Perfect Pitch In A Tough New Media World

Time was, I really looked forward to getting up every morning and finding a newspaper on my doorstep. More than one, actually; as a news junkie, I made it part of my daily routine to devour at least three papers daily. Boy, have times changed. These days I reach for my mouse and begin scouring news, social media and various other information sites. So do you, I’m betting — according to a Pew Research Center survey, a third of Americans younger than 40 cite the Internet as their main source of news. As the latest rounds of retrenchments, bankruptcies and layoffs demonstrates, the digital revolution has ravaged circulation numbers and ad revenues – and that plus an economy in crisis have shaken newsrooms to their cores. Not surprisingly, those of us in the public relations industry are feeling the trickle-down impact, too.

With circulations at their lowest point in 60 years, the bloodletting has become downright alarming – for example, some of the largest newspapers in the U.S., including The New York Times, the Chicago Tribune and the Miami Herald have dumped some of their most seasoned journalists. As a result, those staffers left behind are facing double workloads; besides meeting daily deadlines, journos are now required to continuously update Web sites, blogs and a growing number of other multimedia sources being launched by their employers in their bids to stay relevant and profitable. Because they’ve got so much on their plates and so little time, getting journalists’ attention has become tougher than ever. As industry experts, it’s up to us to find new and compelling ways to reach these folks, and the only way we’re going to keep securing those all-important hits is by readjusting, refocusing and re-strategizing.

Great, but where to begin, right? First and foremost, put yourself in your contacts’ shoes. As a former television news producer, this is second nature for me. But if you’ve never worked as a journalist, that’s okay. I’ll let you in on five strategies that work for me every single time:

  1. Make Pitches Newsworthy No ifs, ands or buts. You cannot just pitch a product; you need a hook. That means selling a plausible trend, a unique angle or a newsworthy topic associated with your client or product.
  2. Mold the Pitch to the Beat No generic or blind pitches! Especially these days, there’s just no excuse for it — it’s not hard nor too time-consuming to research a reporter and investigate who’s covering topics relevant to your client. Cision and other media-targeted resources provide just this kind of data for millions of journalists, topics that interest them, how they like to hear pitches, and even if they prefer phone, e-mail or snail mail. Careful targeting is key.
  3. Provide A Complete Story Package That includes solid, credible research, images, experts, testimonial-providing customers, and when relevant, product samples. Don’t offer anything less.
  4. Do the Legwork for Journalists This is an extension of Point No. 2 above. If you want them to bite, you must make it as irresistible as possible not just in terms of content but also convenience. For busy people, the more work you do, the less they have to do, so offer to coordinate all interviews and spoon-feed them as much usable info and message points as you can.
  5. Exceed Expectations This should really be a no-brainer, but it’s important enough to bear repeating anyway. Don’t give in to laziness. Provide accurate information. Don’t miss a deadline. Journalists rely on us to provide good, usable content, and if you prove yourself to be a good contact, I guarantee they’ll come back to you time and time again.

I’ve been asked if some people just have media-pitching “karma.” No such thing: All you need is confidence, knowledge, a certain amount of articulateness and of course a newsworthy topic. Those qualities are going to be more critical than ever in 2009 and beyond, because we certainly haven’t seen the last of the media layoffs. The reality is that both PR providers and consumers will find themselves working harder than ever – but it can be done. So roll up your sleeves, and good luck!