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.

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How Making Mac & Cheese Is Like Crafting the Perfect Pitch

By Jasmine Forte

On July 14 we celebrate one of the most accessible foods in the world — Happy National Mac and Cheese Day! This popular side dish has remained one of America’s top ten comfort foods for decades.

Making a delicious serving of mac and cheese is similar to crafting an effective pitch in public relations – it requires a simple mix of ingredients, timing, and just the right amount of flavor to win over an audience. Below are some mac and cheese cooking tips that you can apply to creating that perfect pitch.

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3 Things PR Pros Should Know Before Working With Bloggers

By Amanda Limoges

We’ve all heard it before: Media relations is rapidly changing and bloggers have become an emerging, more common source of news. In fact, blogs might even be the perfect outlet for sharing a client’s story, but how they function and expect to be contacted can often be misunderstood by PR pros. Since I began working at RLF, I have had the opportunity to work with bloggers on behalf of numerous clients, and have developed a few best practices along the way:

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e-Bola Virus: An electronic adaptation potentially more damaging than the biological disease

By Ross Pfenning

With the rampant spread of Ebola media coverage influencing the American public’s sensibilities, it really isn’t surprising that so many have expressed their fears and concerns – no matter how ill-conceived – as vocally as they have. However, the media, both social and traditional, have amplified those voices to such an extent that the panic and borderline hysteria being exhibited daily are doing far more damage than the disease itself. Welcome to the era of the “e-Bola” virus.

Before we get going, it’s important to recognize that this is not the first time that citizens of the United States have been faced with such a perceived threat, nor reacted in such a panic-stricken and frenzied manner. With this in mind, Washington Post journalist Steven Petrow writes: “Americans nationwide are showing signs of an epidemic of fear, all too reminiscent of the stigmatization, dread of contagion and panic of the early years of HIV/AIDS.”

Living in San Francisco in the ‘80s and ‘90s, Petrow witnessed the ignorance-fueled fear firsthand. As he goes on to point out later in the article: “About the only thing that happened this [time] that didn’t mirror the AIDS panic was that the phrase ‘Ebola fear’ became a trending topic on Twitter — and that’s no doubt only because the social network was unimaginable in 1983.”

The ever-present “threat” posed by the virus, compounded by the media’s fear-mongering has led to some unfortunate and devastating consequences. Teachers are being forced to take mandatory leave or resign, children are being bullied in school and citizens of our supposedly free and equal democratic nation are being stigmatized for their origins. These are all people who have had zero contact with anyone even remotely associated with, let alone afflicted by, Ebola. They are merely people who have traveled to state of Texas, emigrated from countries such as Liberia or are the children of such immigrants to the United States.

According to a poll conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health and shared via NPR, as of mid-October, 40 percent of Americans felt they were at risk of contracting Ebola. Despite constant reminders from credible sources regarding the likelihood of catching Ebola, the public at large seems all too eager to forget that the virus can only be transmitted through bodily fluids and people are only contagious once they have begun exhibiting symptoms. Of course, showmen like Dr. Oz make it harder still for such reassuring facts to sink in, postulating (on national television) as to whether the Ebola virus could mutate and go airborne. (For anyone wondering, epidemiologists agree that it’s unlikely and not even worth discussing at the moment.)

While clearly not an isolated case of the media’s oversaturation and even exaggeration of a given situation, the Ebola scare does provide a textbook example of the systemic spread of (loosely-termed) “news” and its harmful effects. As stated in this New York Times article: “The panic in some way mirrors what followed the anthrax attacks of 2001 and the West Nile virus outbreak in New York City in 1999. But fed by social media and the 24-hour news cycle, the first American experience with Ebola has become a lesson in the ways things that go viral electronically can be as potent and frightening as those that do so biologically.”

Lending further evidence to the argument that fear-stoked epidemics within the United States can cause more harm than the diseases themselves, the previously cited Washington Post article asserts: “‘AIDS phobia,’ a term used to describe discrimination against those with HIV, ravaged the United States because of a dearth of political leadership, misleading if not inaccurate information from public health officials, and a news media that stoked anxiety in its quest for ratings and headlines. Together, these became almost as dangerous to public health and civil rights as the virus itself.”

With documented cases of improper and even antagonistic responses to previous crises, one would think we’d have learned our lesson(s). However, in keeping with Santayana’s ethic – and adjusting only slightly for cultural relevancy – “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to retweet it.”

Photo courtesy of Twitter.

The Dos and Don’ts of Media Relations: A Practical Guide to the Art of Pitching

Alyssa Bedrosian

As a young public relations professional, it’s vital to look to experienced practitioners for direction, advice and constructive criticism. Whether it’s a colleague, friend or industry leader, find someone you can talk to openly and honestly, and find the time to pick his or her brain and learn as much as you can.

