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.”