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of getting 1% of them to cover your "news," to copying and pasting entire pitches and only changing the name, to using outdated information, PR people have become used car salesmen, interested more in making the sale than on building an honest relationship.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?