When I began my career in PR, I scoured the Internet for the top PR books to help guide me through my first years in the industry. I came across This Is How You Pitch by Ed Zitron, founder of EZPR, and spent my first few weeks reading about tips, tricks and best practices for media relations efforts. While media relations is just one component of PR, crafting the perfect pitch is an essential part of working in the communications industry.

Zitron’s book is a clever, honest and accurate guide to media relations, agency life, and what it means to be a PR pro. If you are a recent college grad, or even if you’ve been working in PR for a few years, I recommend you find this book and read it as fast as you can.

Here are the top 5 lessons I learned from Zitron:

The pitch will never become obsolete.

Technology may change, but the pitch will always be central to what we do as PR practitioners. In the history of public relations course I took in college, this lesson rang true: people will always relate to each other through the stories they tell, even if those stories are through Snapchat and Instagram rather than traditional media outlets. According to Zitron: “Pitching is simply learning how words relate to people — what makes sense in a particular moment, what connects to a person and their own personal story versus what makes somebody walk away and wish you were dead.”

The game is won or lost before it begins.

Zitron says the best way to approach pitching is to begin with a “meticulous, personalized process” that involves a lot of research, knowing what your targeted reporters are interested in, and interacting with reporters on social media long before you have a story angle to pitch. I learned this lesson the hard way when a lack of preparation resulted in a pitch that seemed more like an awkward exchange with a stranger rather than a natural conversation with a friend. If you do your homework and get to know reporters, pitching will become more efficient, successful and enjoyable.

A good headline is key.

The headline in the subject line of the email should accurately reflect the pitch. Don’t put yourself in a situation where reporters think you misled them or wasted their time. Although I have never been accused of misleading a reporter, I have definitely learned which headlines attract a reporter and which ones don’t. Tailor your headline to each specific reporter, and make sure it is a straightforward, accurate representation of the story you are trying to tell.

The pitch should be mutually beneficial.

Roughly 95 percent of pitches end up in the garbage. With so many pitches thrown in the trash, you have to cut through the clutter by crafting a pitch that benefits both your client and the reporter. I’ve experienced this firsthand, with reporters asking, “Why should I care? How does this benefit me?” Keep in mind that the goal is to secure coverage for your client, while at the same time providing reporters with high quality, interesting material they can use as content. If you provide a reporter with a quality pitch that benefits them, chances are they will contact you the next time they need information for a story.

The work isn’t done after the initial pitch.

Following up is key, but don’t harass reporters. Give them some time to react, and then follow up once or twice. The majority of my media relations success has come from sending a quick follow-up email—because reporters are so inundated with emails, they often miss the initial pitch. If they still don’t bite, let it go. You can’t win them all, and it’s not worth it to ruin a relationship with a reporter because of excessive follow up.

When it comes to your media relations toolbox, the pitch is arguably the most important tool. While many other skills are necessary, the ability to share your client’s story in a way that attracts the interests of both journalist and reader is the key to success in this industry. Zitron puts it plainly: “While there is no formula, there is one skill you can learn that will dramatically increase your chances of succeeding in PR. That skill is pitching…Not everybody is good at it. But if you are, your career trajectory will be limitless.”

Five Things About Public Relations You Won’t Find in a Textbook

By Hannah Nelson

Read. Take notes. Pass exams. Now what?  

As I finish up my last class at Elon University, it’s easy to assume that I am done with school. Done with over-priced textbooks,  done with vigorous note taking in Accounting 201, done with memorizing Supreme Court cases for my media law class. Done with learning and ready to jump into the field.

But in the transition from a student-and-intern mindset to that of an agency employee, I have found that this industry has many tools, tricks and tactics that cannot be learned in a classroom and that it will very much be a lifelong process.

1.     Each client’s definition of PR

In my first communications course, I was taught that public relations is simply positive relations. If it only was that simple. Working on different client accounts, my days at RLF are filled with much more than media relations. Maintaining relationships with journalists, branding through social media, researching competitors…and that’s all before my lunch break begins. Each client will have its own needs for a PR agency and will, therefore, set different goals and duties for the account team. Regardless of the textbook definition of PR, your agency was hired to further the client’s business goals.

2.     A focus on small business and niche clients

Most case studies that I’ve read for class feature Fortune 500 companies and their agencies’ successful PR campaigns. But for most of us starting out, giant corporations (and their seemingly unlimited PR budgets) will not be in the job description. Despite this, I’ve learned to prefer smaller clients with niche focuses. Working for a smaller agency, I’ve already gained experience talking with clients and have seen my work directly impact the client’s success. I also enjoy becoming a mini-expert on a range of topics, including marching band history, nanotechnology developments and even swimming puns.

