It’s no secret that PR professionals and journalists can be both best friends and worst enemies. ImPRessions episode 4 dissects the folklore that the two professions can’t coexist with award-winning Wall Street Journal reporter Veronica Dagher. Today’s conversation explores the best practices for pitching to the media and the best tactics to obtain client coverage.
Impressions # 4 Transcript
Kalli: Journalists and PR professionals have a complicated relationship. While pitching is a crucial component to a successful media relations plan, many PR professionals are inexperienced on how to properly communicate with the media. When is the best time of day to pitch? Is it rude to pitch over the phone? Well, if you’re unsure of the best approaches when speaking to the media, rest assured.
Today we are joined by Veronica Dagger, an award-winning Wall Street Journal personal finance reporter who will share the best tactics when trying to get your client coverage.
Hi, Veronica. Thank you so much for joining us today.
Veronica: Thank you for having me.
Kalli: Of course. So, let’s start from the beginning. What drew you to journalism?
Veronica: Well, I always loved writing, and I loved asking questions. I was also fascinated by business and money. So, all these things together made up for a natural fit into business journalism.
Jennifer: So, I know that you focus predominantly on personal finances. You just said you have a real passion for that field. Did you fall into this specific vertical or how did you just kind of get involved in this particular beat?
Veronica: I was initially focused on wealth management. I was part of the wealth management group. That group was very focused on financial advisors and a professional audience, a very savvy, very experienced in finance audience. And that group, unfortunately, fell apart because of various restructurings. Several of the people who are part of that group were re purposed into a reestablished personal finance section for the Wall Street Journal. And I was so excited because I had missed speaking to the consumer.
I love consumer focused reporting. I love the professional audience too, absolutely. And that is where I grew up and where I trained.
But the consumer is my true passion. And so personal finance at The Wall Street Journal is all about the consumer. How do people spend their money? How do they invest their money? How do they make smart decisions for retirement or on their taxes?
Or when it comes to buying a house, us now or later, this is all the things we cover. And so, I was super excited to be able to speak to consumers directly about all of those issues, whether it be in stories or videos or podcasts or television. All of those mediums serve the purpose of trying to help the consumer make better decisions.
Jennifer: And I’m sure you have a vast majority of content right now to cover, which is all of the stuff going on in the economy. And it’s just a kind of a fascinating time. It’s such a fascinating time, especially in the housing market, which I have a focus on these days. I really love that, trying to understand what’s going on, speaking to people about those issues.
Also, if you’re speaking to retirees, what are the things that they’re concerned about? So, there’s so much happening, especially with inflation, as you know, that has made consumers decisions so much more complicated. It’s given us a lot of great storylines.
We’re consumers, too, so we have felt that inflation very much directly. For example, I have a 20-month-old son, and that’s part of the reason I was up a lot this weekend. But regardless, I’ve seen inflation firsthand. The cost of daycare, my daycare cost went up $600. And so, all of these things make for painful times for consumers, but also really interesting storylines.
Kalli: Yeah, really, it definitely is challenging, especially as one as a parent, but at just different points in life. So, the content that you have, I’m sure it covers so many things that speak to so many different people at different times in their life, helping them understand the challenges that are ahead.
Speaking of challenges, you’re an advocate for women in the finance space, which is an industry that traditionally has been male dominated. Can you tell us a little bit more about how the obstacles women face and how they can overcome them?
Veronica: Women typically make less, and they live longer. They’re also more likely to have to take career breaks due to having a baby, or more likely, they’re going to be the caregiver for their elderly parents or siblings they’re often relied upon in these roles.
A lot of these breaks happen during some of the peak earning years for women. So, they’re taking time away from their careers or having to take step back or taking pay cuts, what have you, cuts in hours during the time that they need the money the most and to set them up for retirement the most.
All of us are super busy. Women especially are often under a lot of pressure for many directions and also all these societal messages to be like the perfect mother. You see all these influencers on Instagram holding themselves up as having it all and no one has it all.
So, I think first we need to breathe and commend ourselves on making it this far, making it through the day. I know a lot of working women are just trying to get through the day, but to celebrate our successes and all the things we’re doing right financially, there’s always going to be something you wish you had done differently, a mistake you wish you had avoided, steps you wish you had taken.
