Baffled and disappointed that nobody seems interested in your company’s story?
Your competitors seem to have all the luck, garnering features in blogs and magazines, while the best you get is a lousy mention in a longer article.
I’ve been working in PR for years now, and have a few things to share about why some pitches get results and most others fall flat. While search, social, branded content, and other channels lessen the reliance on good old PR, there’s still something special and coveted about the third party credibility and reach that comes with a journalist profiling your company.
I was reminded of that when moderating a panel a couple weeks back for the Public Relations Society of America. Hearing thoughtful journalists speak from Mashable and Fortune, joined by fellow PR pros, it made me feel that pitching is a lost art that needs to be reintroduced and reformulated for a new generation. I left the discussion inspired, and it got me thinking about a new way to better describe my longtime work.
I’m going to stay away from tangential questions—Do I need an agency? How do I measure success?—and instead hit the meat of the pitch.
Contacts: Start with the basics. Are you pitching the right person at the right publication? With the instant access to identify beats and past stories, it’s troubling that most journalists I talk to get inundated with pitches that are totally off base for what they actually cover. And no, you certainly don’t have to know the reporter to successfully pitch a story.
Opinion: The phrase POV is bandied about a lot. Yet, the vast majority of pitches are devoid of opinion. Instead, most pitches are what reporters rightfully call “self-serving,” and feel more like a sales call than offering perspective and an opinion on larger news trends.
Numbers: A reporter friend once told me a line that’s now on my hard drive: “No number, no story.” Whether it’s estimates on the size of your category, or the increase in expected demand from Asia, a pitch without numbers is at a disadvantage.
Tension: If it’s all puff and great news, then it lacks the tension that is at the core of every story. Think of your pitch like the narrative for your favorite movie or TV show. You need to show some struggle, some oppositional force, and some bucking the odds, in order to get attention.
Results: It doesn’t have to be a full-blown case study, and boasting that you’re “revolutionizing” the industry can be a turnoff, but if there are no customer results you can point to, or if you can’t refer to them by name, or even propose a tangible promise of how you can help them in the future, then you might want to hold off on that pitch.
Anecdotes: What are people other than those in your company saying about what you do? Can you line up those analysts, customers, partners, even academics, and have them share anecdotally about how what you’re doing is unusual?
Demonstrate: What does your venture demonstrate about the larger world or your field of business? Yes, it’s not all about you. Instead, see your efforts as a microcosm symbolizing something much larger—or standing in opposition—to a trend, a movement, a policy.
Images: Does your pitch have a visual, or at the very least create a picture in the mind of a reporter? While an infographic is nice to have, a cool photo of a founder in an unexpected setting can get traction.
Character: It’s more than adding the often-discussed human face or personal element. Instead, you need to cast a central and hopefully colorful character who has, charisma, a way with words, or abundant smarts who can be trained to give “good quote.” Either way, for the pitch to convert into coverage, the reporter needs to feel that your represenative was a good interview.
Timing: Would you pitch a story on Thanksgiving turkeys in April? Of course not. Yet, most pitches are often oblivious to a sense of timing and have an evergreen meets vanilla hue that ignores the most important questions of all: Why now? Why you?
You might have noticed that all these tips spell out CONTRADICT. When pitching your company to reporters, feel free to go against the flow. Be factual and accurate, and make sure the pitch is concise and well written—whether via email, tweet, or yes, telephone—and show you have a new, different, and contrarian story to tell.