So, the press. Sounds like a bunch of squares to me.
No wait, what if I want to be a circle?
This month, we're talking about talking to the press. Whenever I bring up reaching out to the press, I get this response almost like people don't realize they can? People seem to really undersell themselves and get really intimidated. I get that, absolutely–rejection is terrifying–but I think we can both attest that at least in the podcast space, we're all pretty relaxed and goofy and nice. We actively try to avoid what makes the press in other, more established media so scary. Every podcast journalist I know wants this medium and its creators to succeed. So I think that's step one for getting people on the right track: journalists who cover podcasts want you to succeed, and they're not as scary as they seem.
In fact, journalists need you to talk to them! Actively reaching out and letting them know what needs to be on their radar is how a ton of stuff gets written about and covered in the first place. There’s a lot happening in the podcast space right now, especially in terms of production growth, and we don’t have a centralized place to get podcast “screeners” from. So send that email, and know that we’ve cracked as many bad jokes as you have (and some of them have even been in print).
Let's talk about how to send that email, because there's definitely a right way and a wrong way.
Wrong way #1: Emailing cold, doing no research, saying, “Listen to my podcast!” I just need y'all to remember that Google is, in fact, free. Do your research. Pretty much every publication, journalist, etc. has specific ways they want you to contact them–and they post them pretty clearly! It's not hard to just take a few minutes to research those methods for each source you want to contact.
Wrong way #2: Sending the email with no information. Be sure you're structuring it professionally and you've given them all the very key facts: who you are and what your podcast is about, why they might be interested, listening links. That means checking today guidelines to see if they require anything else (like a press kit).
Oh, the worst. The amount of times I've gotten a link to an Apple Podcasts listing and nothing else. I don't even have any Apple devices, and also, who are you and what is this?
So, the right way, I think is pretty easy: research how the journalist wants to be contacted, and then contact them that way. Make sure you're giving them the information they want and need, you're being nice, and you understand that they might not get back to you quickly, if at all. What are your feelings on follow-up emails? I personally don't want one unless it's been at least a few business days. I can be okay with three if you have a big release coming up, but with the amount of emails I get, I think five is more reasonable. I know podcasters aren't psychic, I just wish they understood that our work takes work.
I tend to straight up ignore follow-up emails if it's been less than three days; I sometimes get them every day for three or four days in a row! Be patient. It's important to know that journalists of all kinds usually have inboxes that look like the depths of hell itself, and responding to press releases is usually not the highest priority in comparison to everything else they have to juggle in order to get your podcast on their list.
I get a lot of questions about how to structure emails in a practical sense, beyond language choice and general professionalism. What goes in it and how can I best attract the attention of the press? I've started calling the list the press outreach toolkit: a press list, a press kit, a press release, and your pitch.
Love it. I think first, let's talk about the actual body of the email. We've touched on this a little: the email needs to include who you are, what your podcast is, what you're looking for (is this a press release, or a review request? We'll get to both of those in a sec, I'm sure), and where to find you online and socials. But I'm a big fan of emails that are short and sweet, and let their attachments carry the work. I think it's also way less work for the podcaster, so that's a win/win.
Tailoring the body of the email definitely depends on what you want out of the email and who you're sending it to. It's really important here to remember that not all potential journalists you could send your podcast to are podcast journalists! If you've got a horror podcast, find a horror magazine that might like to review it. Think outside the box of whose attention is valuable, and then be sure to explain in the body of the email why you think your podcast would be a great fit for them. Remember that you aren't just trying to attract people who already listen to podcasts; you should also be thinking about people who may not be into podcasts, but they like your genre or style in other media! This helps grow the pool you, and everyone, is pulling from; it's ideal.
Yes! Know your niche, always, and reach out to them.
We should probably break down some lingo now. So, let's start with something that seems scary, but is pretty basic: a press release. Ely, you just tackled these in a killer article. Want to give a quick summary?
Absolutely! A press release is an informational bulletin you send to journalists and media outlets with the goal of keeping them apprised of what's happening with your podcast. For instance, you'd send a press release when you're launching a new podcast, or for your new season, or for a crowdfunding event. It’s got all of the key facts, dates, and people involved, and it also has a pretty strict limit: a press release shouldn’t be more than one A4 page long! They usually come accompanied by press kits. Wil, we wrote a how-to on press kits together a while ago; do you want to take this one?
My favorite subject! A press kit is everything the press would need to write a piece on your work. A press kit is usually, but not always, a slide deck saved as a PDF. It'll include a synopsis or description of your podcast, where to find your podcast (website, socials), a list of teammates who work on your podcast, information of guests you've had, your release schedule, and sometimes stats or reviews (pulled from Apple Podcasts is just fine). We also love press kits in Google Drive folders that contain your podcast's art, headshots, etc.–that way, we get to include those in our piece, which always looks nice and keeps readers engaged.
It sounds like a lot, but it's way simpler than it seems. I definitely recommend checking out some good examples like the press kits for Love & Luck and Han and Matt Know It All for inspiration.
You'll need to make sure you've got your pitch nailed down too! This is just like writing a pitch for any other project: keep it snappy, short, and sweet, but descriptive. I've seen a bunch of people create two pitches: the elevator pitch and a longer, more descriptive summary that includes goals and more plot elements, for instance. You'll be sending your release and kit usually with your pitches embedded into them, or as part of the email.
I know film people love it, but I absolutely hated Save the Cat, the big 101 on screenwriting–but it does have some good takeaways. One is looking into loglines and how to make them. Luckily, you don't have to read Save the Cat to learn about them. This is a good resource instead.
One last big tip on saving yourself some time: before you send anything out, build yourself a press list. Make an Excel sheet of everyone you want to reach out to, how to reach them, and any other information you need to send for each. Got a bunch that are similar? Bing bang boom, you've got a list to BCC all at once versus doing them individually.
I'd recommend keeping track of who would be okay to BCC and who would be best to personalize an email. Alternately, use a mail merge; this will make it look like every email is personalized and now that you have a press list, you can use that to create the contacts for the merge.
Is adulthood being really stoked about mail merges? Because I think I'm a big kid now after learning about them.
I felt like I definitely leveled up when I did my first mail merge; there's a ding sound and everything.
So I feel like we've said a lot about what not to do and what to do and how to do it, but as we wrap up here, I just want to remind the podcasters: you CAN do it. We're nice! We want to help! And there are so many resources on how to go about it. You've got this.
And don't self-reject! You never know what someone will find useful, fascinating, or intriguing. You can never get a “yes!” if you don't ask in the first place.
Now let's go play with some mail merges like big kids!
Elena Fernández Collins is a podcast critic, reporter, and forensic sociolinguist. Wil Williams is a podcast reviewer, consultant, and former audio editor. Together, they're a talented team of compassionate creatives that want to share what they've learned. Beyond their own sites, both write for the AV Club. Ely's work appears on The Bello Collective and Wil's on Polygon. From audio drama to accessibility in podcasting, their topics are complex and their writing thoughtful.