But the fact is, I’m sure you’re doing something right. So, let’s sit here and let’s celebrate that. Let’s find that thing and celebrate the thing you’re doing right. In terms of the obstacles we’re facing, some of them as a woman, a standalone, a solo woman, you’re not going to be able to overcome those yourself.
I mean, these are societal challenges, lack of quality childcare, for example. But there are steps we can take to individually try to shore up our financial future for ourselves and our families if we have them.
Advocate for yourself when you can for more pay, aim to keep our personal expenses low so we have more saved for emergencies and retirement. Ask for help when we can, whether that’s asking your sibling to pick up some shifts with your elderly parent. Take them to the doctor this week instead of you taking them to the doctor this week, so you can put more time in the office to work towards that promotion so you can make more money for your child’s education.
All these things we have to face as tradeoffs and sacrifices and negotiations about our own personal boundaries when it comes to our time and when it comes to our finances. But we need to learn how to advocate for ourselves and we have to hope that we can do so in a way that we’re not going to face a penalty, because that’s another thing women have faced, is a penalty for speaking out.
And so how do we do so in a way that’s not going to penalize us, but also advance our career? So, there’s a delicate dance we have to do, unfortunately, but it can be done looking for those people who have done it, looking to their stories for inspiration and hope and try to help the women behind us, coming up behind us and make things better for them and sharing our stories.
Jennifer: Sorry – Women get paid less and live longer. Gutted me. I was like, oh, my goodness, of course. Because of course it’s so trouble.
Veronica: So, you’re right, it’s a double whammy. It’s a double whammy and we’re most likely to give money to family to help them out, right? Especially if you’re a single parent.
So, there’s a lot of financial pressures being put on you since you’re making less. This not only affects you now, but it affects you down the road, obviously, how much you can save for retirement, but how much you’re going to get paid in Social Security.
If you’re making less money than the guys, you’re going to get less Social Security down the road than the guys. So, all these things have multiplier effect that are very difficult on women’s finances and so we may have to hustle more a little bit than some other people.
So maybe that means taking on a side hustle or maybe that means being super careful with our money in ways that we don’t necessarily want to be. Also being more active investors and that doesn’t mean trading stocks necessarily.
That’s not what I’m talking about. But maybe that’s getting a meeting with a financial planner or maybe that’s speaking to our friends about like, how are you approaching your investments? Are you 60/40 – bonds? 60% stocks, 40% bonds. How are you thinking about how long you’re going to work? Ideally looking at your whole picture. Making sure you’ve got the proper insurance to cover you and your family, making sure you’ve got the guardianship papers set up for your child if you have them.
Making sure you’ve made all these decisions in advance, so your family doesn’t have to scramble if something difficult was to happen. There’s a lot to do, but like I said, it can be done step by step and just take it one day at a time.
Kalli: Yeah, it’s funny, Veronica, when you settle said women live longer. I actually know why, as a mom of a toddler myself. It’s because we just have more things on our to do list and we will not rest until they are done.
Veronica: That is so true.
Kalli: I’m not going to even hit it right on the head and it’s a very interesting dynamic when you are a working parent or even like you said, you’re working and you have elderly parents that you’re taking care of because your priority and you’re so used to this, especially earlier in your career, your number one and only priority is your job and your career and growing that.
But then as like you said, as you get into your career and you become more senior and become more of an expert in your space, that’s when these other things come into play. So, you essentially have to have this juggling act and try to balance it all out.
Veronica: I love how you basically said women literally can’t even afford to die. And it’s so depressing. The hours you have to put in to get it all done and as you know, the choices you have to make. So, I’ll joke with my friends, it’s like, I’ll see you in three months from now.
We text all the time, but when will we actually get to see each other? Because we’re shuttling the kids around or we’re trying to help out this relative, we’re trying to keep the house together while having the super busy full-time job.
And so often that the sacrifice is of ourselves and what we want to do in terms of social time or a little fun that we want to have. I mean, obviously it can be done. None of us are martyrs here. But the point is, many women I know put themselves last and so when it comes to our money, it comes to our finances, we need to be able to put ourselves first, so to speak.
So, whether that’s boosting our emergency savings or boosting our 401K contribution, a percentage, just to do a little something for ourselves. So, it’s not all give, give, give. And then we turn 80 one day and we’re like, okay, where’d my life go? And what do I have left to show for it?
