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Gini Dietrich

How to Pitch a Story Like a Pro and Get Results Every Time

By: Gini Dietrich | June 14, 2012 | 
156

Dear PR Pros,

Why must we continue to have this conversation?

Is it because you’re too busy “pitching” to read anything about your industry? Perhaps you don’t read blogs, in general? Are you so busy following up with the 10,000 spam emails you send to journalists that you just don’t have time to actually learn how much more effective pitching would be if you built relationships? Is it because relationship building takes time and you only have time to send one email? Or is it because the industry is still rewarding you for results in coverage instead of business growth?

Whatever the reason, stop it. Stop it now.

I just read an article Amber Mac wrote for Inc.

She says:

Every day I immediately delete about 20 percent of the messages in my inbox. Historically, the emails I trashed were mostly relegated to Nigerian scams and requests for cash from someone “unable to access” his pending inheritance. Fortunately, Gmail spam filters have helped to abolish most of these. Unfortunately, these same filters can do nothing for the endless stream of PR pitches that assault my inbox that are often irrelevant, impersonal, and, dare I say it, lazy.

I’d venture to guess I delete about the same percentage…and it’s not my name that’s listed as the chief content officer at Spin SucksLisa Gerber, how many pitches do you delete every day?

When Mitch Joel and I did our first podcast together, we talked about why most PR pitches suck.

He said something that really resonated. He said (I’m paraphrasing) every, single pitch that is researched and targeted is 100 percent effective.

Think about that. If you build a relationship with a blogger or a journalist and you pitch them what you already know they write about, you will hit a homerun every time.

It’s not that hard. It’s definitely much easier than it used to be. When I started my career we had big, green Bacon’s books. And we had only a few sets for 200 people. So you check out the books, look up the journalists in the industry, copy the pages, find the most recent magazine or newspaper articles they’d written – in hard copy – you’d read and then you’d pick up the phone and call them.

Now you can look up a journalist or blogger on Twitter and discover in less than five minutes not only what is interesting to them, but also where they write (and on which topics). Then you can switch over to their blog or online media and read a few articles or posts on the topic you’re about to pitch.

Yes, it takes longer, but it’s much more effective.

Gone are the days of cold calling and so are the days of mass pitching. Wouldn’t you rather know that if you pitch five journalists in one day, four of them are going to run a story, rather than send 10,000 emails and maybe get one bite?

Those odds seem pretty darn good to me.

Think about it. Do better. Let’s stop having this conversation.

With love,

Gini

 

About Gini Dietrich


Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro.

142 comments
rustyspeidel
rustyspeidel

I tried this the other day. 3 for 5. Awesome!

ginidietrich
ginidietrich

@michaeltriley As my mom would say: Some people's children!

ryancox
ryancox

Just read this @ginidietrich . You're, well, moderately smart. It's very becoming. 

EdwardSmith1
EdwardSmith1

Fantastic advice, I coach authors how to get on TV and you wrote what I spend most of my first session with clients on.  Thanks, Edward Smith. 

bdorman264
bdorman264

Yes, relationships do matter and it's worth taking the time to develop them.

 

Hey, that was better than 'great post' at least..........

audreyschroder
audreyschroder

I think people these days are afraid to pick up the phone and pitch. Real pros know that often the quickest and most effective tool is the phone, not email. Loved the reminder especially as I am preparing for an event coming up!

LauraScholz
LauraScholz

First of all, thanks for reminding me that I am old, because I totally remember those Bacon's books. Second of all, the important thing about a good pitch formed out of a quality relationship (or at least enough research to start and build one) is that it starts a dialogue. I hardly ever get "no" or no response from journalists--instead, we immediately begin a conversation about how we can make it the best story possible. I actually just landed a huge media sponsorship for a client because I've kept in touch with the magazine's publisher for over a year online, re-posted her content regularly, met her for coffee (which was generous on her part) and waited until I had the exact right fit to approach her (and the approach was editorial--the sponsorship was an extra gesture on her part). A year's worth of work with a huge payoff for everyone involved. And wouldn't have been accomplished if I'd been sending her crap and/or mass emails during that time or hadn't stopped to get to know her.

Sean McGinnis
Sean McGinnis

And you want to make it easier for them to do this via automated writing bots?

