Play Your Pitch Right – Relationships & Research

June 16, 2014

George Orwell wrote, “Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed. Everything else is public relations.” Yeesh, Orwell. We all know you were a tough critic of news and media, but this thinly veiled insult stings. If mighty Orwell has this opinion about my profession, this begs the question: how do journalists feel about PR?

Apparently I’m not the only one asking. Google “Journalists and PR” and you’ll find dozens of articles on the subject, ranging in tone from motivating “how to” lists to hostile diatribes. One of the better pieces written earlier this year by The Economist titled “Dear Flacks… Love Hack” compares the journalist-public relations relationship to a bribery negotiation. The author then lists common mistakes we PR flacks make when pitching our client’s news.

So what are these egregious errors? I’ll set aside typos because that is an error made by anyone and everyone, no matter the profession. However, the big mistake, mentioned in all of the advice and complaint articles, cannot be ignored: Pitching the wrong person. Also known as pitching the real estate guy when you want the tech gal. Also known as pitching anyone and everyone with the hope that someone will at least open your email and give you a chance. Also known as spam.

black_shirtWe all know spam is THE WORST. Peeling back the layers even further, this issue is actually about lack of research. There’s really no excuse. In this age of information, we have the ability to conduct outreach to any and all publications and their reporters, using any and all mediums (email, Twitter, phone, and on and on). In other words, if I know that Rob Kardashian didn’t attend the Kimye wedding, I sure as hell should know who writes about startups for The New York Times.

Another way to know whom to pitch is to create – wait for it – actual relationships with reporters. This is why I jumped at the chance to visit the KUOW/NPR studio last month. We were invited to spend a morning at their offices to learn about their team and audience. Did you know that 26 percent of people in charge of IT purchasing in the Puget Sound area listen to KUOW? By creating a rapport with reporters (and yes, even face to face relationships in the digital age), they will learn to trust our outreach and the stories we’re telling. Win-win-win.

Orwell also wrote, “Advertising is the rattling of a stick inside a swill bucket.” So maybe public relations isn’t at the bottom of his list. And if you play your pitch right, journalists will move you up on their list as well.

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