Running your own PR campaign can be overwhelming, especially when it comes to pitching. Never fear! Here are a few must-know, must-follow tips to keep you on the right track!
Remind yourself daily that it’s all about relationships. There’s a reason that Tin Shingle co-founder Sabina Hitchen’s firm Red Branch PR was able to get their clients press so quickly even when they were new to the New York City pr “game”. They always put relationships first, and the media could sense how valuable they were to Red Branch. They would deliver information that was requested as quickly as possible, remember important personal information about their media contacts, and pitch them only things that they felt would be useful for the editors and producers. After all, as a reporter, whose call are you more likely to take? A publicist you've never spoken to before or one who has taken the time to develop a relationship and truly understands your needs? It is no different with the media. Building relationships now and not being pushy or rushing people means that reporters will take your call when you've got an important story to tell – they may even do you a favor. Best of all, even if they can't help you on this particular one, they are likely to refer you to another reporter who can help you. In the same vein, always volunteer to help them with any other stories they may be working on – you just may know someone they need. Red Branch also created a reputation for helping reporters and producers fill stories, even when the stories weren’t about their own clients. They knew that this was one more way to create great and long lasting relationships with reporters. As with any relationship, building trust is critical so always do what you say you will, within the timeframe you give, and don’t make promises you can’t keep. One last tip with media relationships: It’s always on the record, no matter how close you are!
Have a good story. Before you pitch the media be sure that you have a great story to tell them. The last thing they will want is the same story they aired last week, a story that every other magazine is writing about, or a story that is in no way relevant to the current state of our country, season in fashion, or trend in your area of expertise. Make sure this story is also not a blatant advertisement for your product or yourself. Tie it into current events, the season or holiday, or important things going on in your community.
Speaking of great stories, if you are pitching to television, know that a little bit of visuals can go a long way, so be sure you have some eye-popping pieces or props to travel to the studio with you!
Know your audience. You wouldn't call a handbag store and try to pitch organic soaps, just as you wouldn’t call Ladies Home Journal to pitch wedding lingerie. A rule of thumb is to NEVER pitch an outlet or editor unless you’ve read their magazine (or watched a producer’s show) several times, and have even checked out some of their own past work to see if their style and type of story fits you. Without knowing something about their work or outlet you truly are pitching them blindly and wasting your time and theirs. Before you pitch any media outlet, study it. Read the publication. Watch the show. Who covers similar topics? Are there contributors to stories where you have interests such as food, fashion, business or health? What format do they prefer? What time is best to pitch them? If it’s a morning show you should be calling after noon, if it’s a newspaper they are on deadline in the late afternoon, and if it’s a magazine it’s best not to start pitching them until after 11 am. So many things to think about but a little research will truly go a long way!
Create new and exciting ways to share your company’s story. Look for out-of-the ordinary partnerships or ways to insert yourself into your community that will be of interest (and provide great visuals) to the media. Kathleen Kirkwood of Kirkwood International, often referred to as the “Queen of Shoulder Pads” was launching her “Bust-Ease” bra inserts the same day that Apple was releasing their first Iphone. Using it to her advantage Kathleen took to the street with her “camera crew” and did mock interviews of the hundreds in line outside of the Apple store asking them how they felt about the Bust-Ease release. Before she knew it other news outlets had taken note of her eye-catching and funny stunt and the clip is still airing on YouTube. You don’t always have to get crazy like Kathleen to raise brand awareness...often partnerships with local charities, community centers, or schools will pique the interest of media types.
Smile & dial when you pitch over the phone. This quote is a rule that many publicists joke about over coffee or drinks, but it’s true: pitching can be fun. When you are just starting out, you can't believe this could ever be true and you dread the thought of somebody gruffly picking up the phone on the other end. Don’t worry, pitching will get easier and easier as you practice, and before you know it you’ll be excited to pick up the phone or type out that email as you’ll remember that every pitch gets you and your business closer to the big time. When pitching, keep smiling even when it’s tough, and have your notes in front of you so you don’t blank on what you were going to say. Be mindful of the outlet you are pitching and don’t call during their busiest times of day. For TV news their busiest times are during the morning, lunch, and evening news casts. Newspapers don’t want to be called in late afternoon and evening when they are on deadline. As a rule of thumb keep magazine calls between the hours of 11 am- 3 pm, giving them time to settle in for the day before you bombard them with pitches.
Always introduce yourself before rattling off your pitch. If you don’t have a relationship with a reporter try simply introducing yourself and stating, "We haven't spoken before.” If you have followed the golden rule of PR and started by calling an editorial assistant to see which reporter or editor to talk to first about your pitch, you can begin by letting them know that XYZ editorial assistant recommended you share your story with them. This shows that you have already done the research and someone at the magazine thinks you may be a good fit for them.
Keep your pitch to a 15 -30 second elevator speech that includes your introducing yourself and why you think you would be valuable to their readers/viewers. Be sure you also ask them if “now is a good time” because just like you they have jobs to do to and you may be interrupting them. If you are able to continue pitching your story be sure you have a few different angles up your sleeve. This way if one approach doesn’t work you can smoothly transition into another before they decide you are not a great fit for their outlet.
Always follow up. Many potential stories are lost simply because people don't follow through on them, and truth be told, the media have enough on their plate and may love your story but have forgotten completely about it. If an editor or producer asks you for further information, send it to them immediately. Also, just because a reporter doesn't answer your e-mail immediately, doesn't mean she isn't interested. It could just mean that she hasn't gotten to any of the 150 - 300 e-mails received that day, and will reach out to you when ready. This is another great reason to have contact information including email and cell phone available in all of your signatures and press releases.
Persistence, persistence, persistence. There is a fine line between being persistent and annoying, but if you truly know your story and your audience, there is no shame in “pinging” (making contact attempts in a friendly way, saying hello now and then to touch base) until you get the editor or producer on the phone. Keep your pinging to email and don’t leave messages if you can’t reach them via phone as they will not be likely to call you back. Don’t forget that as much as persistence is important, not dwelling on one media outlet when there are so many others available to pitch is also vital. The time you are wasting stewing over why the Today Show producers haven’t called you back could just as easily be spent pitching several other television shows.
Don’t promise exclusives unless you really will deliver on them. Exclusively. Media outlets – whether they are a celebrity weekly like Star Magazine or a hard news network like CNN – love exclusives. Promising one in the subject line of your email or in a pitch is a great way to get their attention. It is also grounds for strategic thinking. NEVER send out several pitches promising an exclusive story as you may find yourself in a situation in which a few outlets want your story. You will have to deny a couple of outlets the story you promised them and this will not soon be forgotten. Do not share a story you have promised to someone exclusively until they have given you word that they are not going to be covering the story. When this happens – move on and move on quickly! Also, if the source you promised exclusivity does use the story, you can always share it with other outlets after the first has published or aired it, as they have had their exclusive story and it is now public.
Leverage your press! When you get press from the local level share it with your regional outlets and national outlets, and add it to your media kit and website. All the pr placements you get are free advertising that is also validated by the magazine or television show that featured you. Be sure you blog about it, Twitter about it, and share it with everyone from your sales representatives to your stores to your database subscribers on your website.