When I’m not working with Franco I’m a reporter. I just completed my coverage of a three-day automotive trade show in suburban Detroit. The experience with PR people pitching me on writing about their clients was both rewarding and bewildering so I thought I’d offer some insight and advice about what works and what doesn’t.

Let’s start with doing things the right way. I was able to register for media credentials a little more than a month before the event. Once you do that, you’re a juicy target for PR people representing companies exhibiting at the show. That’s fine. It’s much better for a reporter to have some stories lined up in advance, rather than roam the floor and hope for the best.

Within a couple of days of registering some very savvy PR professionals sent me detailed emails describing what their clients had to offer in terms of interviews, visuals, and most importantly, possible news angles. The best ones had already researched my previous stories and understood what subjects seemed to interest me, and what I had written about, the most. Some even dug into my resume on LinkedIn where they discovered I had more than 40 years of experience at national news outlets like CNN, Associated Press and Automotive News.  Knowing I was no newbie, I was treated with respect and, more importantly, was offered some exclusive content and access to the highest executives that would be attending the show.

Key lessons?

  1. The pitches came well in advance of the show when my calendar was likely to be the most flexible.
  2. The PR person took the time to understand my beat and background.
  3. They took that information to craft well targeted story proposals.
  4. When I explained my requirements for visuals, including photos and video, they responded quickly and positively.

By two weeks before the show I had a full calendar of solid, newsworthy interviews. Perfect!

As the date for the show crept up, the also-rans crept into my inbox. I received what seemed like desperate pitches not only one, two or three days ahead of the show, but while the show was actually in progress. Sorry, but the boat has not only sailed, it’s docked at distant ports, namely your client’s competitors’ booths.

The keys here are that once the event is occurring, reporters are in deep news gathering mode running from appointment to appointment then diving in to file as quickly as possible. The days of news cycles are long gone where you had time to mull over material and file to make a certain edition or newscast. Online means all the time, so you’re required to punch the stuff out as quickly as possible.

This all means that unless you’ve got a major story that would qualify as breaking news to sell, a last-minute approach is a losing one.

To be clear, simply being early in approaching a reporter is not always going to score coverage, but it’s a good start. Pitches must be complete, highlighting at the top the story’s news value, why it’s a good fit for the reporter’s publication, station or website, followed by what elements are available including interviews and visuals.

While these are all tactics that should be a part of any story pitch, they’re especially important when you’re fighting for a reporter’s attention at an event where the competition is extremely stiff and time is tight.

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Ed Garsten is an Integrated Media Consultant at Franco. Send him an email at garsten@franco.com or follow him on Twitter at @edgarsten.