3.     The learning curve of technology

In my classes, we skimmed various duties within the field that clients might require, and one simple word has proven to be deceivingly complex: tracking. Media tracking for each client requires multiple technological tools, Excel sheets and databases. At your internship you may have used three different platforms, all different from what you use on your first job. Hopefully, one of your skills listed on your resume is “fast learner.”  Don’t be afraid to ask for clarification and consult your notes. Sooner than you know it, you will be navigating Cision and crunching quarterly reports.

 4.     Diligence

Remember that time you had to read 75 pages of your media ethics textbook and you approached it with the “skim-reading” method? That is how most journalists will read the pitches that you’ve spent hours writing, editing, revising and distributing. You’ve probably spent a good week becoming an expert on a pitch idea and it will be hard to understand why everyone on the media list is not as excited as you are (for me, it was a pair of gibbons. Come on, who wouldn’t want to write about apes?!). It requires time and energy to pitch, follow up, further follow up and even further re-pitch, but once you get your first hit and secured story, it will be worth it. Oh, and it will also probably be time to follow up on another pitch.

5.     Thick skin

Continuing on the topic of communicating with journalists, thick skin is something you will need to build up. Sure your Introduction to PR professor might have mentioned this one day while you were day-dreaming about spring break, but now you’ve graduated and feel on top of the world. It’s hard not to feel unstoppable after accepting your diploma (and passing geology), but almost every PR professional out there has at one point been hung-up on by a reporter or opened a not-so-nice email rejecting a story pitch. Despite that, we keep going. We know the feeling that comes with reading one of your clients’ names in a national outlet, and that outweighs all the criticism.

You won’t find this information on any mid-term exam, but I would highly suggest taking notes for your career as an A+ public relations professional.

How PR Professionals Can Break Through a Culture of Over-Communication

By Emily Thomas

Buzz. Click. Ping.

How many times in the last hour have you heard your smartphone vibrate, your email ping or or one of your social media sites sound an alert? Probably more times than you can count. And you’re not alone.

CNN reported a study that showed smartphone owners check their phones for email, messages and social media notifications 34 times a day. That’s in addition to time spent on computers checking email, Websites and the like.

This frequent communication is great for staying in touch with friends and family, but the volume of communication has made media pitching tougher for PR pros. Journalists, like everyone else, are becoming better at tuning out inbound communications – including media pitches. You can imagine how an inbox packed with pitches could have that effect.

So how can we break through this? Below are four tips for breaking free from the crowd and getting the attention of journalists.

Check your watch

Since a reporter’s email inbox is constantly flooded with story ideas, it’s crucial to optimize when you pitch yours. For example, you should avoid pitching at the end of the work day or sending out a press release on a Friday afternoon. Choosing the right time to pitch a story or send a news release can reduce the odds of getting lost in an overcrowded inbox.

Do your research

Many publications post editorial calendars online. Getting to know the schedule for each outlet you’re researching will boost pitching success rate. Targeting a weekly business journal? Most hit the stands on Friday but go to print on Wednesday – meaning Tuesday nights or Wednesday mornings are terrible times to pitch. Reporters and editors at monthly publications will tend to be busier certain weeks of each month, depending on when exactly they go to press. Get to know these cycles and reach out to journalists when they are less stressed and have the time to concentrate and read through your pitch.

Be creative

Today we must be creative in how we approach journalists. For example, a PR professional recently sent an editor at Fast Company magazine a Twitter video pitch that landed her a coffee meeting. The request was eye-catching and unusual. Creativity can help break through the chatter and impress journalists who are used to seeing uninspired pitches all day long.

Find your perfect match

Generic media lists don’t make the cut anymore. Naturally, not every story will be newsworthy for every media outlet, but assuming there is some real news value to your pitch, I can practically guarantee that somewhere there’s a journalist or publication that will be interested. The more research you do on reporters (what stories they’ve covered, their beats, what they are sharing on their Twitter accounts, etc.), the closer you can get to making a connection and following up on a story. Personalizing your pitches for specific journalists helps considerably in breaking through the clutter and earning a story.

In the endless stream of emails, tweets, status updates and blog posts, PR professionals must work harder and smarter than ever before. The pitch that’s the most relevant, targeted and personal wins. So before you reach for your smartphone, send an email or share a social media update, make sure you’re using the right form of communication. Personalization isn’t a luxury anymore; it’s a necessity.

 

Photo courtesy of Ian Lamont via www.digitalmediamachine.com.