The Secrets to Successful Pitches: Q&A With Michael Smart
With more and more people pitching reporters every day, your pitches may be falling under the radar. So how can you make reporters pay attention and respond?
You need to adjust your tactics and learn “The New Rules of Media Pitching.”
At his recent webinar, media pitching coach Michael Smart shared his tips for creating newsworthy pitches, engaging with reporters on social and identifying the outlets your media list may be missing. For more of his wisdom, read Michael’s free report on the “4 Pillars of a Media Relations Master,” available for download here.
During the webinar, Michael answered some of the audience’s questions, but he couldn’t get to all of them. Here, he responds to the remaining unanswered ones:
1. Do you recommend that is better for us to just put our client messages out there on social media so the reporter will “come to us?”
Definitely not. There are too many competing messages out there to rely on the media to come to us. You need to identify individuals for whom those messages will be particularly relevant and carefully and systematically reach out to them one-on-one in the ways I discussed in the webinar.
2. When engaging with journalists via Twitter, do you run the risk of coming off as bothersome or pesky? How can you ensure you come off as genuine?
You can easily come off as pesky to a journalist no matter which channel you use. The best way to “come off as genuine” is to actually BE genuine.
Once you’re sure you understand what’s useful and relevant for your specific media targets, you’ll feel very natural and comfortable reaching out to them, even in a manner that might seem aggressive to someone else. But it won’t be for you and it won’t be for your target influencer, because the subject matter will be so on point that it will be helpful, not annoying.
3. What are your thoughts on pitching from an in-house email address vs. having your PR agency conduct the pitch if it’s a new media target?
Well, if you ask journalists, they always say they prefer to hear from in-house reps. But that hasn’t stopped lots of agency reps from being very successful at pitching.
So it’s much more important to worry about things like message-to-influencer match and the novelty of your story angle than it is to worry about what type of email address that pitch is coming from. That said, I recommend allowing agency reps to pitch from their own email accounts to keep the conversation authentic.
4. What do you think about the value of placing op-eds in high-profile outlets? If it’s worth it, any tips for getting one placed?
Definitely worth it, and one tip is to write the body of the op-ed but leave the lead blank. Wait until something significant happens in the news cycle that relates to your topic. Then craft a new lead that ties into the breaking news on the fly. Then instead of competing against 200 evergreen op-eds, you’ll only be competing against the two or three that are as timely as yours that day.
5. How do you recommend pitching a service like an app? I’ve had trouble with editors/producers saying it’s too promotional. Thanks!
Yes, it’s very difficult to pitch a straight-up product like an app or a book anymore. One approach is to identify a larger social problem, gather some research about various ways people are solving it, and slide your app in as one such example. This is the overarching approach I discussed in the webinar that Erin used to place the pool cleaning company in the Wall Street Journal.
6. Can you talk a bit about how you find time for this stuff when you live in a constant state of “being slammed?”
There are lots of productivity tricks that I could share but the biggest change I’ve seen is when PR people simply step back and make a conscious choice to prioritize the activities that are going to earn them the biggest long-term impact on their careers. I talk about this mindset shift in my free report on the 4 Pillars of a Media Relations Master.
When you make pursuing meaningful media coverage your biggest priority, and you naturally set aside time to connect with the most important influencers to your brand, you naturally set aside time to brainstorm new connections between your subject matter and outside topics that will enliven your pitches. And then you find yourself with key journalists and bloggers reaching out to you on their own after you establish yourself as a valuable resource for them.
7. What tools do you use to assess success in media outreach? Sometimes only reporting UMV or circulation seems weak. Do you ever use analytics to gauge engagement with an article or press release?
The more analytics, the better. Problem is, everyone has different resources and different levels of access to higher-level tools. The best-case scenario is to identify the business solution that your media outreach seeks to achieve, and then identify the incremental metrics that get you there.
For example, you can place a bylined article on a respected website and embed a link to a landing page where a prospect can download a special report. Then you can evaluate: number of clicks on the link, number of opt-ins for the report, and then the customer behavior the people who opted in for the report all the way to closing a sale or donation. If that’s too difficult or impractical for you, just pick one baby step in that direction beyond what you’re doing now.
8. How do you manage clients who don’t/won’t get on board with your creative pitch ideas?
The best long-term approach is to win coverage for them anyway so they start to trust your recommendations. The short-term approach is to show them examples of their competitors or other brands who have a similarly conservative nature achieving success with creative pitch angles. The all-time best example of this is the normally stodgy federal Centers for Disease Control green-lighting a campaign called “how to survive a zombie apocalypse.”
9. Should a communication professional who has multiple clients in completely different industries have multiple Twitter accounts focused on those industries, or is it better to have one Twitter account?
I’m probably supposed to say that ideally it’s better to have different Twitter accounts in different industries, but that’s just not practical. The best results come from authentic one-on-one relationships, and those are most likely to emerge when you are yourself on Twitter behind a single Twitter account.
10. I’m a PR Director for a non-profit. Many of our stories are what would be considered feature pieces. However, journalists that I’m encountering desire “hard news” stories. Any suggestions on capturing media coverage with”soft news?”
Look for a time element that you can connect your feature story idea to. Most often the journalist just needs a really strong reason why they should do your story now as opposed to some big time frame in the future.
11. I’ve sent emails, followed it with a real letter (snail mail), then called only to get voicemail. What should that voicemail say? Ask them to phone me or tell them I’ll be calling again?
Way to be persistent. The voicemail should acknowledge how busy the journalist is and give them a heads up that you just sent an email at 10:13 Eastern time or whatever time it is, so that they will be more likely to open it this time. As you know, nobody ever calls back anymore. Don’t recount all the previous efforts that you made to reach out to them because that can just come off like you are whining that they haven’t responded yet.
12. What if interacting on social media doesn’t work? What do you suggest for personalization besides email?
See the question above 🙂 Any less competitive channel for their attention is a good way to be personal. Snail mail is the most obvious example. You can also comment on some of their least traffic online articles or blog posts.
13. Do you think that health writers are also on the endangered species news desk list? It’s really hard to get them to cover anything that’s not doom and gloom.
This hasn’t been my observation. In fact, health news is one of the topics – along with politics and celebrities and tech – that gets more coverage than they used to, because these are the topics that audiences click on.
Yes, medical journalists will be necessarily captivated by health scares like Ebola or Zika. But in between, they are always looking for the fundamental news-you-can-use stories like the ones you see every Thanksgiving about how healthy cranberries are. Be sure to focus on your news’ IMPACT on readers or viewers.
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