Last week, I participated in a panel discussion that was sparked in part by my blog post on the Art of Pitching the Media. It took place at the Mass Technology Leadership Council Innovation UnConference in Boston and included Scott Kirsner, Innovation Economy columnist for The Boston Globe, and Rodney Brown, news editor for Mass High Tech, along with PR pros Patrick Rafter and Adam Zand.
Our goal was to understand the perspective of both journalists and PR people when it comes to news value, pitching stories and building relationships. As it turns out, journalists do care about the art of the pitch. A good pitch makes the difference between a story in tomorrow’s paper/blog and permanent relegation to a reporter’s junk folder. To stay in the business of helping to shape the news, PR professionals should follow the 11 tips that came out of our discussion:
- Be ready. If a reporter can’t get to the essence of your story within a few questions, you’ve failed. I was thrilled to see an entrepreneur and 2011 Mass Challenge finalist, Erica Zidel of Sitting Around, stand up and deliver an almost perfect pitch to Scott and Rodney. Sitting Around connects families with networks of trusted babysitters. She nailed the problem statement, demonstrated a clear market need, successes to date (2,000 families across the country) and how the company would grow. And she got to the point quickly.
- Know why your story is important. Even companies in stealth mode find themselves speaking to the press, particularly when they secure financing and have to file publicly with the SEC, which often prompts unsolicited media calls. You may not be able to talk about your offering yet, but Scott recommends being able to speak articulately about the problem you are solving and the market you will be addressing. Rodney added, “If you can’t explain the problem you’re solving without giving away the secret sauce, it’s a problem.” On the other hand, if you’re not in stealth mode and cannot articulate these points, you are not ready to speak with the press.
- Make your story concise and targeted. Blanketing your entire media list with the same pitch is often a fruitless effort (and one that annoys reporters). The fire hose approach may be successful for a story here and there, but long-term success, and coverage, is dependent on targeted and intelligent pitching. Chris Carleton of CHEN PR was in the audience and likened the media pitch process to sales: you wouldn’t take a product to market and start selling randomly to unqualified leads, so don’t do it with your media relations either.
- Be honest about who else you are talking to. PR people are often trying to get lots of reporters to write about a particular story. The days of 24x7 reporting have tightened competition, and reporters do not like surprises, particularly when they think they are getting a story before anyone else. Be honest about how widely you are casting your net when you are shopping your story around. For more, see a past conversation with Scott about embargoes.
- Make it easy to check the facts. Reporters almost never send articles to sources before they go to print, but if you have concerns, there are some things you can do. First, ask if it’s making sense during the conversation (thanks to Chris for the tip). Second, follow up with materials that answer the tough questions. (Offering a fact sheet never hurts.) Third, Scott suggests that you make sure the reporter has the spokesperson’s after-hours contact information (as well as the PR person’s) for quick questions as he or she finishes up the story.
- Understand the bar for coverage. Know what the publication you are pitching covers, and understand that it differs. If your company is based in Pennsylvania, don’t pitch it to Mass High Tech (it’s in the name). Likewise, if you’re pitching an enterprise technology story, the technology reporters may not write about you until you have the validation of venture capital financing.
- Don’t get discouraged. You might have done a briefing with a reporter and have not seen a story yet, or have seen a round-up story on your space in which you were not included. Make sure that the reporter is aware of your major milestones and prove why he or she should cover your company. Adam suggests that you bring them a new angle to reignite interest.
- Don’t take it personally. If a reporter ignores your calls, leaves you out of a story or writes something you don’t like, getting angry never works. An angry call to the reporter asking why he or she did not include you will only ensure that you’ll never get coverage.
- Be findable. Scott recently tweeted in frustration about a press release without contact information. If a reporter can’t find a way to reach you quickly on your Web site, in your press materials and on the Web in general, you are at a disadvantage.
- Understand how you fit into the broader trend. If you can provide a broader perspective about your company and how it fits in, you’ve done the work for the reporter and it might even get you a story sooner because the reporter won’t be waiting around to find another company to fill out the piece. As Rodney said, “Do an end run around that randomness.”
- You’re not the only one. There is no reporter (or investor for that matter), who will believe that you do not have competition. Be honest about it, and to the point above, it could actually help you get coverage.