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Seven Essential Pitching Tips for PR Pros and Vocus Users

“Never before have PR professionals had such an enormous opportunity to custom tailor pitches to journalists, bloggers, and content creators, who are most likely flocking to sharing sites online,” writes Amber Mac in a Fast Company post which discusses how social media can make bad pitches go viral.

She’s right, of course. She points to egregious pitches writer Austin Carr has received:  political pitches when he covers tech, for example, “a number of which have cited his work for “Fast Car” magazine and suggest stories in the automotive industry.”

Fast Car.  Nice. That might work for someone writing about social media mechanics, but a quick review of Austin’s work tells the PR professional it’s not a fit.

There’s a plethora of sites dedicated to bad pitches. Usually I can’t bring myself to read them, but Amber’s post isn’t just another PR bashing piece – she is quite constructive.  Check out this creative PR pitch that Amber says worked, for example.

It’s the good stuff we want to focus on.  At the Vocus Users Conference last week, a number of customers approached me about pitching tips. Many of them have very compelling stories to share, like the K-12 Teachers Alliance, currently in the middle of the heated debate over standardized tests, charter schools, public school budget cuts and paltry teacher salaries. They have a very timely angle.

Research is the foundation of pitching. As Gini Deitrich wrote this morning in a paraphrase of Mitch Joel, “every, single pitch that is researched and targeted is 100 percent effective.”

It’s the starting point to developing a relationship – we can’t build relationships with off-topic pitches and we can avoid off-topic pitches with a few basic steps.  To that end, here are a few tips for better results – and no surprise it starts with research.

1. Add a photo to the reporter’s Vocus profile. This may seem like a simple thing, but I’ve found it to be invaluable and it’s usually the first thing I do when researching a new reporter. For me photos are a mnemonic device. They remind me who I’m speaking with. They humanize the writer and help me remember details of a reporter’s coverage, beat and the history of our conversations.  You can generally find photos on profiles from Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook – or by simply conducting a Google Image search.  If you don’t have Vocus, consider adding an image to your Excel spreadsheet, or Outlook database. It’s well worth the time investment.

2. Add social links to Vocus profiles. Many social links, such as Twitter, are already included in the profiles. More are being added all the time, but I always go the extra mile and do some digging online to find as much about a given writer as a I can: a personal website, a blog, a Quora profile.  Once you’ve updated these, you can come back to them time and time again, before sending a pitch.  Likewise, if you’re not a Vocus user, this should be a field in whatever system you are using.

3. Do news searches. Vocus gives PR pros a couple of easy tools to do research on reporters.  First, many of the traditional media writers have news automatically linked to their Vocus profile. Second, near the top, there’s a Google icon that will take you to a pre-established search for those that don’t.  Third, Vocus provides several custom places where you can add notes and links.  I try to find RSS feeds – most outlets provide them for writers – that I can add and read before pitching.  Don’t have Vocus?  Use Google News or Blog Search and be sure to dig down deep in the results.

4. Use Twitter Lists. It’s a no brainer for us to follow reporters that follow our space on Twitter, which is why you’ll find Twitter handles in Vocus.  However there’s a smarter way too:  Twitter Lists.  Create specific lists relevant to their coverage and add reporters by beat. Check in on the list throughout the day, or create a curation tool like Paper.li to review the best content of the day.

5. Don’t just retweet — engage. Once you have a Twitter list and have developed a habit of checking in, don’t be afraid to retweet a reporter’s content or reply to posts with insightful commentary.  Reading their content will keep you abreast of trends, and engagement is a demonstration of interest.  I’ve got one important caveat:  Do not retweet content to kiss up – people see through that and you’ll wind up disenfranchising your own followers.

6. Take Notes. A list is just a list unless you keep notes.  Be sure to update the profile with notes about conversations, what was said, or any responses.  Such records will jog your memory months later when you think you’ve got a pitch for that writer.  Vocus also offers a unique email you can use to tag records.  For example, it is my personal preference to send pitches with Outlook, but I put that unique email in the bcc: line and that allows Vocus to associate it with the appropriate writer.  That way I can review what I’ve sent and the response in the future.  This is especially important if you have an interview; keep track of the questions asked and the responses given.  Reporters take notebooks to interviews and so should PR pros!  Yes, it takes a little bit of extra effort, but that’s what separates good from great!

7. Establish Vocus news searches. If you have Vocus News on Demand (NOD), check with your account executive about establishing searches for key words. I have very refined news searches established for key words in order to review content and find reporters, writers and bloggers that don’t show up easily amid the millions of results in Google.

PR pros will get better results sending fewer, focused and relevant pitches — and if you incorporate these tips into your daily work flow, you’ll be able to achieve just that. There was never an excuse for a lack of research before pitching – that’s fundamental in media relations – but as Amber Mac points out, it’s even easier today to get a sense for a writer or reporter’s context.

Interested in finding out how the Vocus Media Database helps you pitch better? Click here.

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