holmes, sifting through search results and piecing together possible combinations of first letter of first name + [dot] + all letters from last name, etc. after noticing something on Muckrack, but that’s a small use case and this process need not be scary to anyone. In most cases, common sense and simply looking at the author’s bio page, their Twitter profile or a personal website will uncover their email address.

In more advanced situations, you can use tools like AllMyTweets (free) or Hunter.io (free for 50 searches per month) to help. 

Writing an outreach email

There are two things to focus on when writing any good outreach email; hooks and material.

These can be translated into two key questions for you to ask yourself when doing outreach:

  1. Does the most interesting part of the campaign shine through?
  2. Does someone have everything they need to write this story?

We’ve covered creating hooks above and how to use them. To reiterate, you want your hook, whatever it is, to be the front of centre of your outreach email. There’s no set formula or structure for how to do this, but a good starting point is in three places:

  • The subject line
  • The most visible part of your email i.e. a bolded sentence or header
  • The opening data-point or headline you’re offering in the body of your pitch

When it comes to the materials you are offering a journalist, you are ensuring that they have all of the tools necessary to write about your campaign.

Consider you are the journalist in this case receiving your pitch. Let’s say you like it and think it’s a story that could work for your editor and audience. The next step for you is to start writing the article, but you have 300+ words to put together. This is where you’ll want a good understanding of what the story is, how it was created, supporting assets to include, commentary from people involved or an expert, etc.

Offer journalists all the tools they need to do their job. That’s how you do yours.

This list can include:

  • A link to the hosted campaign
  • Headlines that explain the story you have to offer
  • Comments from an expert
  • Access to high resolution and low resolution files (never as attachments)
  • Embed code
  • Methodology
  • List of all the major talking points in your campaign

With all of the above covered, you’ve minimised the work a journalist needs to do and can help improve the chances they’ll be able to feature your campaign and get an article published.

There are no ‘insider tricks’ or things to do when crafting an outreach email, as long as you consider those two questions throughout and keep it concise. 

Relationship management & future campaigns

Part of outreach that doesn’t get as much discussion as it should is the relationship management side of the job. At its core, outreach is just communication, and communication is a skill.

It’s your abilities to communicate that will determine how successful you become as a digital PR. Communication is mostly about listening first and responding, and you are in the unique position of having access to journalists before you’ve even reached out, to start this process off on the right foot.

Building long-term working relationships with journalists starts even before your first email. Looking through and understanding who they are and what they write about is you listening. Then, you can decide to get in touch and pitch your story based on your understanding of what they cover and how valuable your story is going to be to them.

Another important consideration in your journalistic relations is that: 

You’re only as valuable as your next story

In my career, I’ve been able to email journalists and gain feedback on campaigns, offer them exclusivity and generally get a response. This is only because I offered them value to help them do their job previously, and because I have a future value to them as well. However, they won’t feature a story just because it’s you – the quality of your work and how you’ve tailored it for their audience is paramount.

Maintaining contact is also very important, but in order to maximise the likelihood of your future content being picked-up, only send content that you consider of value to them. Sending any and every campaign to the same journalist is likely to damage your relationship and future response rates.