How to Pitch Like A Pro

As PR practitioners, we're often caught in a quandary between clients and companies who want results and journalists who won't call you back because they want you off their backs. Unless, of course, they want your help. And then it's always on their terms. You see, media relations is much like dating. It can be intimidating at first. It can be frustrating when you're in it. Yet, isn't it exhilarating when someone finally gets you and what you're about? That's how I feel about my relationships with people and my relationships with media. I liken the media relations lessons I've learned over the years to the self-help dating book, "He's Just Not That Into You." It's important to understand the difference between having hope that something will work out versus just hanging on. Just like dating, media relations is an art not a science. Everyone does it a little differently because they're looking for different things, according to his or her personality and what is being pitched. Watching or hearing others, as well as reading and reviewing their e-mail pitches, can also help you gain invaluable experience or tips. With the proper tools and preparation, it will take the guesswork out of out of this sometimes mysterious process.  

*Do your research. Just as it's a faux pas to call your date "John" when his name really is "Joe," there's nothing worse than pitching a food editor the product launch of a toy. So before you approach them, do your homework on the media outlet and the reporter or producer you're pitching. The web is a great place to start. Utilize media programs like Factiva, Vocus or Bacon's and obtain additional information on the Internet – most companies have their own Web site blogs or MySpace pages that are updated more consistently. It's also just as important to simply pick up a copy of the publication or watch the program before pitching.

*Organize your thoughts. As the saying goes, know what you want and write it down. Create a media relations strategy grid that categorically lists each media outlet, unique angle, tactics and next steps, followed by a timeline. This will keep you organized amidst the chaos if you're pitching many outlets at once. It also will give you the foundation to craft effective e-mail and phone pitches. After all, media relations is 75 percent preparation and 25 percent execution. Ultimately, the investment will pay off in providing a more credible persona for you and increased coverage for your client or company.

*Timing is everything. Just as you are cognizant of being on time for your date or never calling when they are at work, same rule applies here. Make it a habit of knowing when they are taping or closing out the publication. If you call and get them live, always ask if it's a good time to talk. If not, ask when a good time would be for them to do so and if you can send the pitch in e-mail form. Respect deadlines; reporters are busy people. Return their phone calls promptly.

*First impressions matter. It's critical to understand the pressure-driven, deadline-filled environment of a journalist. It's a world filled with hundreds of phone calls and e-mails a day from others just like you. You should be able to give your pitch in the time it takes to leave a 60-second voicemail. Say something colorful and meaningful so they call you back. Use simple language and avoid professional jargon. Much like speed dating, you only have mere minutes to make a good first impression. Compliment them on a recent article they wrote or piece they produced. This will capture their attention much more than a mass e-mail pitch.

*Stand out from the crowd. Find common ground so that your pitch is relevant. Remember that media love trends – is your company part of or starting a new trend? Perhaps you know your pitch may be a bit of a stretch for the particular outlet, so ask yourself what would make the story of better interest. Is there a tweak or angle you're not thinking of? Think out of the box. Years ago, I pitched the break-up of Barbie and Ken (yes, the dolls!) to re-invigorate the brand. I also pitched an electronic travel toothbrush to a publication my client typically would not have targeted – Playboy Magazine – using the angle of "must-have accessory for overnight guests."
If you run out of ideas, the other option is to conduct a media audit – ask what stories make the cut and why. If they want the "exclusive," see if you can divvy up different pieces of information to various outlets so each feels they are getting something unique.

*Practice patience. All relationships take work including your relationship with the media. They need us just as much as we need them. However, don't leave more than one initial voicemail and e-mail along with an additional follow-up correspondence. Try to keep getting your reporter live, but avoid being an annoying PR flack. If all your efforts have failed, then like the book says, maybe he/she is "just not that into you." Move on and maybe you'll catch his/her attention next time. Or, maybe there's another outlet that is better suited for your story. Lastly, don't despair if you're misquoted or your story doesn't run. Call the reporter back politely—perhaps it has been delayed.

Should the outlet cover your company, remember to send a thank you note or e-mail. If it's an outlet you'll be pitching regularly, make it a habit of doing lunch once a quarter or once every six months. They will be more likely to receive your pitch next time. And it will be easier to bounce ideas off of them in the future.

This article was written by Jaime Sarachit, senior manager of communications & media relations for The Recording Academy. Sarachit's previous experience includes working in the consumer brand marketing practices of several global PR agencies for many of the world's blue chip brands including  Barbie, Nestle, Nokia and Red Bull. She was recently named one of PR News’ “15 to Watch.”