Lauren Wolf is the science desk editor at Chemical & Engineering News. She earned a Ph.D. in bioanalytical chemistry from Boston University in 2006 before moving to the Washington, D.C. area to complete a postdoc at the National Institute of Standards & Technology. At C&EN, she manages a large group of reporters who cover cutting-edge research taking place in the world of chemistry.
C&EN Media Group spoke with Lauren to bring you her knowledge about best practices in pitching and earned media.
C&EN: What are the benefits of earned media?
Wolf: When it works out, earned media is a win-win situation—there are benefits on both sides of the wall.
The benefit for me as an editor is that when I get pitches from PR people, I end up with a story that other outlets don’t have. Then of course the benefit on the other side, the benefit to the company, is that it gets mentioned in a story in front of a scientific audience.
C&EN: When you are looking to include an expert in an article, how do you decide who to reach out to? What qualifying factors are at play?
Wolf: It depends a lot on what type of article it is. In the ideal world, as a reporter, you’re writing a story, and you have a particular beat, you know what the story’s about so you have your expert sources, and you’d know the right person to get a comment from.
If you’re writing about new research, you want to talk to the researchers. You want to talk to other experts in that field so they can weigh in on the quality of the research, as well as any notable strengths and weaknesses of the science.
In the business world, it’s a little different. If you’re writing a profile of a company, you talk to people at that company, but then you also look for some outside experts to comment on how that company fits into the overall industry landscape.
You always want those third-party comments if you’re writing a story, but who that comment needs to come from depends on the story.
Being pitched by a PR person can definitely be beneficial. Usually you know exactly who to get a comment from, and sometimes when you get a pitch from a PR person you simply might not need their expert right away. But two weeks later, you might be writing another story and think, “Oh, that could be the person I use for this story.”
C&EN: What steps can PR professionals take to put their spokespeople on your radar?
Wolf: One of the tools that C&EN has is our editorial calendar, which is designed to let people know the broad topic area of our cover stories or other featured content each week.
We often get pitches from PR companies just because they’ve seen that editorial calendar. They’ll often say something along the lines of, “Hey, I see you’ll be writing a drug discovery story in March, I have some clients that could give you story ideas or be experts for you.” That’s one way to get on our radar.
I’m always asking: Why should I or my readers care about this product or development you’re pitching me?
In terms of do’s and don’ts when making pitches, don’t merely pitch me: “We have a new instrument we’re launching next week.” Put that instrument in the context of an emerging scientific or business trend.
For example, if pharma is starting to use mass spectrometry to ensure the quality of protein drugs coming off production lines, your pitch should be: “We have a new mass spec, this is what it does, and this is why it’s an important part of a new industry trend right now.”
Give me a story instead of just telling me you have a new product.
C&EN: When you are receiving pitches, what are the first things you notice, and how can PR professionals separate their pitches from the pack?
Wolf: The most important thing is providing a larger context or trend.
Outside of that, we like getting embargoed releases. If a company is going to release information at a particular time, that’s more likely to get noticed in a crowded e-mail inbox.
On what not to do, PR pros sometimes send a press release and say they’ll follow up with an e-mail in two weeks. The hope is that I’ll read the message and reply to avoid getting a follow-up, but that generally doesn’t work.
Again, releases that come with imagery or a unique story are the most eye-catching. I’m always asking, “Why should I or my readers care about this product or development you’re pitching me,” so starting with an interesting anecdote that answers that question is a good way to stand out.
When a PR person sends me a specific story with a great hook that fits neatly into scientific research or industry trends, those are the pitches I pay the most attention to. As a news magazine, we are trying to tell stories for our readers. If you’re pitching, know that we’re trying to inform our readers about major trends in science and business. Speak to that, and you’ll be much more likely to get an expert quoted or land a story.
Thank you to Lauren for sharing her expertise on public relations in the sciences! Learn more from the marketing masters in our previous Q&A sessions on market research and communicating with scientists.Keywords: C&EN, C&EN editors, editorial, Lauren Wolf, messaging, PR