 

Bwahahahahaha!

ginidietrich
ginidietrich

@lisagerber Is it possible to eradicate douchebaggery?

jwalcher
jwalcher

We've heard this a million times, and just can't hear it enough. Thanks for the reminder. I can send it to my staff without coming off like a noodge. (I remember those big green books...those were the good 'ol days!).

magriebler
magriebler

Unfortunately, we keep having the conversation because we forget this basic rule of thumb: A pitch ultimately should never be about us. It must contain a clearly articulated benefit to our audience, whether it's a journalist or a blogger or a client. No benefit; no luck with the pitch. It's that simple and that difficult!

geekgiant
geekgiant

 I take issue with the assertion that it is "easier" to research a potential person because of social media. In the example you give of using Bacon's, you referenced only one channel to reach an influencer: The telephone. Compare that with today: Twitter, Facebook, blogs, contributed articles, YouTube, email and maybe phone. Building a relationship on a single channel is difficult as attention and mind-share are so distributed and there is less of a "genuine" connection because of the distributed interactions. Add to that the difficulty of tracking down reliable contact information for specific writers and you get a good recipe for lazy, spray and pray pitching.

 

Doing the homework and being smart with researching appropriate influencers and outlets should be the starting point of any pitch.  

jennwhinnem
jennwhinnem

I just got a request from a freelancer to write a blog for me about injuries sustained from vibrating work tools. Um, that's not what my org's blog is about.

Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

Dear Gini Dietrich

 

My client makes the best riding lawn mowers in all of Iowa. We are announcing a new model that has a built in beer huggy and a remote control starter. We would love for you to do a story about our new model in your really well read blog.

 

Thank you.

 

George.

RebeccaTodd
RebeccaTodd

While I am not in PR and do not know much of your secret ways, I find this post applies to my work in sales.  I would rather spend time with 2-3 valued, vetted contacts per institution then rush around to see 20+ just to show my due diligence.  Now don't get me wrong I love busy days (my record was 21 calls in 5.5 hours this fall, all wonderful people and great connections), but only when meeting people with whom I have something to offer, to respect both their time and my own.  I have worked in sales roles where you are given a hard target of so many face to face calls a week, and found, much like you say here, I would much rather meet 5 pre-qualified customers and have 3 move forward with me than run around aimlessly to meet an empty quota. I personally research every potential customer I meet to be sure that I have something relevant and helpful to say to them, and am surprised by how many of my competitive colleagues do not. Taking the time to show a very real interest in my customers gives us a starting point from which to build our relationship. I appreciate you putting some facts and figures to this, even if I go and make it all about sales. 

lauraclick
lauraclick

Love, love, love, love. 

 

Why is it that the more information easily/readily available, the lazier people get? I guess this just means that the people who know what they're doing are going to continue to demolish the competition because they'll be able to stand out from all of the crap and clutter out there.

 

Relationships still matter. And, perhaps more so now than ever before. Yes, it takes time, but the payoff is SO much greater.

 

KensViews
KensViews

Amazes me that in today's day and age, you'd even need to dedicate a post to this. Sadly, you do.

CourtV
CourtV

You know what really boggles my mind? Where are these people getting their target outreach list from? I think it'd be interesting to know how much time they put into not only finding the people, but also aimlessly pitching all of them and if they ever see any results at all. The best part is that there are sooo many tools out there to help you target better (and are much easier than Bacon's), which obviously equals much better results. If you check out traackrone.com there are hundreds of top 50 influencer lists done for you (yes, I do work for Traackr, but just couldn't see a way around mentioning this)! Subscribe to a list and voila, you actually have RELEVANT and engaged influencers at your fingertips. Aside from Traackr One there are a ton of other tools out there as well - just find one that works and utilize it. Now, the process of engagement with the people that come up on these lists is up to the professional...and I suppose a good starting point would be to read this blog post again ;) 

Lisa Gerber
Lisa Gerber

Somewhere out there, there is a template for guest blogger pitches for lazy PR people. It goes something like this:  

 

Insert suck-up/ brown nose sentence here.

Talk about yourself and how many years you've been in business and how you are the world's leading blah blah blah. 

Offer a guest post and use these words "custom article, prepared specifically for you and unique to you." 

We can't wait to hear from you. 

Love, 

The Car Insurance Company or something totally unrelated. :) 

 

I don't even count how many I delete any more. 

