How to Field Inbound Press Inquiries

Kate Lobel
By Kate Lobel

With the rise of the digital age, viral videos, and the ability to rapidly spread information with the click of a button, public relations has become an even more crucial aspect of any company’s success. When something as simple as a tweet could send a company’s stock crashing, it makes sense why a business with millions of dollars hanging in the balance would want to have a communications expert who could help tailor their message to the public and massage their image, especially with the press.  

When the field of public relations first started emerging, public figures and large brands would hire external PR firms to help field press inquiries, plan events, put out statements, and manage their client’s reputations. As public relations became even more critical, some companies decided to handle public relations in-house. Over time, more and more companies, even big brands, decided that it was more advantageous to create an in-house PR team. Such advantages included an ability to respond in real time, intimacy and insider knowledge of the company and its players and complete focus.

So, if your company has decided to handle public relations in-house, there will be a learning curve and things you need to be prepared for. If you are even a moderate sized company, one such issue you will probably have to handle on a frequent basis are media opportunities and press inquiries. Because of this, your in-house team should be prepared and have a plan set in place for handling your interactions with the press.

Below, we will discuss some tips for tackling those media opportunities headed your way.

Set Up a Press Email

The very first thing you should do is create a press email. This gives the media an easy way to reach out to your company about matters that are strictly press or news related. It funnels all press inquiries into one place and separates them from issues that might be more related to the inner machinations of the company’s day-to-day function, or are customer relations based. Further, it gives you an easy way to identify and verify them as press members. Create an email such as press@yourbrand.com or media@yourbrand.com. Once created, ensure to have a link to this email somewhere highly visible and easy to navigate to. Once set up, it goes without saying, but this email should be monitored daily, and all press inquiries responded to promptly.  

Digital + Traditional PR

Always Vet Your Outlets

If you have a robust website, social media, and public presence, you will inevitably be flooded with inbound press inquiries. This is especially true if your PR team has been drumming up awareness of your product or brand in anticipation of a timed-sales cycle launch. Now, not all press is equally as important; some outlets may be more well known, reliable, or friendly to your cause. These days, when just about anyone with a laptop can run a blog, it is essential that you know who you are talking to, their work history, and trustworthiness. Not every person claiming to be a member of the press is worth your time. When conducting this pre-screen, it is helpful to keep in mind and ask the following questions:

  • What’s the number of unique monthly visitors (UVM) to the site or news agency they represent? Typically, if they have over one hundred thousand unique monthly visitors, then they are often considered a credible source.
  • What is the domain authority of the outlet? Domain Authority is a search engine ranking score created by MOZ, an SEO tracking tool, that predicts a website’s rankings on the Google search engine result page based on the number of total links, and linking root domains, amongst other factors. These scores range from 0-100. The higher the rating, the higher a website ranks in SERPs. A higher domain authority means that they are a more prominent and more trusted news source. Ideally, a good benchmark is a Domain Authority score of 30-50 for blogs and 70-100 for larger news companies. If you wish to check a company’s score, utilize MOZ’ services.  
  • What is their Citation Flow and Trust Flow? “Citation flow is a number used for predicting how influential a URL might be based on how many sites link to it. Trust Flow is a number predicting how trustworthy a page is based on how trustworthy sites tend to link to trustworthy.” Ideally, you want to see a minimum of 10 for each of these metrics. To find this, use Majestic’s services.
  • Does the outlet look spammy or only include product reviews and random articles? A cursory glance through a news site’s homepage should give you a solid idea of whether or not they are legitimate. If their website is wall to wall advertisements, then it’s probably not a high-quality site.

Speak with the Site’s Editor

If you find yourself on the fence, it might be wise to have a brief conversation or email exchange with the website or company’s editor. A ten-minute fact-finding conversation will likely reveal all you need to know about the veracity and integrity of the inquirer. Here’s what you should be looking for during your initial chat with the editor:

  • Do you typically cover this topic? – If they do, then likely they have an audience that reads about their beat consistently. If they do not generally cover that field, it is important to ascertain why they are now interested in speaking with you. Perhaps there is a specific angle or beat they wish to hit.
  • Do you have an actual story in mind that you want to include us in? – It is helpful to find out whether they already have a story in mind, or if it is more of a fact-finding mission/interview.
  • What is your deadline? It is good to discover how urgent their inquiry is. Members of the press must juggle multiple stories and deadlines. Because of this, it is respectful to consider their needs and give them an honest answer as soon as possible whether you are interested in speaking on the record.  
  • Will this article include a link?  If so, will this link be a followed link?
  • What’s the title of the article? – The title of an article says a lot about the writer’s intentions. If it looks like the title will instantly put you on the defensive, then you might receive little benefit from discussing matters with an adversarial press member.
  • What is their position? If they are an associate editor, or a freelancer or a contributor sometimes coverage isn’t always guaranteed.
  • Will this article be a feature, mention or a round-up? A positive feature is far more likely to boost your company’s profile.
  • Do they have a personal site? Often editors will say they write for larger publications when they are looking for content for a smaller outlet that they are trying to grow. Make sure you are asking them precisely what outlet the story is for before offering any quotes or writing any content for them
  • Ask them exactly what the angle of the story is – the worst thing that can happen is that you offer a quote and then the editor spins it in such a way so as to cast a negative light on your company.
  • Ask to review the content beforehand – make sure the brand is positioned well.

When the Piece is Live

If you do give the okay for a press interview or piece, you will obviously be interested in verifying that the editor or writer was true to their word and published what they said they would. If yes, then it might be worthwhile to speak with them in the future. If no, it is probably best to avoid them. Check for the following:

  • Was there a followed link provided?
  • Was the brand name spelled correctly and positioned appropriately?
  • Was this article syndicated or picked up from other publications?
  • Did the outlet push this piece over social?

Messaging

Track your key messages in quotes. Is your message resonating with the press? Are these messages making it into the articles? Is your content from blog posts and podcasts being shared by others?

  • Speed and efficiency are the keys to happiness – Pretend your press release is out and it has piqued a reporter’s interest. If they are interested, it is crucial you respond immediately. If you were unaware, a reporter deadline is now. As soon as their story is done, it gets edited and posted online. What does that mean? It means you have to be available when a reporter reaches out; otherwise that opportunity might pass you buy. There are few things more frustrating for a reporter than responding to a press release only to hear that executives won’t be available for an interview until three days from now. In their mind, it’s not news then. It’s news NOW! If you make them wait, they may never use you as a possible story again because they think you are slow or unreliable. Whether as a PR firm or a client using that firm, there is little more important than being fast and efficient when a reporter reaches out. If you are prompt, responsive, and happy to talk, you will get on a reporter’s good side. By creating positive relationships, you help your company out in the future.  

Conclusions

Fielding inbound press inquiries will be an inevitable obstacle or opportunity for any in-house PR firm. It is crucial that you respond to questions immediately, even if it means declining said inquiry; reporters would prefer a no, far more than a “We’ll see,” or “A maybe.” Vet those who reach out, and be sure to ask all the appropriate questions to discover their intentions. Follow these simple tips, and you will set your company up for success.  

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Kate is the director of Public Relations at Power Digital Marketing with an extenisve background in traditional media relations and digital marketing with the goal of bridging the gap between brand awareness and ROI.