HOW TO PITCH TO THE PRESS
Wow! All I can say is wow! If you want to pitch to the press–then huddle up.
I recently asked one of the best promotional PR pros I have ever worked with, Todd Brabender (Spread The News Public Relations), if he would meet with a new intern to show her how to pitch to the press. I have to admit, she is my oldest daughter, Mackenzie, a Journalism major at Texas A&M.
I was hoping he could show her how “REAL” PR was done. She was about to start a massive PR pitching campaign for ValuSource and I knew of nobody better than Todd to show her the ropes.
I have hired multiple PR firms throughout the years (while launching Netscape, Red Storm Entertainment with Tom Clancy, as a VP Marketing with GE and a Sr. VP Marketing with Motorola). Some were great, others were so so–but I noticed the best PR folks all had one thing in common… backgrounds in Journalism–not PR. Todd was no exception (as a former producer and journalist he knew what he liked and pitched accordingly).
THE PR HALL OF FAME
I first met Todd while consulting with a company making Singing Coach software. They were excited that they had received 6 press hits from a PR firm within the prior eight months. They asked what I thought. I said, “fire them, that is pathetic.”
They hunted around and found Todd–the difference was drastic. Within 6 weeks we had over 300 press hits–with even more on the way! They ranged from magazines to newspapers, to radio and also included national and regional television news and talk shows (he was even pitching Oprah).
Todd is a PR pitching machine!
Back to Mackenzie. I was hoping Todd could spend 20 minutes with her… but we got over an hour before he had to leave (we were holding our breath hoping he would not look at his watch). Mackenzie was there, but we also had a small group from ValuSource and all of us were thrilled–we got a lifetimes’ lesson in PR pitching!
I recorded the session and got Todd’s permission to share, so I won’t cover everything, but below is a summary (then listen to the audio–you won’t find this in your textbooks!).
The audio is very informal and starts with me introducing the outline of questions we had for him (blah, blah, blah)–and then I finally shut up and let him talk.
BLOOD, SWEAT & PREP (& UNICORNS)
When asked how he prepared, Todd explained the client education curve and asked, “why would the press care about this?” The press is looking for NEWS. It’s not about a me-too product, it has to be something new, unique.
He said, “They are not looking for horses–they are looking for unicorns.” The press doesn’t care about your success, they want to know why your message is important to their readers–a news peg or hook.
CREATING THE PITCH – THE WINDUP
Press Releases are not important in the first stage. They might be good to put online for SEO and to get your pitch ideas stitched together, but they are not what you pitch to the press.
A news release might have more than 500 words, which is too much. Instead, you need a concise pitch paragraph that is less than 200 words. You should catch the editor in the first 30-40 words. If they have to scroll–the pitch is too big. And it should be about something their audience would like.
It’s all about how you can make their life easier. Also, don’t send an attachment–their filters will kick it out. Instead, deliver a short pitch and they’ll give you a “non-public” email if they want more information and need an attachment.
FINDING YOUR TARGET – THE GLOVE
Todd typically finds his media targets through media market research. He’ll use many of the common media databases like Cision. But he also combs through his target publications or preferred media for folks who have already written about his topic, or a similar area, since they already cover his beat.
Of course, after a while, he pretty much has his own list of contacts by category, along with their preference (days to contact, preferred method (almost always email)). He also updates his list when his contacts get re-assigned to new beats.
THE FASTBALL PITCH
About 1% will accept a cold phone call–so don’t bother. Instead, email your pitch and they will call you. You want to make sure it is media-centric–not egocentric. It is not about you–it is about, “why would his audience care about this.”
Kill the superlatives and never an exclamation point. No hype, just the facts, not the fireworks. Don’t use FREE, Offer – nothing spammy. It should be conversational–tell stories.
Your subject should be concise, “Hey Jeff–story idea…” Not something cutesy or you’re looking to get black-listed (and they look for an excuse).
Initially, and about twice a year you should pitch “expert branding.” Your expertise is the story. You can provide valuable industry information, unique survey data, graphs, case studies.
What about follow-up emails. There should be lots of follow-up emails (he does one about once every 10 days during a campaign). Some writers like your pitch idea, but are buried with a current story–but would like to get a reminder. You might vary the angle but keep to the same topic–don’t just switch over a new topic each month.
Do not do a monthly pitch–that’s not helping. Stay on target until you get a response. Also, the key is to help–don’t hinder.
Some will tell you they have changed their beat but will tell you what to pitch them on if they like your approach.
Regarding your email format, do NOT use HTML, just text–some will block HTML. Your signature should not be loaded up with tag lines, logos, and links–just gets pushed to spam.
Todd usually starts each day by reviewing any press hits to send to his clients so they can respond quickly by posting it to social media–see if they can make it go viral.
But he says do NOT post the latest hits on your web pages–not while in the process of pitching. Some outlets won’t write about you if they think your topic is already covered. They feel they are late to the dance. They want NEWs.
Pitching is hard work–Todd might email pitches to over 100 different outlets each day.
IT’S ALL ABOUT THE TEAM (GROUP HUG…)
PR and Editorial have a symbiotic relationship–each needs the other for content and coverage. It’s great when you have developed enough credibility and you are considered part of the team–and they like to hear from you.
It’s important to add value. Todd will also pitch himself as a press resource 1-2 times per year introducing himself and his clients and letting them know how he can help them. One editor said, “I wish every PR person would do this for me.” The press is very loyal if you can help them.
There are two different newsroom protocols. Some editors assign topics to the writers–so you have the pitch the editor. Others want their staff to present ideas–so you would pitch to the staff.
Todd pitches to both including the writer, producer, editor, but do not pitch to the Editor-in-chief of the big pubs. They don’t assign topics, they have others do that–middle management is the best.
It’s important to know their media preferences. A rare few prefer fax machines, but they see it and respond.
It is critical to always go back and THANK them for their story, plus hashtag them. Tell them the results so their editor sees their work and gets great feedback.
TRACKING & KEEPING SCORE
Todd uses a simple system to track his media contacts including Outlook and a system he developed in-house. He does not use a CRM and definitely does not use any email broadcast system like Constant Contact–he prefers to make everything personal.
He explains that different companies have different success metrics–but the one he prefers is SALES.
THE DUGOUT – RESOURCES
Todd uses two systems to pitch to the press, both are from Cision. HARO (Help a Report Out) and ProfNet (matches experts to reporters). “The key is SPEED–the early bird gets the story,” says Todd. The biggest complaint from the press is that the respondents don’t answer the exact question but often try to spin it to answer a self-promoting question.
- How To Respond to Calls from the Media-Todd Brabender (PDF). Here is an article from Todd that explains how to respond to the media. It’s a little older–but still applicable.
- www.spreadthenewspr.com. Todd’s website.
Need more PR tips? Go to the PR section on Chanimal.com.
Thank you, Todd, for sharing with us the insider tips on How to Pitch to the Press.
Ted (aka Chanimal)