Kalli: Yeah, it’s funny that you say that because I actually do that myself. I tried, boosted up my 401K for that exact reason for you did. And as much as I want to be able to say, you know what, I’m just going to go get my hair blown out every week, that money can – I’ll save it for later. So, when I’m 80 years old and have to have someone do my hair every week, then I don’t feel so bad about it.
Veronica: Good for you. That is awesome. That’s fantastic.
Jennifer: So, I want to change topics slightly. As a reporter for a prominent publication, you’re pitched daily by lots of PR professionals.
How many pitches would you say in an average day do you receive? It depends. I would say average. I would say like ten to twelve.
I’d say about ten to twelve now. And I think that’s less than when I first started, because I think when you’re new and people are trying to figure out what you do, you really get slammed with pitches.
And then after a while, when you get more established, the hope is that you get more targeted pitches. So, you’re not getting as much coming across, but you’re getting a higher quality of pitch. That’s the hope.
Not always the case, but that’s the hope. And so, the people I’ve worked with, some of the people I’ve worked with, and PR I’ve worked with for like, years, and so they know what I’m looking for. The newer people may cycle in. Maybe they joined an agency, they’re right out of school or a recent transfer from another place, and they’re trying to figure out it out.
So, you might hear from those folks a little bit more, but it really depends on what you’re covering too. But for me, it’s, it’s a manageable amount. I can’t say that I respond to everything. Unfortunately, I don’t. But if I know you, I think that is a tip. If you know, have a relationship with a PR person, I’m going to a lot less likely ignore that email if I know your name, and maybe we’ve had coffee or something like that.
It’s really hard to ignore someone that you’ve had coffee with.
Jennifer: Exactly. So, for someone who is brand new and they’re kind of working to establish that rapport with media, what are some ways that they could get your attention, right?
Veronica: So, sadly, I feel like so many pitches I get, especially from PR firms, are not about news. And this is what I challenge. People who are new to PR, and I’ve never done PR, so I probably shouldn’t be speaking to this, but I’m just saying from the other side of the desk, sometimes you get something you almost want to say to the PR person.
Would you want to read a story about that? Because I sure wouldn’t. And so, I would say, ask yourself, is this a story? Would you personally want to read a story about this? What is the arc here, so to speak?
I know it’s tricky because I would imagine on the PR side, you have a client who’s saying, oh, who did you pitch me to? I want to really be in The Wall Street Journal, make sure you pitch to them.
And I get that. And you probably have to check some boxes, but I think you also have to play the long game. If there is not a story in this particular instance, do you do more harm to your client by scattering them across the winds, hoping somebody will bite on the non-story?
Or do you step back a little bit that try to be a bit more strategic and think, okay, when we really do have a story, who’s the right reporter for it? Instead of just splattering something out. That’s what I see a lot of newer PR people doing saying, oh, write about this.
Jennifer: It’s like, okay, well. Why? Great point. Yeah, I think too, PR people need to when it comes to a client. Yes, our clients, of course, they want to be in Wall Street Journal. So, there’s that sort of spray and pray approach that, you know, PR people do.
They just kind of go into Cision or MuckRack and find all those reporters in Wall Street Journal and pray something sticks. But yeah, you’re totally right. It’s about making new news when there isn’t news. And I think that’s super important.
Veronica: And unfortunately, because we’re all so compressed for time PR people and journalists, it’s really hard just to be like, okay, I can meet with this random executive who’s in town. Maybe in worlds past that would be easier.
But I think we’re all moving at such a pace. Like we’re doing stories, we’re doing videos, we’re doing podcasts, we’re trying to think of our next project down the road, short term projects and long-term projects.
So just to have a coffee just because someone’s in town and they may not even be a fit to what you’re doing on your beat, it just doesn’t make sense time wise. And so that really targeted pitching makes a lot of sense.
Now, obviously, if you’re very friendly with a reporter and they have got a few five minutes and you’ve got this big wig in town, maybe they will make an exception and say like, okay, I can have a ten-minute coffee.
Yes. I’m not saying that’s impossible, but right out of the gate with no relationship with that reporter and not seemingly news coming down from that meeting, it’s probably going to be a really hard sell for them and their editor.
Kalli: I completely understand that from our side of the desk. It’s really interesting that you say that because I’m actually preparing to offer one of my clients who was going to be in town, we’re going to reach out to a few reporters and it’s a fairly new client.
