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The art of the pitch

August 12, 2010

No matter how social media savvy our world gets I always think there will be a place for “traditional” media and media outlets. Newspapers and television stations will have to flex and adapt with the times but the craft of journalism remains an important one – and a very harassed one.

Public affairs flaks such as myself will always need the media. It’s a fact. And any public relations professional who doesn’t admit that needs to do a bit of a reality check, in my mind. When I worked in Army Public Affairs I always worked as though I had three equally important constituencies to serve – the American Soldier, the American citizen, and the reporter or blogger looking to tell a story. If I didn’t serve all three, I wasn’t doing my job. I always looked at my role in public relations as one of customer service –  and if the customer ain’t happy, I won’t have luck when I need them.

Working in social media moved me a bit farther away from “traditional” media pitching but I certainly always tried to maintain contact with media outlets. To consider social media to be an end of itself misses the point. It’s about communities, and journalists certainly have a role in promoting, amplifying and advancing those communities.

There are no secrets to great pitching, in my mind, but I always consider a few points when I’m reaching out to reporters. If you’re in the media, I’d love to hear your thoughts on these:

1. Don’t take yourself too seriously. This applies to pretty much every part of my life but especially to media pitching. I suppose I’ve known too many public relations “experts” who act so rigid you’d swear they sent their e-mails through a legal review. Have a little fun, enjoy yourself, and I’ve found that most (not all) reporters will enjoy what you have to say a bit more, too.

2. Try to be genuine. There’s nothing worse than the plastic pretension public relations person. Key for me is promoting products or issues I agree with. That’s a luxury to many, but a requirement for me. I just can’t promote something I don’t on some level believe in. And trust me, for the right price and with enough wine, I can make myself believe anything! Just kidding.  (See point 1, above) That said, not every pitch is great. If I’ve got one that’s a bit odd, I admit it. Public relations professionals who try to put lipstick on pigs generally only end up making themselves look ridiculous.

3. Make it personal. Most public relations firms get this one, but I’m still surprised by the number of press release “spammers” out there. If you’re going to fill the poor journalist’s inbox, at least try to make him or her feel special. Most news or announcements can be tailored depending on the outlet – and it should be the job of the public relations expert to go to that work, not the journalist.

4. Be emotionally prepared for failure. As long as I’ve been in public affairs I’ve always accepted the fact that not everyone will appreciate what I’m doing. I’ve been yelled at on the phone, publicly shamed by bloggers, and at the end of the day, I’ve been able to stand by what I do, and even more important, keep a smile on my face. I’ve gone on to work with many of the same reporters or bloggers who have at one point scorned me. Which goes to show that this is the wrong business for someone who holds a grudge! I understand how stressful the media world is, and I’m always the first to give a reporter the benefit of the doubt – because I hope they’ll do the same for me.

Are you a PR pro? I’d love to hear your pitching tips, as well!

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One Comment leave one →
  1. SFC Pete Mayes, Public Affairs Officer, 101st Sustainment Brigade, 101st Airborne Division permalink
    August 16, 2010 7:12 pm

    Great comments! I couldn’t agree with you more!! Sounds like you’ve really grown and developed in this mighty, mighty Public Affairs field! keep up the great work! Lifeliners! Air Assault!!

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