How to Make Pitching Less Stressful: 11 PR Tips for Success

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Do Your ResearchWhile there isn’t a silver bullet for securing news coverage, the more tailored your pitch is, the more likely you’ll earn media interest. Fire up Google and research outlets and reporters that cover the topic you’re pitching. Then craft a personalized email that ties your story idea to their specific beat.
  6. Tell a Compelling StoryRelevance is important, but keep in mind, just because a reporter covers technology doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll cover your product or company. In other words, give the reporter a compelling story to tell. A good rule of thumb: focus less on the actual product/company and more on the people it helps and the impact it makes.
  7. Paint the Picture with VisualsTake your story a step further, and show journalists why it’s newsworthy. Part of journalists’ dissatisfaction with PR pitches is the lack of visuals supplied. In fact, a recent survey from ISEBOX states that 80 percent of journalists feel frustrated in needing to spend more than 30 minutes collecting visual content for stories. Have a photo, infographic, or video that supplements your pitch? Share it!
  8. Focus on the process – For routine releases i.e. new products, routine events, etc., look beyond the results as the news piece (unless it’s breaking news or one of a kind) and focus on the process, measurements and obstacles that were overcome to achieve results. Similar to the typical underdog story, sometimes it’s not really about who wins or loses, but the steps or transformational process it took to get there.
  9. Frame the pitch around people – Often, we are instinctively drawn to focus on the product or service of our pitch in an effort to get media coverage around a “thing.” As with many feature stories, focus on the people your organization may touch, affect, or even the people behind the scenes. In addition, while your executives may be the official spokespeople of the business, do not neglect the end users, third-party sources and brand advocates. They can often be your biggest assets.
  10. Tie to a trend – Identify a growing or current trend and, when applicable, offer your organization/solution/service as a source. For growing trends, try to offer other examples as well. Because the nature of a trend requires timeliness, the earlier the better. No one strives for second place. Similarly, reporters do not want to be second in getting a trend story out, so be sure to stay ahead of or on top of the trend, and don’t be a laggard.
  11. Exploit pop culture – Similar to “tying to a trend,” leverage the popularity of a reality TV show, movie or celebrity. While the benefit to you may be coverage, you could also help the reporter by making his/her job a bit easier by offering a source or examples for popular topics the publication may already plan on covering.

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.

By Sami Jajeh – February 28, 2012

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