As readers of my past articles might know, I’m a strong believer in going against the grain regarding long held PR tenets. This is especially true when it comes to media relations.
Here are several “play it by the book” rules of public relations 101 that I feel should be ignored.
1) Limit your story suggestion to what fits in the subject line of an email, and if the journalist is interested you’ll get a reply.
My suggestion: Unless you’re offering an interview with a much sought after person, forget that ridiculous rule: How can any reporter know what the substance of a story is about from a few words in a subject line?
2) Don’t send an email pitch that is more than one or two paragraphs.
My suggestion: The length of your pitch should not be cut short by classroom rules. As long as your pitch is interesting, the number of words doesn’t matter. If the reporter likes the first paragraph the second will be read and so will the following graphs. I have always written pitches that were as long as a full press release and have never had a reporter say “make them shorter.” In fact, many reporters have complimented me for being complete with my pitches. They liked them because they contained many specific facts and often provided a road map of how a story can be covered.
3) Write a short cute caption.
My suggestion: Unless you’re editing your agency house organ, write a long, detailed straight news caption so the photo editor has all the information necessary to write a caption. It’s the photo that determines if a picture will be used, not a cute caption you might provide.
4) Just pitch one person at a publication.
My suggestion: Forget about this inane rule. Many publications have more than one reporter on the same beat. Pitch them all, but let everyone know who you are pitching. Remember: Different reporters and editors have different opinions about what interests them for a story.
5) A pitch containing hard news will always get a journalist’s attention.
My suggestion: Editors get dozens of pitches containing hard news every day and act on very few. To make your pitch different, be creative and include several different ways the story can be approached.
As a journalist and editor before jumping the fence to the PR side, I’ve often been asked if is it necessary to know a reporter personally in order to have your pitch considered. Of course, as in any business, personal contacts are always important. But there are other ways of getting journalists to pay attention to your pitches.
The most important is to read the beat reporters that you want to pitch for several weeks in order to familiarize yourself with what they like to write about. There is no faster way to having your pitches ignored than by sending one regarding a new product to a reporter or editor who covers crime news. The same goes when pitching TV outlets. Familiarize yourself with the program before pitching. Shot-gunning releases is a waste of time for everybody. Also, regularly customize your pitching list by reading newspapers and magazines and by watching the TV programs.
Here’s my non-tuition communication’s school advice to young PR newbie’s regarding pitching: Never lie, never exaggerate, think like a journalist and, most important, don’t be a pack follower. Experiment with several techniques until you find one that you’re comfortable with. And never be afraid to tell a colleague that you will not pitch a story because it lacks news or a feature peg. That’s important because the best way to get a journalist to consider your pitches is by building a relationship: That’s done by knowing the type of story the journalist that you’re pitching likes and not wasting anyone’s times by pitching a story to the wrong person.
Arthur Solomon was a senior VP/senior counselor at Burson-Marsteller, and was responsible for restructuring, managing and playing key roles on national and international sports and non-sports programs. He now is a frequent contributor to public relations and sports business publications, consults on public relations projects and is on the Seoul Peace Prize nominating committee. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.