Top Tips for Pitching from a Former AP Broadcast Editor
By Lisa Matthews
It seems like only yesterday that I served as a panelist for the Washington Women in Public Relations annual media roundtable – and now I’m preparing to moderate this year’s discussion on October 29. (Register here.) Prior to hopping the fence to public relations at Hager Sharp, I worked as a planning editor and assignment manager for AP Broadcast. Yes, for those who still don’t realize it, the Associated Press has an entire broadcast division. During that time, I’m sure that I received hundreds if not thousands of pitches – many of which ended up in the circular file, also known as the TRASH.
While on the desk, I realized that there was a sincere interest from PR folks to understand why we PASSED on a pitch. Back then, I would actually take time to explain the reason in hopes of not receiving another LAME pitch from the same person. I later learned that very gesture was not only unique – but odd!
In that role, I had the flexibility to take the time with folks, but that’s certainly not the case in most newsrooms. In fact, being on the other side now, I realize that most editors and reporters won’t even give you the courtesy of a “thanks” or “passing”.
So, what’s the pitching PR pro to do?
Here are a couple of points to consider:
BUILD RELATIONSHIPS—THEY ARE IMPORTANT
I know we’ve all heard this before, but it’s true. It’s up to you to take the time to get to know the reporter or assignment editor. I can hear people silently asking, but how, Lisa? How? How do I get to know the people who are likely to hang up on me or ignore my email?
There’s no secret sauce I can offer. I can only suggest that you treat them as you would any other person you want to get to know. Think about how you approached fellow students on your first day in high school. Find out what you have in common – whether it is work related or not. Yes, this is going to take some time, but it will make a world of difference. Honestly compliment them and their work. The key there is to be honest. There’s still the perception that PR pros are just another version of a used car or timeshare salesman. Or worse.
Regularly interact with key reporters and editors on social media, email and in person when possible. Approach them as you would like to be approached, keeping in mind their needs and deadlines. There’s a mug on my desk that reads: “Feel free to get to the point.” That was my mantra when I was on the news desk, and it remains so.
DON’T SILO YOUR EFFORTS.
It’s a really big media world out there now. Have a plan before you start sending out pitches. Be strategic. By all means, pitch “traditional media,” but if you’re getting crickets, there are other ways to create buzz. In fact, you should be thinking comprehensively: social media, the blogosphere, podcasts, etc. Insert yourself into the world of news professionals whenever possible. Get involved as an associate member of professional journalism organizations and engage with the decision makers.
There’s so much more I could say here, but you are better off coming to the roundtable to learn more. I’m looking forward to the discussion with working journalists about how they prefer to be engaged by PR pros and what the future holds for our business. We will be meeting on Thursday, October 29th from noon to 1:30p at the American Chemical Society. You can register online.
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