9 Pitching Practices to Make You Shine in 2017
By April Harter Enriquez
I shivered from the bone-chilling air as I pushed through lobby doors just blocks from the White House last month. After traveling to the 13th floor, I found a coat rack and deposited my peacoat (which, as a Southern Californian, I enjoy wearing once every few years), poured a hot cup of coffee, then entered the flag-lined walls of the National Press Club ballroom for eight hours of advanced media training at the PR News 2016 Media Relations Conference.
We covered live video, prepping for media interviews, social media crisis communication and more. One of the highlights was a panel of journalists moderated by pitching expert Michael Smart. I found myself scribbling notes in my crisp, blush-colored journal.
To my delight, the key takeaway was nothing new: In order to build authentic relationships with the media, influencers and your consumers, be considerate, honest and resourceful while delivering content that means something to them.
Now that I’ve recovered from the jet lag and stale pretzels, I’ve transcribed the jottings from my now-tattered journal to this handy list, chock-full of tips for being a reliable publicist in 2017.
Show, don’t tell. This tip comes from PR News panelist and Slate Magazine host Rebecca Sheir. Sheir expressed the importance of illustrating what your product, service or people do. For instance, at WordPop we work with a nonprofit that helps women launch or grow their businesses. To illustrate this, we pitch stories about the colorful day-to-day lives of female entrepreneurs. Where are they from? How did they get here?
Get my name right. When you’re trying to build a relationship with a reporter or digital influencer, take the time to read what they’re writing about. If you’re certain your pitch or press release aligns with their beat and audience, then pitch. Acknowledge their work and for goodness sake, get their name right!
Don’t be a bad egg. PR News panelist and The Washington Post Express reporter Kristen Page-Kirby said she gets 90 to 100 emails per day. She noted that there are days when she spots a couple of bad pitches and is inclined to keep clicking the delete button out of frustration. She noted that many PR pros aren’t very good at pitching, which hurts the entire industry. That’s why spending time on quality pitches is essential.
Follow up. Sheir, Page-Kirby and fellow PR News panelist and Editor-in-Chief of Aviation Week John C. Anselmo all agreed that one email follow-up is appropriate. None prefer phone calls, which is consistent with the Cision State of the Media Report 2016 noting that 93 percent of reporters prefer email pitches, while about 2 percent prefer phone calls.
Get social. Most reporters do not want to be pitched on social media, however 73 percent of reporters do use social media for relationship building, according to the Cision State of the Media Report 2016. If it feels like an unsurmountable task to build relationships with hundreds or even dozens of reporters, start small. Panelist and veteran PR pro Michael Smart suggests spending 80 percent of your time on your top 20 percent of influencers.
Don’t be self-seeking. Don’t over-brand yourself or your company in a pitch. Mention your brand once, then focus on telling a story. Only use proper nouns when they are known (especially in a subject line), and try to avoid marketing terms like “product” and “market.”
Be colorful and concise. When pitching a reporter, use figurative and captive language in the subject line. Try to keep your message above the fold. Sheir noted that when using Outlook for email, she focuses on the content of the pitch that appears in the preview. The panelists agreed that a block of text is a bad idea when pitching. It’s better to break up the content into brief paragraphs and/or include bullets.
Provide supporting content. Although the panelists had varying preferences for how they like to receive digital content (video clips, audio clips, infographics and photos), they did agree that these resources are extremely helpful, especially in today’s visually-driven world. Visual content can be used on their news sites, and on social media where 62 percent of U.S. adults get their news today. If you have materials to provide, your best bet is to attach or embed low-res files with a link to high-res files. When pitching a TV spot, video files are especially valuable, particularly ones that go beyond the “talking head.”
Be relatable. When pitching a story to mainstream media, think about the reader. Meagan Phelan, executive director of the Science Press Package for the American Association of the Advancement of Science, said that her team creates infographics “no harder than a 5th grade level.” You or your client may be the leading expert in your field, but you must present your findings in such a way that people understand what you’re doing or offering.
April Harter Enriquez is the owner of WordPop Public Relations, a full-service public relations firm focused on female-led startups, homebuilders, wellness experts and professional-service organizations. Enriquez is the immediate past president of the San Diego Press Club and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.