Why I Hate the Word “Pitching”

July 4, 2012

Public Relations

I've grown increasingly frustrated when I hear my PR colleagues tell me they're going to "pitch the media." Maybe it's because my non-PR friends look at the term so pejoratively. Maybe it's because it implies a certain level of salesmanship. Maybe it's because it erodes my own idealistic view of the media as the fourth estate and that I hate seeing so much of it be controlled by pitchmen who take advantage of lazy journalists. Maybe it's all of the above. For me, it's almost as bad as our industry's most hated word – "spin." Then I read Amber Mac's excellent piece on Fast Company about how social media can help save the PR industry from bad pitches as well as Gini Dietrich's follow-up post on Spin Sucks, and I got all riled up again how PR people rely on blind pitching instead of focusing on the "relations" part of public relations.

When someone tells me that they're pitching something to the media, the default image in my head has sadly become this -

From spamming thousands of reporters and bloggers at a time in the hopes of getting 1% of them to cover your "news," to copying and pasting entire pitches and only changing the name, to using outdated information, PR people have become used car salesmen, interested more in making the sale than on building an honest relationship. At some point, it became acceptable to send an awful pitch out to 10,000 people and hope that 1% would cover it instead of crafting customized pitches that go to 200 people with the expectation that 50% would cover it. Wonderful. Glad to see that we're modeling our pitching approach after Nigerian email scams. Aren't we better than this? PR people have to stop trying to take the easy way out. Stop being lazy and start taking pride in each and every pitch you make. It is YOUR name after all that will be tied to that pitch. It's YOUR agency's name that may end up on a blog somewhere as an example of a bad pitch.  Act like every pitch you make is a reflection of you and your agency…because it is.

One of the things I've told my teams over the years is that the best media pitch is usually pretty simple. It's usually something along the lines of "hey man – just read your latest post and wanted to clue in on a client of mine who's got a cool new product that I think you'd like. Check it out and let me know what you think." While the "pitch" is surprisingly simple, the reason it works is because of all the work that's required to get to that point. For it to work, it assumes that you've established a relationship with this person, that they trust you, that you only share things like this that they are truly be interested in, that you've interacted with them before when you weren't pitching him on something, and that the link they click will give them everything they need to know – photos, videos, quotes, contact information, research, etc. In other words, there's no need to worry about crafting a perfect pitch if you've already laid the groundwork – at that point, it's just two people talking with one another.

Let's all work together to change the connotation of the word pitch and agree that we should aspire to be better than used car salesmen and spammers.  Let's make pitching less about trying to sell the media on something and focusing on providing them with what they need – good stories to tell that will be interesting to their readers. Let's pledge to:

  • Get to know the people covering our clients before we start pitching them
  • Read at least three different stories/articles/posts they've written before reaching out to them
  • Know if my contact prefers to be contacted via Twitter, email, Facebook, phone, or carrier pigeon
  • Avoid making our first contact with the blogger/reporter our pitch email – Retweet them, comment on a blog post, answer a question they have
  • Help the media do their job even if there's no direct benefit for me
  • Pitch fewer people but aim for a higher success rate
  • Stop blindly "trying to create more buzz" and instead be more of a PR consultant to my client
  • Write my pitches in actual English like I'm talking to a person instead of my client's key messages
  • Refrain from spamming dozens of reporters with the same email
  • Never ever send an email with any form of the words – "just checking to see if you got my email" (because they did, and then they deleted it)
  • Validate everything that I find out about a reporter/blogger from a PR database
  • Clearly identify the "what's in it for me?" for everyone I contact
  • Include my name, contact information, and links to more information
  • Stop overselling our pitches – when everything is ground-breaking, innovative, and the first-of-its-kind, nothing is
  • Coordinate our pitches with our clients so that they aren't surprised by questions from the media
  • Realize that no one likes to feel like they're being pitched, but they do enjoy hearing a good story
  • Read and proofread and read and proofread everything before I hit send

These are just off the top of my head – I'm sure there are plenty of others. If you're a PR pro, what other tips would you add here? If you're a reporter/blogger, what do you wish PR people would do better when pitching you? 

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About sradick

I'm Vice President, Director of Public Relations at Brunner in Pittsburgh. Find out more about me here (http://steveradick.com/about/).

View all posts by sradick

6 Responses to “Why I Hate the Word “Pitching””

  1. Ben G. Says:

    Thanks Steve. As someone who just started in a business development role, I have to say it is refreshing to read this post. People still don’t get it. They are still pushing their agenda as opposed to building quality relationships. I know you practice what you preach because you cared enough to meet/help me when their was nothing in it for you (at least in the near term). Ultimately, those who care about relationships will win the long-term annuity business.

  2. Steve Radick Says:

    Thanks so much for reading Ben – glad you enjoyed the post. I know it’s difficult to set aside time to help people out, but it’s a choice that I’ve always made. Sure, there are times when I could have/should have been working on a response to an RFP instead of having lunch with colleagues from other companies and there are a lot of very successful people who choose to go that route. I, on the other hand, have chosen people over $ where possible. Maybe it’s held me back a little in the short-term, but I believe that in the long run, I’ll be much happier for it!

  3. Melonie Dodaro Says:

    The word “pitching” reminds me of a guy in long- sleeved
    polo with a necktie and knocking endlessly on my door selling me stuff I don’t
    understand or need.  It’s like they are out
    there just for the kill.  I would like
    someone who listens to my needs first, and make me feel like they really
    understand.

  4. Gini Dietrich Says:

    It infuriates me we have to keep having this conversation. I know it’s more work to do what you’ve described here, but it works….99.9% of the time.

  5. Steve Radick Says:

    It’s definitely frustrating that these issues keep coming up and that people continue to “not get it.” In fact, that’s why I write posts like this – because I know a lot of junior PR pros, students, and government employees who haven’t been trained in communications read my blog and I hope they read this and learn a little something about how to do things in the right way. 

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Blogdash Blog » Blog Archive » Blogger Outreach: It’s All About Building a Relationship - July 5, 2012

    [...] to successfully pitch a blogger. This is what Steve Radick’s blog post it’s all about. In his Why I Hate the Word “Pitching” he discusses his disappointment related to the general bad opinion about pitches PR people do and [...]

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