Single White Male Seeks Editor for Meaningful Connection: Pitching Refresher Tips for Hitting It Off Right AwayFebruary 28, 2012 by Sami Jajeh
After what feels like hours of pacing back and forth, you finally muster up the strength to pull out that number and make the call. Thousands of thoughts are racing in your mind – what do I say if she picks up? What do I say if she doesn’t? Do I leave a message with her friend and hope she gets back to me? How can I stop myself from rambling once I have the chance?
Oh how reporters and editors can string your heart along…
On the surface, pitching is both the easiest and hardest thing PR professionals do every day. Talking to your fellow man (or woman) is fundamental human activity, and media professionals should be as excited to receive your phone call or email as your grandmother would. Likewise, reporters should be excited to hear about your client’s new product, or want to hear what’s new and exciting during a meeting at an upcoming tradeshow. They are human, just like you are, and you are making their job easier.
Unfortunately, as we’ve all seen, the media relations process is far from that perfect image, with reporters facing a mound of emails and voicemails from across the globe stating why their product or expert is worthy of their time, and little to give. At times, hearing that “I’m on deadline, call back later” is a victory, because it at least means the reporter you are trying to reach actually picked up the phone. Not to mention the client that just let you know yesterday that they want to schedule briefings for a tradeshow taking place tomorrow.
It can all turn you into the crazy, stalker boyfriend or girlfriend asking the media, “WHY WON’T YOU LOVE ME?”
It’s fitting that just a few days after Valentine’s Day, I came across a Forbes interview with Peter Shankman, a longtime PR professional and founder of Help a Reporter Out (HARO), a site that serves as a matchmaker for reporters and sources. Peter outlined several essentials for PR professionals to keep in mind when pitching, probably out of a mix of desire to help solid industry workers increase their chances of winning over reporters and as a plea to a population prone to making the same mistakes over and over again.
Shankman can see the makings of a combustible relationship – journalists are working with fewer resources while under more pressure to find actual, interesting news, while PR professionals are paid to get their clients in the press. However, with some “counseling”, the two sides can work through their communication issues.
According to Shankman, PR professionals should always verify the following before clicking send or hitting dial:
- Your news is actually news: PR professionals can be guilty at times of trying too hard to manufacture news for their clients. As reporters receive thousands of releases daily, only the ones that have something groundbreaking or intriguing will capture their attention. Press releases announcing that a client has repainted a conference room or is holding a company picnic will not only get passed over, but has the same effect as crying wolf the next time a more credible release is distributed. While it can be hard to tell a client their news isn’t really news, it can prevent possible long-term damage.
- The reporter writes in your space: Some media research programs make things incredibly hard for PR professionals. Just because a reporter is listed under the “Technology” beat, for instance, does not necessarily mean he or she wants to be pitched with any technology-related angle. Before pitching a particular reporter, read some of his or her previous articles to get a sense of coverage topics, style and frequent sources. Not only does this provide great ammunition when pitching, as reporters like it when PR professionals are familiar with their work, but it can prevent the embarrassment of learning that they don’t cover a client’s space.
- You are using the right tools: With seemingly few seconds to spare each day, reporters can be very particular about how they are contacted, and using the wrong outlet can get a PR pro started on the wrong foot. The same aforementioned media research tools can provide great direction for reporters. If a reporter’s profile notes to not call during work hours for any reason, put the phone down. Likewise, while most reporters work away from their desk and “office number,” calling them on their personal cell phones from an unfamiliar can be troublesome. Learn what mechanisms and times of day reporters like to be pitched during, and the chances of a successful connection increase.
- Your grammar is pristine: Nothing turns a reporter away faster than a typo or misused word – or as Shankman puts it, “If you want to make sure I never write about you, pitch me with a grammar error.” Taking a few seconds to confirm that a pitch makes sense and is error-free can protect a PR professional’s credibility more than anything else.
While there is no absolutely right or wrong way to pitch, and different reporters and PR pros will have different paths to what works best, there are some basic practices we can easily forget while under the gun that will make the media relations end of the job less stressful.
After all, if your first date with the reporter goes well, it will make securing the second date that much easier.