The Art of the Pitch

By Taylor Lord

Pitching. It’s the reason that reporters have a love-hate relationship with PR specialists. A trick to improve your media relations lies in effectively pitching media outlets without hounding reporters. When thinking of a story idea, make sure you remember to consider tactics to accomplish the three pitching steps: the “before,” the “during,” and the “after.”

Media relations don’t begin by picking up the phone to call an outlet about an intriguing story. You need to establish a relationship first. Just think of the name: “media relations.” It implies a connection between you and the reporter. Before even thinking about dialing or clicking send, plan for the pitch.

Before

1. Research

Imagine that you are working on a pitch for a new hire release. You create a media list and settle in for a long day of calling. The first outlet answers and, whoops, they only want product releases. If you keep contacting this publication to pitch new associates rather than new products, the reporter begins to think you are simply wasting their time and will ignore you when you do have a new product to pitch.

No reporter is going to respond well to an ill-matching pitch. To have a good understanding of the beat, you must first become a consumer. Familiarize yourself with the outlet by watching the show, reading the articles or listening to the segments. Knowing the outlet and the reporters’ beats leads to effective pitching.

2. Love the pitch

If you aren’t interested in the story, how do you expect to get others interested? Even when working on a routine story, you need to figure out a way to become excited. Think about the organization, its mission and its impact on the community. Does the organization have a compelling story around its founding or key leaders? Does the organization have any positive impact on the community, either economically, socially or politically?

Believing in the pitch makes you sound passionate when speaking with the reporter. That energy and enthusiasm can be contagious.

3. Know your stuff

Think back to the new hire pitching scenario. Imagine that you are speaking with a reporter who is on the fence about the story. They ask you questions about the size of the organization and when it was started. If you need to pause, go to the organization’s website and search for that information, you have already lost the reporter’s attention.

Answering questions about the organization on the spot is a key part of media relations. To be prepared to explain the big picture, you need to know the organization, the pitch and the competitive environment backwards and forwards. If you represent a local organization similar to a national chain, emphasize the differences between the two to persuade the reporter that covering the local organization is more appealing to their outlet’s readership. Understanding the organization, its environment and its opposition brings more opportunities for your client.

Preparing for a pitch is extremely important. However, you still need to actually connect with the media outlets you are trying to secure coverage in. These tips will help when communicating with reporters.

DurinG

1. Be human

Everyone has a phone voice. How often have you called someone, they answer, you get nervous and, all of a sudden, you sound like a twelve-year-old child instead of a professional adult? Pause and take a deep breath before calling. Remember that you are simply speaking with another person about a mutually beneficial opportunity.

Besides keeping your phone voice in check, act natural during the conversation. Be conversational and direct. Reporters are busy people – don’t tell them your life story. Keep it short and sweet and speak to them just as you would any other person; be polite, professional and succinct.

2. Be flexible

Sometimes, a reporter will be interested, but not sold, on your idea. Prepare for this situation by having other angles that they can consider. If the pitch does not exactly match up with an outlet, tweak the story to better fit in with the publication’s content.

Be conscious of current events. Local media constantly search for local angles to a national or global story. Help them out by connecting your pitch to its context within a national conversation.

With two of the three steps of the pitching process completed successfully, reporters are sure to consent to placing your idea in the publication. Although getting the reporter to agree to the pitch is cause for celebration, it does not signal an end to the relationship.

AfteR

1. Be gracious

After the article is written in a publication, the story is read on a radio show or the segment is aired on television, follow up with the reporter. Remember that the media placement would never have happened if not for their willingness to listen to your idea and their persistence in completing a final product.

Thank them for their time – without their hard work, your client’s goal would not have been realized.

2. Establish a lasting relationship

Keep up with that reporter. Let the reporter know that you are interested in building a mutually beneficial relationship. This may mean following them on Twitter and commenting about their recent articles. You could meet them in person to discuss a similar topic of interest. Invite them for a bite and drinks so you can better understand their beat and inspiration.

When speaking on a personal level to a reporter, leave the pitching behind. You are aiming to get to know them, not to get another story published. Treating a reporter as a potential friend will go a long way in developing an enduring connection.

Using this advice for before, during and after pitching will positively impact your results. Pitching is an integral aspect of media relations. As PR pros rely on reporters to get stories placed in publications, so do outlets rely on communication specialists to bring new ideas that interest their readers.  Although media relations encompass much more than just pitching, knowing how to converse with reporters and having a two-way relationship with them will go a long way in reaching your clients’ goals.

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