I recently listened in on a webinar hosted by Michael Smart, an independent communications trainer. Michael works with PR professionals to help them land media coverage. Here are his tips and tricks for successfully pitching the media.
1) Frame Boring Content
Chances are your clients aren’t going to have a new product or “earth- shattering news,” every month, but you’re still going to be expected to get them media coverage. This is where framing comes in. You make the clients’ “boring” coverage interesting and relevant. One way to do that is to exploit pop culture. Even if your clients are B2B you can still draw parallels between what their business is doing and what is relevant in pop culture. Another way to frame content is simply to change the format. Think about what format works best for page views. Generally these are articles that incorporate lists, photos or GIFs. Tip: When creating your content try to get a link back to your client’s homepage. This is the best way to get SEO from your site.
2) Apply the 80/20 Principle to Your Media List
One of the biggest hurdles PR professionals face is time. We feel like we don’t have enough time to customize our pitches for each editor in our media list. Michael recommends spending 80 percent of your time pitching the top 20 percent of your media list. Focus most of your time on the 5-10 absolutely crucial influencers. Make sure your pitches are customized to meet the needs of the editor and publication. For the next 30 percent, do your best to briefly customize your pitches. You can send the same pitch to the last 50 percent of editors. You might ask yourself, “How do I know who the top 20 percent are?” All media relations should drive revenue and drive valuation. When determining who the top 20 percent are, think about which publications will have the biggest influence on driving revenue and valuation. Those publications are your top 20 percent.
3) Specific Formulas to Pitch Your Email
Once you have identified your 20 percent it’s time to do your homework. Be sure to reference the editor’s earlier work. Make sure to be as specific as possible. You want to let the editor know what you’ve actually read his or her past articles. Then tie in how your pitch relates. When tailoring your pitch makes sure it is short, specific and sincere. Even if the editor comes back with a “no,” showing editors you’ve done your research will help put you on their radar.
After your top 20 percent start using your database for the next 30 percent. Open with, “I know you cover…” Still try to be specific though. For example, if you are tying to pitch a tech story don’t simply say, “I know you cover tech.” Say something more specific like, “I know you cover start-up tech companies is San Francisco.” For the last 50 percent you can make the pitch very broad depending on the amount of time you have.
Tip: Snail mail editors’ pitches, content or products to get their attention and then follow up with an email. Also, don’t pitch via Twitter. Use Twitter as a way to build a relationship with editors. If they do happen to follow you back you may consider pitching them through direct message, but pitching on Twitter is too public. Many editors don’t want to pitches to be seen by competing publications.
As a general rule, before I pick up the phone to pitch a media contact, I know their name, have researched the outlet, skimmed through recent stories the journalist has written and have an idea of why they would want to hear my pitch in the first place. This ladies and gentlemen, is the art of romancing the media.
It’s surprising how many PR professionals still operate with the old “spray and pray” method, thinking that quantity pitching rules over quality pitching.
In fact, I just read a great white paper by Cision When in Doubt that outlines the very reasons why we PR pros shouldn’t do that. The most important lesson you can learn in this industry is to research everything you possibly can about the outlet/beat of the person you’re pitching. In all honesty, those that skip this huge step really do damage to themselves and the company they represent. They also do big disservice to industry as a whole.
It just gives PR a bad name. We want the media to see us as a valuable resource, not as annoying spammers. I’m sure it would be maddening for a real estate reporter to continuously get pitched to cover the latest beauty product.
Researching the details is more time consuming, but the paybacks are better quality and even quantity coverage.
Aside from doing research before you send anything to or contact the media I have a couple of suggestions I’ve picked up from my experiences for when I pitch and follow up on the phone:
- Check out editorial calendars. These can be a gold mine. Even if they aren’t interested in covering your news now, it could be perfect for them at a later date. Follow up.
- When you call to follow up, instead of going straight to your pitch, introduce yourself and ask what they are working on. It could be in connection to what you’re pitching. Use your discretion if they sound hurried. By being natural, conversational and not just pushing your pitch, you earn their ear and respect.
- But be ready to deliver the main points of your pitch in less than 20 seconds. More often than not you will run into an editor that has no time for nonsense. Prepare for that.
Of course don’t leave out social media as another avenue for media outreach. It offers valuable insights into what journalists’ are writing about and their interests.
Above all, know that if you continue to spray and pray, it may take a few reporters giving you a piece of their minds before you never again forget to research before you reach out.
Pitch! Funny that word: pitch. It embodies what I do. I’m not just “throwing it out there,” I’m aiming for awesome coverage, a home run! While I was always the last one picked for teams in gym class, the PR pitch is one I can do.
Recently I sat in on a conference call moderated by the PR guru Peter Shankman himself. He invited reporters from top publications like The Wall Street Journal, USA Today and Crain’s to ask them about pitching preferences and what catches their attention. Cha ching! Goldmine! (No, this had nothing to with my crush on Peter Shankman; I was genuinely interested in stepping up my pitching game.)
Peter Shankman of HARO
Anyway, I took away five lessons from this conference call:
1. Not knowing a reporter and what they write about- Avoid this PR faux pas at any cost. Pitching blindly, especially to top level journalists is insulting to them. Not to mention it could ruin your chances of getting any coverage with them in the future.
2. Not identifying a news peg immediately- These guys want to know “why now?” Is it part of a broader trend? Is it happening in the news? Tell them why they should care or you will probably strike out.
3. Writing a book instead of a hook- Journalists generally don’t have a ton of time to stop and read a long email pitch. Craft one that identifies the news hook right away; and only say it’s exclusive if it really is. Remember…bullet points are your friend and don’t exceed three paragraphs. They want the pitch you would tell your friends over some beers.
4. Entitling an email- “quick question”- it’s hard to get a reporter to respond to a pitch… believe me I know. It can be tempting to do this, but the truth is-they know you‘re just trying to pitch them. Be upfront and give it to them straight. Ask them what they are working on and if you can be of any assistance.
5. Not following up- While most prefer email nowadays, don’t be afraid to pick up the phone. A good motto I like to follow: There is always someone more annoying than you.
So much more was discussed in the conference call that was helpful to me, so I hope you can use this too. You’re welcome and happy pitching!