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Pitching’s New Rules: Q&A With Michael Smart

Landing top-tier coverage is every brand’s dream.  But if you don’t approach pitching with the right mindset or media database, reporters will continue to give you the cold shoulder. So how can you ensure you’re following the rules?

Get in on pitching coach Michael Smart’s secrets! At his “The New Rules of Media Pitching” webinar, on Wednesday, February 24 at 2 p.m. ET, Michael will dissect word-for-word examples of successful pitches to show how your brand can get more media placements.

He’ll also explain how to plug up holes in your media lists, implement influencer outreach on social and much more. 

As a preview of what’s in store at his webinar, Michael Smart answered a few questions about media pitching:

Q: With so many brands competing for media coverage, reporters are getting bombarded with pitches. What’s the best way for brands to stand out?

A: Brands can do one or both of the following:

1. Do something stupendously cool that’s way more interesting than simply telling the story of their product or service. In last year’s webinar, I talked about Instructure, the online education software company that offered a college course about The Walking Dead, then sat back and watched the media mentions stream in. Instructure just had a successful IPO on the NYSE in November.

2. Employ savvy media relations people who become the brand in the eyes of key influencers. If I’m a harried journalist or blogger, and I come to trust that Hailey Beem over at Acme, Inc. has always got my back when I’m in a pinch, I probably find myself covering Acme, Inc. more than most other companies trying to get my attention.

Q: According to Cision’s 2015 Social Journalism Study, a significant majority of journalists prefer to be contacted through email. Do you think this is still the case? What role does social media play?

A: Many journalists are happy to connect more casually via social and use it for relationship building. But they don’t like the idea of their audiences and competitors watching the pitching process play out in the open on social platforms like Twitter. That’s why email still rules. And, for as much as journalists request and deserve concise pitches, they understand that most good stories require more than 140 characters to distinguish themselves.

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Q: How much does the subject line affect the likelihood reporters will answer an email pitch? Do you have any subject line tips?

In keeping with my second answer to question one, the best way to get reporters to open pitches is to prove over time that you’re trustworthy and helpful – that way the subject line doesn’t matter as much as the fact that you are the one that sent the email. But when you haven’t yet had time to prove yourself (and you have to start somewhere), then yes, obviously the subject line is key.

Lots of ground to cover here, but a great formula is to tie into something they’ve said in their content or on social. For example, after a reporter tweets how sick he is of getting pitches tied to the Super Bowl, you send an email with a subject line like “Not another lame SB pitch.” When you can’t/won’t personalize your pitches (which usually isn’t a very good idea), channel the type of clickworthy headline their piece will eventually have.

I saw a great pitch after last year’s Super Bowl with the subject line: “Study: Sex doesn’t sell for controversial Carl’s Jr. ad.” Landed Mashable and AdAge. Another example was a thought leadership piece for personal finance columns with the subject line “Budgeting backfires,” which landed both The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. You can see that a contrarian take helps, too.

Q: How do you know which reporters and influencers are the right ones to pitch?

A: When they’ve covered something similar to what you have in mind. Influencers’ most common complaint about PR people is that “they don’t follow my work.”

Q: What are some of the biggest pitching mistakes PR pros make?

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A: See above.

Another is being too formal in pitches.  In my workshops, I talk to really personable, cool PR people who turn into corporatized automatons when you put a keyboard in front of them. Draft your pitches like you would talk to a respected coworker – maybe go easy on exclamation points and emojis, but sentence fragments and common abbreviations are way better than business buzzwords and jargon.

Q: What’s the proper etiquette for following up on pitches?

A: When you believe in an idea and you know you’ve targeted the right people, you owe it to yourself and those you represent to follow up. Best case is when you can add some value to your follow up, such as, “I found these photos that illustrate what I shared with you below. What do you think?”

Short of that, acknowledge how busy they are and explain that you wanted to check to make sure your outreach didn’t fall through the cracks.

Some journalists may hate me saying that, and I empathize with them, because I’ve seen some of the untargeted, irrelevant stuff that they get re-sent to them every day. But when you’re doing the other things we’ve discussed here, then I’ve seen journalists repeatedly thank PR people for being persistent and helping them share cool content they would have otherwise missed.

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Images via Pixabay: 1, 2

About Katie Gaab

Katie Gaab is a content marketing specialist for Cision. Previously the senior editor for Help A Reporter Out (HARO), she enjoys connecting audiences to exciting, new content. She's a dancer, avid concert-goer, foreign language nerd and book worm. Find her on Twitter @kathryngaab.

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