Make Pitches Irresistible Using These Insider Secrets
To pitch well, you have to understand the pressures of reporters and how they see you, says former CBS News executive Batt Humphreys.
One way to get that perspective is to shadow a reporter or producer. But who has the time and access to do that?
With over 30 years of news industry experience, Batt simulated the shadowing experience at his Vocus webinar. He offered an insider’s perspective on pitching, showed how a newsroom operates and provided pitching tips.
Here are some of the top takeaways:
Batt recalled the morning of September 11, 2001. He had his feet up on the console as his morning news show went through a cooking segment. Then, a plane hit the World Trade Center.
That anecdote provides PR pros an important lesson of how news, broadcast and lives can change in an instant, Batt says. Awareness and understanding of that immediacy will give you a tremendous advantage in landing your pitches.
Stand in the producer’s shoes
In every market from New York City to Glendive, Montana producers and executives have a morning meeting where they pitch and decide what stories to pursue.
These meetings weigh the big stories of the day for their target audience, such as crime, government and world and local news.
“After those pitches, comes everything else,” Batt says, mentioning consumer, entertainment and water skiing squirrel stories. “Everything else is your target.”
Within the meetings, competition is fierce and it’s not always pretty, Batt says.
“(Producers) are judged by every pitch they put forth and what they put on the air by their peers,” Batt says.
If you pitch something that they would find embarrassing to say in front of their peers, your pitch will end up in the trash.
“Before pitching, read it, visualize it and think of yourself standing in front of that table and reading that pitch,” Batt says.
“(Your pitch) either makes them look good or it makes them look bad,” he says. “Our whole focus has to be making them look good.”
Tell stories to stand out
No producer or reporter looks forward to reading your pitch. In fact, Batt says pitches are viewed as “nothing, especially if it reads like one.”
“It needs to look, read and smell like a story,” Batt says.
Before crafting your pitch, ask yourself, “What is my story?”
The more compelling, interesting, amazing and relatable it is the likelier it will get picked up. Another factor is whether it has a takeaway, something that touches viewers on a personal level or leads them to change how they act or view the world.
Here are examples of stories that often fit that mold:
- Unique business model
- Breakout product in a new environment
- Good personalities
- Community connection
- A brand’s story/core values
- Company with longevity
Get past gatekeepers
Everyone in PR has had an executive or client tell them that they want to make The New York Times or an equally prestigious outlet.
As Batt puts it, landing publicity in an outlet like that “takes a unique combination of story, pitch, contacts, timing and luck.”
To get it to the bigger stage, you have to create a pitch good enough to pass the hardened producers, editors and reporters who see it.
“The pitch is the point where you open a door of opportunity or close one,” says Batt, noting that a single bad pitch could damage your reputation.
Six ways to make a pitch work
1. Follow the news – Stay alert for events and larger stories that you can weigh in on. Monitor what the outlet runs when the news is slow. You might be able to contribute to these “evergreen” pieces .
2. Proprietary research – Entice reporters with research and data that no one else has. Make sure that the data is real and accurate.
3. Make it easy – “Sometimes the path of least resistance is a more appealing path,” Batt says. Consider the timing and location of your event. If you have a 5:30 p.m. event and it’s a three-hour drive away from the news station, the 6 p.m. news likely won’t cover it. If possible, move the event to a time and location more convenient for the reporter.
4. Keep it simple – A good rule of thumb is that your pitch gets five seconds of attention. Don’t waste time. Create a compelling headline, strong subhead and a hard-hitting introduction.
5. Be genuine – Mass marketing blasts and fake sounding openings will get your pitch thrown in the trash. Also, avoid trying to make yourself sound intelligent and communicate in a personal tone.
6. Timing is everything – Knowing when not to pitch is just as important as knowing when to pitch. If a sensitive story breaks, think twice before trying to inject your brand into it.
Also, before every pitch, check what is happening in the news. If a tragedy strikes just before you send your pitch, your pitch won’t get any attention and you may come across as either insensitive or trying to capitalize on others’ misfortune.
Image: RestrictedData (Creative Commons)
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