In my day job I’m an entrepreneur, as the founder of a leading PR strategy agency, Snapp Conner PR. But I’m also a frequent speaker on communications and business topics, and as a Forbes contributor, a writer and journalist as well.
Last week I moderated a panel for the Money2020 trade show in Las Vegas. Here’s where things turned interesting. In the final month before the show, somehow my name made its way onto the list of press attendees.
What an eye opener.
I received hundreds of emails. Scores of calls came to our agency. Some even found their way to my cell. Public relations people throughout the U.S. were all being paid by their employers and clients to tout their news to the press and to score commitments for appointments during the show.
First it was funny. Then it was sad. Lengthy pitches. Friendly pitches. Form pitches. Some of the same individuals pitched me again and again. All of this in spite of the fact I was in and out of Las Vegas in a matter of hours and the subjects I cover as a Forbes contributor have no applicability to the things the majority of these poor souls were promoting.
If I were to estimate the salaries and billable hours of the fervent pitches to me alone the cost would amount to tens of thousands of dollars. Multiplied by the hundreds of other reporters who attended this show, the sum exhibitors paid to ply the press likely amounted to a million dollars or more, largely wasted.Do you know how many pitches I responded to? One. It was one of the shortest pitches of the hundreds I received, but it got straight to the point. The PR person addressed me by name (and even spelled it correctly!) Far more importantly, she had tied the idea she was presenting into not one but two of the articles I’d recently written to suggest how the spokesperson and topic would tie into a great future story for me that would build in a meaningful way upon the things I’d already done.
She quickly highlighted the high points of the company’s recent achievements and news. And she suggested a reasonable and convenient way we could follow up together. No pushiness. No form letter. No guile. But it was clear she had done her homework to provide a useful idea that was intended entirely for me.
I wrote back that she had won the jackpot. Out of sheer respect for the time she had taken (probably 20-30 minutes or less) to create a pitch I could actually use, I would find a way to do the interview and create a story. (She responded back that she was so excited she was strongly considering tattooing my message onto her wrist, a la Angelina Jolie.)
What makes the difference between an effective pitch to the press and the hundreds and thousands that find their way into the trash? I am especially interested in this topic since my team is a PR agency ourselves. I also note the words of entrepreneurs like Contributor Jason Nazar, who noted in one of his recent columns that he had originally outsourced his company’s work in social media and PR, with bad outcome, and as a result had taken it back on by himself. And as far as I can tell, he’s met with outstanding success.
Can you pitch the press successfully? Does it always require an agent or an agency? What are the secrets successful entrepreneurs (and successful PR people) know? Pitching the press may be easier than you think. Here are a few golden rules:
- Choose a target. And make sure the target will actually fit. For example, thousands of companies through the years have attempted to pitch Walt Mossberg on writing about products such as network traffic management tools. Yet he specializes in covering products consumers would use. A good fit? Not at all.
- Read the writer’s prior articles. Thoroughly. Read them with an eye for their interests, their themes, and the way your idea would help extend their subject matter further. (Not “I see you wrote about XX, so how about you write about it again?”) When you make your pitch, let the writer know how and where your idea might fit. Think through the idea through the reporter’s eyes—how will this piece be of interest and need to the reader? How will it meet the criteria the publication and the writer’s section and assignments must meet?