Pick Your Poison: Tips for Pitching All Types of Media Representatives

Gone are the days when most journalists seamlessly fit the classic stereotype: scrappy professionals armed with a beat-up notebook and a fat Rolodex who dashed in and out of chaotic newsrooms the moment a tip came in. That stereotype has since splintered into a million different pieces with the media's unstoppable fragmentation. Today, communications professionals don't have the advantage of owning a finite list of reporters, with whom they could cultivate relationships, exchange favors and call by their first names. Rather, they must contend with a new reality: a different type of media for seemingly every personality. There are still the traditional categories--television, print and broadcast--whose preferences have evolved at a snail's pace in comparison to their digital counterparts (but evolved nonetheless). Then there is the digerati variety--the journalists (or, depending on your point of view, the "not journalists") whose qualifications are little more than an Internet connection, but whose influence over audiences exists nonetheless. Regardless of the "traditional vs. digital" classification, there is one piece of information that underscores the importance of media relations skills: As reported in Charting the Industry on page 2, 94% of surveyed editors and journalist rely on submissions from PR professionals as a source. It's good news for certain, but it also means that communications executives can't be dismissive of media relations; they just have to expand the discipline's skill sets to reckon with expanding media categories. Consider the following breakdown of tips and strategies for pitching all types of media representatives. Traditional Media Conflicting reports on the viability of traditional media appear all the time. One industry survey recently revealed that the these media segments are the hardest hit by the recession (see page 5), while other reports claim that traditional outlets continue to be the most trusted sources of information. Specifically, the 2009 Edelman Trust Barometer showed that articles in business magazines are among the most trusted news sources, second only to industry analyst reports. Traditional media is still a critical target of media relations efforts, if only for the fact that the public still sees it as a trusted source for information. But by no means does "traditional" equate to "antiquated"; executives must still revise their strategies to have their messages resonate. *Hone your key messages. Before pitching a traditional media outlet, the pitch itself must be airtight. Identify the key messages you want to convey to the audience. According to Andy Gilman, president of CommCore Consulting Group, "A key message consists of a strong headline, plus a specific anecdote that supports the headline." Even if this headline/anecdote approach isn't what the journalist ultimately sees, it should help you identify the points you want to stand out, and the best ways to make that happen. And remember, your target audience isn't necessarily the journalists; it's the journalists' readers. In that context, you and the journalist have a common goal. *Be mindful of the journalist's beat. It is the most oft-repeated piece of advice, yet so many PR professionals don't do it: Stop sending mass e-mail pitches to every journalist under the sun. Pare down your mailing list. This requires more work on the front end, but the return on that time investment justifies the effort. *Understand the nuances of traditional media types. This is key to success in any media relations effort. While very general, the following overview is a starting point for segmenting traditional outlets: Print: News-specific publications are reactive to, well, breaking news. Unless your organization is in a position to break news or to be directly involved in something newsworthy, print-focused news outlets are less likely to run stories that are developed out of PR pitches (unless it's a really slow news day). So, instead of pitching a story, pitch expertise that relates to a news event. Trade publications: This media type appeals to very niche audiences, so all pitches should be tailored accordingly. While many trades do still cover news, they are often more interested in trend stories, so craft pitches that focus on a big-picture trend more than a product or service. Third-party validation is especially helpful; demonstrate partnerships with external organizations/NGOs or include supportive research if applicable, as this enhances your position as a credible source. Television: Television is all about the visual aspect, so make sure the pitch tells a compelling story first and foremost. This is a good opportunity to include embedded video links in press releases, or to focus on a human-interest angle of a story. Broadcast: This is all about the audio, so if you are pitching an executive as an expert commentator, make sure you can demonstrate his/her ability to articulate compelling sound bites. New Media Digital media outlets are still seen as the Wild West for many communications executives, but these days it's no less important than traditional platforms. Consider these tips for conducting successful online media outreach. *Know thy blogger. Shift Communications' Todd Defren touts this rule of thumb when advising communications executives on digital media outreach: Don't target a blogger until you have read at least 20 of his/her posts, including the comment threads. This will give you insight into their tone and style, their interaction with their audience and their preferences. *Become part of relevant online communities. Digital media is all about collaboration and conversation, so become part of that dynamic as a community member first and PR exec second. "Don't just do fly-bys about your topic," says Greg Verdino, chief strategy officer of Crayon. "Find bloggers on supplementary platforms [like social networks and Twitter]. Friend them and follow them. Don't be afraid to contact the blogger directly long before you have something to pitch." (For more tips like this, see "How to Conduct Successful Blogger Outreach," PRN 11-19-07.) *Embrace more interactive pitch templates. While many traditional journalists prefer to receive simple, text-only e-mail pitches (see page 2), bloggers thrive on interactivity above all else. Include live hyperlinks, embedded video/audio files and/or images, but only do so when it enhances the pitch. Again, discretion is critical. Finally, for overall media relations efforts to be successful, it is essential that you create a destination for reporters of all types to find information about your organization. Whether that's a blog or an online newsroom, this platform will be the final piece to the puzzle. PRN CONTACTS: Andy Gilman, agilman@commcoreconsulting.com; Jon Sullivan, jsullivan@aflac.com; Greg Verdino, greg@crayonville.com Know When To Hold 'Em And When To Fold 'Em There are specific pitching tactics depending on the type of media you are targeting; there are also best practices that apply to media categories across the board, especially when your media relations efforts are based on reacting to a crisis or doing damage control. In essence, it all comes down to knowing whether to speak now, or to forever hold your peace. "Not all media is good media," says Jon Sullivan, executive publicist/external communications for Aflac (winner of PR News' 2008 Platinum PR award for the financial communications/investor relations category; see PRN 10-06-08). "Be prepared to be selective about spokesperson access, and endure the possible consequences, in exchange for an outcome that is favorable overall. Oftentimes the medium, though it might be substantial, is not the appropriate forum for the message. It is wise to consider these factors when determining what publications are desired and those with whom you are better off bypassing."

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