The Art of Persuasive Pitching
Media placement is an art.
Practicing it often requires as much attention
to approach and style as it does to the focus
of your story. While it’s important to know
how to use creative formatting techniques that
can enhance editorial reception to a story (see
Publicity As A Creative Marketing
Tool”) publicists can benefit from mastering
some useful tips prior to approaching, by e-mail,
snail mail or phone, the keepers of the media
Some Basic Assumptions
- Always tell the truth.
Make sure your product or service does what
it says it does and your information is accurate.
If a question is put to you that you do not
have an answer for, indicate to the reporter
you'll get back with the information. If you
don't, the info will come from someone else--and
not necessarily from a source that will help
your organization. Never "imagine" or "fudge"
an answer. Remember, candor equals
credibility. If your organization
has taken an action that has reaped negative
consequences, counsel your client to admit
the mistake (unless the client is
constrained from doing so by legal counsel).
Negativity can also be mitigated if you can
anticipate a reporter's tough question, and
frame an answer that puts the action into
historical perspective; or by developing
a positioning statement that
lessens the harshness implied in the question.
(For example, when a poisonous substance infiltrated
Tylenol bottles, the company issued the statement
that "we are victims too").
- Know your outlet before you call.
Have you read the magazine or newspaper in
advance? Have you watched the tv program?
Have you listened to the radio show? With
print media, do you know the specific beat
of the editor or reporter you intend to make
contact with? Have you read his/her stories?
It's fine to cold call but don't cold call
blindly (unless there really is vagueness
about that person's turf).
- Attitude. There are some
p.r. people whose emotional lives seem to
count on an editor's acceptance; and who feel
like failures when the editor says "no." "Unattachment"
is the best attitude. "Unattachment" doesn't
mean "detachment" or "apathy." It means coming
from a centered place, with self-confidence
in yourself and your ability to communicate
a story effectively - but without being attached
to the outcome. You'll find this a liberating
approach, one that disallows you from becoming
intimidated by an editor or producer, and
one that enables you to return to the same
person in the future with no regrets. When
an editor perceives that you are not overly
emotionally invested in a story, you may actually
get a better hearing. Be warm & polite, professional...and
clear. See that individual as a peer and colleague.
If they're brusque in the moment, they may
be having a bad day. Simply ask if there's
a better time to get back to them.
- That said, believe in your story and believe in yourself.
The best p.r. people see themselves as resources of news and
information who work with journalists to fill valuable time &
- Be more empathetic than sympathetic.
Being empathetic enables you to build on what
was said and respond with alternate approaches.
Being sympathetic means you've probably foreclosed
the possibility of an alternate approach.
- Get out of the reporter's way.
When you're providing a reporter, editor or
producer information where the story is time-sensitive,
relay the information and get out of the way.
There's a time for pitching an idea, and there's
a time for simply relaying information. In
the case of the latter, act like an editorial
assistant. Do your job and get out. You'll
earn the journalist's respect when you do
- Don't waste their time.
When you call, communicate in sharp and crystallized
fashion, the essence of the story. Keep it
brief, respect deadlines and ask in advance
if the moment is ok for that editor/ producer.
NEVER call when you know an editor is under
deadline pressure. Keep your message on-point
and as brief as possible, but craft it in
a compelling and creative way that will earn
- Personalize. I've seen
too many impersonal, photocopied pitch letters,
whether via e-mail or snail mail. If you send
something in advance to a call, or as a follow-up
to a call, personalize. Don't be overly chummy
(unless you've been on good terms with that
journalist for a long time). But keep sensitive
to the fact that you're a human being, and
you're communicating with a human being. For
e-mails, craft a provocative phrase
in the "subject" area. Too many e-mail messages
get unread without a compelling lead.
- Listen to the editor. It's
as important to listen as it is to talk. Be
sensitive to any verbal feedback, cues or
clues that can assist you in fine-tuning your
pitch. Keep your antennae fully extended.
- Respect the 'no' and be prepared for it. Ask quick, important questions: What is
it about this story that doesn't seem right for you? Is there anyone else for whom
this story might work better? Suggest how the story can be adapted to the outlet's
needs. Best of all, suggest three to five different angles in advance. This reduces
chances for rejection.
- But when you get your final no,
let it go and release it. YOU haven't been
rejected, just your story. And if you've handled
the approach professionally and cordially,
you'll always be able to come back with another
story at another time. Regard your list of
cultivated contacts as resources and investments
for the long-haul, not for quick fix purposes.
- Occasionally, pass along an item
of interest that lies outside your
own sphere of self-interest. Be someone who's
not always out to get something. Also, supply
your most important contacts with your home
- Get out from behind your desk.
The better you get to know the journalist
on a one-to-one basis, the better your chance
of a receptive ear.
- Getting beyond voice mail.
Leave a succinct, provocative, targeted message.
If you don't hear from them in two days, try
calling early, or leave a message with an
editorial assistant or colleague. Call back
that other person to learn if your message
was received and if there's a return message.
Sometimes, you can ask the switchboard for
the department that person works in, rather
than a specific voice mail.
That said, believe in your
story and believe in yourself. The best p.r. people
see themselves as resources of news and information
who work with journalists to fill valuable time &