The Art of the Follow-Up

Follow-ups on media pitches are kind of like your yearly physical. Nobody really likes them, but they’re invaluable for making sure nothing gets missed. Here are three pitch tips that can help you write meaningful follow-ups that actually get a response.

1. Do It

The first thing to know about follow-up pitches is that you should do them. I’ve seen a fair bit of chatter on Twitter about how reporters really hate follow-up pitches and they don’t understand why PR people send them.

While this may be true for some reporters (and some spammy follow-ups), my inbox tells a different story.

The vast majority of the opportunities I secure happen after the second or third email. And my experience isn’t the exception. Sending more follow-up emails can triple your reply rate, according to a study from Marketing Donut.

The reason for this is pretty simple: reporters are busy. They have to talk to dozens of sources, transcribe notes, schedule interviews, work through storylines with their editors… oh, and then actually write a quality piece of journalism.

That takes a lot of time, so it’s only natural that a reporter misses a pitch or two as hundreds of them roll in every day.

When you reach out in a meaningful, helpful way at the right time, you’re doing the reporter a favor. They might have found your original pitch really interesting but were too overwhelmed by the deluge in their inbox to reply. When you re-up the conversation, you’re helping that reporter discover a topic that can help them do their job better.

The key, however, is to be helpful and get the timing right.

2. Add Value

Follow-up emails from PR folks have a bad rep because there are some truly cringe-worthy examples out there.

Ones that start with “I guess you’re ignoring my emails, but…” are a sure bet for the delete button. Then there are the ones that repeat the previous pitch with a passive-aggressive “per my last email.” EEK.

Remember, nobody’s entitled to a response. But you’re more likely to get one when you go the extra mile to show that you’re there (in the reporter’s inbox) to help.

Something like this is a good example:

“Hi, [reporter’s name] –

I reached out to you last week about X company. I was just chatting with their CEO about [title of one of the reporter’s recent articles] and she had some insights you might find valuable about [particular detail from the story].

She says, “[insert quote from CEO].”

She’d be happy to share more if you like. Maybe it can be a fit for an upcoming piece?”

The reason this follow-up works is because it shows the reporter…

  • You understand their job.
  • You understand the types of stories they’re trying to tell.
  • You understand how your client’s perspective could help them do that job better.

When you consistently demonstrate that you provide value, a reporter will be much more likely to come to you again and again as a source.

3. Get the Timing Right

Just as important as adding value in a follow-up pitch is getting the timing right.

To do that, you have to understand what a reporter’s time is like. By the time they’re tweeting about their latest story, their editor has probably assigned them their next piece. Jumping into that small window lets you squeeze into the limited time they have.

Here’s how to do that:

  • Add reporters who cover your space to private Twitter lists so you’re notified every time they tweet. When they tweet about something relevant to your startup, reach out immediately. That’s their window of spare time!
  • Set up Google alerts for topics relevant to your startup. For example, one of our clients is going to be highly impacted by the Biden administration's infrastructure bill. When I see Google Alerts about this topic, I know I can dive into the list of reporters I’ve pitched and send them a follow-up exactly at the moment a major event is happening that may cause them to start looking around for sources.

In absence of these signals, we usually recommended waiting at least two days to follow up after an initial pitch. This gives the reporters some time to think and digest what it is you’ve sent. But don’t wait too long. Any follow-up past the one-week mark can feel disconnected.

Aim to Build Relationships

PR is a long game. The best results happen when you develop meaningful relationships with reporters over time. Just as you go to your most trusted friends for advice or information, reporters go to their most trusted sources.

Any communication (whether or not it’s a follow-up) that relies on gimmicks or pressure will hurt your ability to earn reporters’ trust. So while these best practices can help guide your outreach, know that you’ll get your best results when you pay attention and be as helpful as you can, consistently.