Whom You Pitch to Is More Important Than What You Pitch

Old adages hang around for years mainly because they’ve stood the test of time. Here’s one you can apply to your PR pitching: “It’s not what you know, but whom you know.”

In a recent article in PR News Pro, pitching expert Michael Smart writes, “When I’m asked to review pitches, anxious clients generally start by inquiring about their subject line, their opening sentence or their call to action. But there’s a factor that has way more influence on the likelihood of success than the language and phrasing of the actual pitch. That factor is what I call Message-to-Influencer Match. And that’s why the first thing I ask about when looking at any pitch is: Who is the target, and why?”

And for those of use who have trouble writing, Smart says once you know who your target is, the pitch almost writes itself. He adds, “While it’s always good to be careful with wording, you can avoid stressing about the precise phrasing. Your target usually will find the information useful regardless.” Whew!

Michael Smart

But don’t get too cocky, Smart advises. There’s plenty of research involved. As he writes, “Please realize I’m not talking about simply identifying the topics a reporter or blogger are likely to cover.”

What are the additional elements? “In addition to strong research,” Smart writes, “when masters of media relations choose targets they will think through the style, tone and goal(s) of the article they want to emerge. They ask: Is awareness, persuasion or branding the outcome I am seeking?”

In sum, “That’s why you consider the overall message of the piece you’re suggesting and weigh whether it’s a likely match to the influencer you’re pitching,” Smart writes.

Smart provides a case study: The PR rep for a community center near Brooklyn, New York, noticed that a columnist for the Wall Street Journal uses a quirky voice in exploring unusual topics. So she pitched him on the center’s annual Waffle Day. The pitch’s subject line was: “Waffles as Aromatherapy.”

The result: The journalist attended Waffle Day and brought a photographer. The column named the PR rep’s care center in the headline, which was a coup. Smart writes, “Note that the journalist never would have turned up on a media list of influencers who typically cover this topic.”

In sum, “What you pitch is secondary to whom you pitch. Add this to the hundred other reasons not to rely on blasting the same email to everyone in your database,” Smart writes. Instead, he advocates spending 80% of your outreach time on the top 20% of your media list. “That allows you to hone your Message-to-Influencer Match and land the coverage your brand deserves.”

For more about Michael Smart: michaelsmartpr.com

Follow Seth Arenstein: @skarenstein