So, talking to my team, how are we going to approach this? And again, it’s, well, what news? Like, what are they going to talk about? Because in this day and age, no one is just going to come down from their desk to come and say hi.
There needs to be a reason for this conversation that is compelling enough that a story will come out of it. It will be productive and worth your time. It’s a different approach than I would take with the same type of project or same type of assignment five years ago.
Then you kind of say, all right, well, here are the top people that they should be talking to. And maybe you would get, you know, two or three journalists who were able to come and meet you and they would come and have lunch or have coffee, you know, and that isn’t the case anymore.
So, you have to, for PR people, you have to be really strategic about the way that you’re approaching, especially a journalist of a higher caliber. And that works at a top tier publication because like you said, you’re getting many emails being pitched, so many different things.
We want to figure out what’s going to make something stand out to you and be worth your time.
Veronica: Right, exactly. And think of news in a broad sense. Obviously, there’s like breaking news that you’re going to do like a headline, a flash headline about, and it’s going to be a hardcore news story like you’re giving me exclusive to someone.
Two big companies are merging. Right. That’s the ideal scenario. A lot of times that’s not going to be the case when it comes to some of the smaller clients, but maybe your smaller client is that person is worth having a meeting with because they can tell me some of the interesting housing trends that I haven’t necessarily thought about.
If you’re going to tell me like, oh, I see you’re writing about housing a lot and how that relates to people’s personal finance. And I have this great source who’s in the mortgage industry is seeing these three interesting things that you haven’t written about and aren’t being covered.
Do you want to have a quick coffee about these trends? Maybe I’m not going to have a direct news story, but I might eventually get a trend story out of it that’s going to be worth my time.
Kalli: Exactly what I’m working on right now. I just drifted that pitch, so I’m glad. Thank you for that reassurance that.
Veronica: You know what you’re doing.
Kalli: Yeah, but no, you know what? It’s good to have these conversations because it gets sometimes even though we’re setting up the conversations and we’re presenting you with them, with the information and with the resources, we don’t always get the time to actually pick your brain in a setting like this.
So, it actually is really helpful, and I’m hoping that our listeners feel the same way. And that being said, one of our big questions is what is your biggest pet peeve when you’re being pitched by a PR professional? What should we avoid that we’ve been doing?
Veronica: Oh, gosh, you would be surprised. Luckily, this isn’t people that I work with regularly again. This is some new folks that are trying to break in getting pitched.
A story I just wrote, or recently wrote within the last three months. This just literally happened a week ago. Someone pitched me the almost exact story I’d written the month before. Oh, my God. I kind of laughed, and they kept following up because I didn’t write back.
And that was, like, intentionally. I didn’t write back because I was like, a little and so they followed up three times, and then finally on the third time, I just wrote back. I wrote that story recently, and then I don’t remember if they wrote back after that.
And I’m not trying to be arrogant. It’s just like I just feel like it’s just part of the job. Just do it’s so easy to do a fact check search these days, or a Google search and just see or just follow my name on WSJ.com or LinkedIn.
Like, I post everything. Like, I don’t hide my stuff. And so, it’s just that is a little irksome. And I think other reporters would say the same thing. Yeah, that’s super important.
And I always tell any time I’m helping a junior staff member learn their way around, how to pitch, do your homework. Because it’s media relations, you have to build a relationship with someone. So, remember, I tell people, remember it the way that you would remember your friend’s birthday.
You have to know about the journalist and if they’ve written about it already okay, well, maybe you still would be great to talk to their client, but you need to come up with to that next piece.
Veronica: Right, okay.
You wrote about this. What’s next? How can you build on that? Not just say the same thing. Exactly. You’re not going to give your friend the gift that they gave you for your birthday.
Veronica: That’s a really good analogy.
Kalli: Yeah, you need to remember these things. But yes, it’s all about the relationship and that’s part of it. Getting actually understanding and following what the reporters that you are targeting are working on.
And Veronica, thanks to you in this conversation, we’re certainly learning from the best in the business. Thank you so much for shedding light on how PR professionals can effectively get noticed by top tier media without causing them too much of a headache.
Veronica: It was my pleasure. I really enjoyed the conversation. Great.
Kalli: And for our listeners out there, if you have any topics, suggestions or questions for Jen and I or just want to say hello, please feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Until next time.