Life’s a Pitch

Media relations have always been the bread and butter of our business. Our job is to get clients names in the headlines. That’s why when I came across a story earlier this fall about the art of the pitch, written from a journalist’s perspective, I was intrigued to hear what she had to say.

Since journalists are on the receiving end of most PR efforts, they have just as much say in how these relationships should work. It’s no easy task delivering a perfectly crafted email with a clear and concise angle in mind… that also creates the “spark” for a story. PR professionals and the media are constantly running against the clock, so everything should have always been done… like, yesterday. But in order to appease both parties there has to be a middle ground.

Based on experience, the subject line might be all the writers ever read. If you fail to catch their attention or you scare them away with some awful lead in (i.e. THIRD ATTEMPT: …), you might have lost them forever. It’s got to look appealing and effortlessly roll off the tongue. Like a Tweet, you have to learn to say what you need to say in a compelling way with limited words/characters. Some want it creative and some just want you to get to the point already, so knowing your audience and catering to their interests is a top priority in this case.

PR pros that are best at what they do respect their industry and those who work in it. While there is always the pressure from clients to get the job done and get it done quickly, handling every media opportunity with respect will go a long way. Building relationships with writers isn’t always easy, but you live and learn and eventually it comes naturally. Communicate with them like they are humans, because they are. Avoid emails written like advertisements or robotic messages. Put in a little personality – did a “Have a good weekend!” ever hurt anyone?! Send a thank you when you’ve worked with someone on a piece. They’ll appreciate knowing there is a person behind the pitch.

What some might forget – even the most experienced PR pros – is common sense. You might be thinking, well, duh! But it’s more common to forget common sense. It’s easy to get caught up in a press list and just start sending. But cross referencing is the best thing you can do when reaching out to media contacts. Did they write this already? Will it appeal to them based on their most recent work? Is the angle I’m using fitting for this outlet? Every writer is different. Every outlet is different. So pay attention and research.

So, what’s the best way to go about your daily PR research? Stay connected. Social networks have done wonders for PR and the media as a whole. It might require a little more time and effort managing all the various channels in which you can find news, writers, ideas and more, but it’s worth it. Consume the news. Love the news. Why? Because without it, would PR even exist?

This certainly isn’t all we need to know about approaching our peers in the media world, but it’s a start. If you genuinely believe in your story, writers might feel that spark, too. And let’s be honest, nobody wants to crash and burn.

From Hack to Flack

I’ve traded my reporter’s notebook for a shiny laptop.

Corporate upsizing at the country’s largest newspaper conglomerate? Hardly.

After 15 years as a newspaperman, I’m now a public relations account executive.

From hack to flack.

And I couldn’t be happier.

But as a reporter, I used to loathe what I am now.

Pesky morning phone calls from overly perky PR people? Sand in the bathing suit to a burned-out, caffeine-dependent grunt. Incessant emails. More phone calls.

Make it stop!

The truth is: We might complain, but we need each other. There. I said it. My reporter’s notebook just rolled over in its grave.

You want your client’s name in the paper; we want our byline on the front page. Our ravenous beast of an editor needs copy now! And you can help deliver it.

We can help each other.

Humor me for a minute: I’m going to stroll down memory lane one last time (fedora securely on head) and speak from a journalist’s perspective.

The subject? What irks reporters when it comes to PR people. Just a few random thoughts, which are purely and unequivocally my own.

What we think: You’re kind of annoying.

Caller ID was the greatest thing ever invented for a reporter (after bourbon, coffee and Marlboros) because once we see your number on the first call, we’re not answering your next 10 calls.

Email is great. Email is beautiful. Email means we don’t have to talk on the phone, which most of us hate doing anyway. (We’re social pariahs.) Or we’re too lazy. If it’s something we’re interested in, rest assured we’ll follow up – probably with an email.

Sometimes, your emails do go to our spam folders. Oops. A phone call is OK. One. Maybe two.

One last tip: Be mindful of our deadlines. If you follow-up at 5 p.m. when I’m in the throes of a daily story, I might damn you to the place where we store our ink barrels.

What we think: Has this PR person ever picked up an AP stylebook?

Notice the above reference to email? It’s correct AP style. It used to be e-mail. It’s shocking how many PR professionals either ignore AP style or have no clue what it is.

Want to make friends with a journalist? Show that you are well-versed in AP style because whatever he is writing will have to conform to it. If you never took a class in AP style, buy the AP (Associated Press) Stylebook and use it as your reference bible.

Better yet, buy the book anyway. Consider it your guide through the media forest.

What we think: Why should I care?

So your client was just named “Innovator of the Year” by Egg Magazine for its revolutionary new whisk. Just because I’m a food or lifestyle writer doesn’t mean I’m going to do a front page spread on the marvels of this wonderful new invention.

But the whisk was created in the basement of a former executive chef who was downsized and lives practically in my backyard? Now we’re cooking with gas.

Three words: Make. It. Matter. Two more words: Localize. It.

In the same vein, provide as much information – and research – as you can (short of a novella) so we can educate ourselves. Our editor will thank you when we make our pitch.

See? We have to sell, too.

What we think: Why am I not special?

Mass email pitches = directly to recycle bin, do not collect Go. You took all that time to research the topic. You worked so hard to write that perfect quote for your client.

And you pitch me a story using a template circa “Mad Men?” Take the time to research which reporter is best-suited for your pitch – and personalize it!

We spend most of our time being beaten up by editors who take a certain sick joy out of destroying our confidence and picking apart our babies. The least you could do is address us by my name. Please? We’d feel so special.

What we think: What are you trying to say?

Here are some phrases and words that were used in a recent press release:  “organizational leaders;” “functional performance;” “execute;” “aggressive;” “cross-functional high-performance work teams” (that one takes the cake).

Other jargon that should be burned: “state of the art; “global;” “best management practices;” “solutions;” “groundbreaking;” “revolutionary;” etc.

My head hurts. Journalists hate two things: Math and corporate jargon. Be conversational in your writing. Act like you’re sitting next to me at the bar. Tell me the story.

Speaking of stories…

What we think: Don’t mess with our reporting. Or our final product.

OK, you hooked us, we like your pitch. But now we must do our job. Stand back: Do not feed the reporter. That means we’re going to do our own research, interview who we want to interview – and write the story that we think is best for our readers.

Don’t be offended if the story takes a different angle than your pitch. We’ll do our best to respect your work, but reporters and editors have minds of their own.

If this happens, or if a particular word was used that you don’t like, please don’t call back and complain, except for one caveat: If there is an inaccuracy, call and raise Holy Hell.

And NO, you cannot read it before it goes to press. Cardinal Rule No. 1.

So there you have it. A few random thoughts on what bugged me as a reporter.

Remember: We need each other.

Now that I’m on the other side, I’ll try to respect my own thoughts.

By the way, can I interest you in a story about a leading provider in thumbtack production that achieved best management practices using state of the art, next generation and sustainable processes resulting in cross-functional high-performance work teams?

No? Didn’t think so.