Media Pitching: 3 Action Items for the New Social Media World

Michael Smart of MichaelSMARTPR speaking at the National Press Club

Especially for communications pros who have been in the game for a while, social media has caused upheaval in the past several years: Media is more fragmented, journalists are overworked and harder to reach, and media outlets have new and different incentives behind the content they feature. This all makes media pitching difficult for anyone working from an old playbook.

At PR News' Dec. 11 Media Relations Conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., we enlisted Michael Smart, principal at MichaelSMARTPR, to help us break through these challenges. He gave attendees three action items to apply immediately; these might serve as a foundation for how you meet success in the modern social media landscape.

1. Identify one new outlet that's reaching your key audiences that you aren't pitching.

This can be an influencer, not just a media content producer. Kate Hansen, an Olympic luger, became a huge story when she was videotaped doing a warmup dance to Beyonce, thanks in no small part to a Facebook post from Beyonce herself. Few people realize that this was the result of an outreach by a savvy PR pro representing BYU, where Hansen was a student. She came in 10th in the luge, but she was invited onto national TV shows.

2. Schedule 10 minutes a day to "read and react": pick 5–10 key influencers (reporters, etc.), consume their content, and let them know you did (via Twitter or email).

This sows seeds of goodwill that will help you be received more positively when you reach out later on and offer to help them with a source or a story. One effective tactic here is to comment on an "orphan" story or blog post, one that was overlooked by everyone else. When only one person appreciates something you worked hard on, you value their taste and appreciation very highly and a friendship is born.

3. Produce one piece of content that performs well online and share it with a key influencer.

Getting a scoop can be less important now than getting page views, and outlets are realizing that they can re-post years-old content that still gets clicked and shared like crazy. Pitch content that is already performing well online, and a major outlet might jump at the opportunity to re-post it. In 2010, Mario Vittone posted an article titled "Drowning Doesn't Look Like Drowning," a water safety piece, on his own website. A popular article, it got half a million Facebook likes. Three years later, Slate got permission to re-post it on their site, where it earned more than a million. It didn't matter that it was old news or that so many people had already seen it. In your pitch, if you can point out that a piece of content is already popular on Reddit or other platforms, it will make a reporter take notice.

Follow Michael Smart: @michaelsmartpr

Follow Ian: @ianwright0101