 

It will never ever be easy to do media relations. And it takes a lot of time. We won't accept a guest contribution from someone who is just doing it for the inbound link. We want people who are interested in being a part of the discussion and sharing their expertise, and also want an inbound link and some exposure.

 

That whole word "relations" after media? Yeah, that's half of it. 

MikeSchaffer
MikeSchaffer

I totally agree, but with some caveats.

 

I think there is a time and a place for "mass-pitching." 

 

Here are the rules I use:

 

1) When a story is HOT news that needs to get out NOW.

2) When client budgets don't afford you the time to do the research and relationship-building you would want to do.

3) When you don't expect/anticipate placement, just media awareness.

 

Over my career, I've had countless stories placed BECAUSE the drip of information got a reporter interested in a client. The "wow, I've seen the stuff you've got going on...let's talk!" factor does work.

 

When you work in an agency with a diverse array of clients (size, scope, industry, staff), it's impossible for every pro to build relationships with every relevant media member.

 

But, absolutely, when you can avoid the mass pitch, steer clear.

terreece
terreece

One of the sites I manage is all about Columbus, Ohio - things to see and do kindof stuff. I carve out 10 mins to go through the pitches with finger poised on the delete button because so many have absolutely nothing to do with Columbus.

 

I love getting stuff for events in Washington State or my favorite of all time (so far)  - a release on monkey research. Now Columbus has quite a few higher ed and research facilities...this had nothing to do with any of them. Sure I could have used those facilities and interviewed sources there to put a local spin on it, but that's not the kind of thing we put on the site.  Crazy!

NabeehaKazi
NabeehaKazi

Agree totally and you're actually touching upon an even deeper issue here:  Having substantive knowledge of industry, sector, your client/cause and the environment in which they/it operates. 

 

I'm not saying that you need to have a PhD in the sciences to effectively "pitch" a science story, but have some really solid background - and if you don't have it, find someone to help.  In my 10 years at a big agency I saw the evolution of client expectations of their teams.  It was no longer about simply being really good at PR (whatever that means) - it was about having individuals who knew the product, mission and environment, and could bring unique and relevant perspectives with little to no learning curve.  The same holds true in pitching  - it's about having an informed conversation and finding compelling and unique points of view that are worth sharing with others.  As you've said  this is the kind of effort that yields results. 

 

Gini - maybe if we did more this when we little AEs pitching juce, bread, soy protein, catfish, etc. we could have pitched 10 reporters, secured 6 stories and then gone dancing for the rest of the month!  :) 

bradmarley
bradmarley

I give this post two thumbs up and a snap.

 

Maybe we need to go back to the days of the hard copy Bacon's books, if only to force the lazy PR professionals to physically do some research. We have so much new technology at our hands to make our jobs easier, yet, we fail to use it wisely.

 

There's a reason posts like these continue to get written.

martinwaxman
martinwaxman

When will we ever learn? Hopefully soon!  Why can't people remember relations is part of our name and act accordingly.  I do think part of the problem may be due to the way we look at billable hours as maximizing time/volume versus a quality approach.  That also requires a shift in mindset and hopefully it happens soon.

 

And while we're on the subject, I just got pitched for Inside PR this morning with an offer of a 'dynamic radio guest available for immediate booking'.  So I'm going to book her right now...not.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich

@KSinTucson Thanks! It makes me crazy we still have to have this conversation

JodiEchakowitz
JodiEchakowitz

Sadly, there are a few bad eggs in the industry that continue to ignore the great advice being given to them. I'm convinced that the PR folks who read your blog are the ones that do actually take the time to research media/bloggers, understand what they write about, and build a relationship with them - before actually pitching them. We're the ones that want to take the time to learn how to fine tune our skills so we can constantly achieve great results. The PR folks that continue to use "spray and pray" tactics would probably never make the time or effort to read an educational blog post like this one - even if it meant it would help them be more effective in the work they are doing. So if they're not prepared to educate themselves, how else can we get the message across? 

FlipSwitchPR
FlipSwitchPR

Good info here, if you don't know already RT @ginidietrich How to pitch stories like a pro & get results every time #PR http://t.co/zhwrtuGX

John Fitzgerald
John Fitzgerald

I think alot of it has to do with being able to say, "We sent the pitch out to 100 blogs and got 3 to pick up the story," instead of "We sent the pitch out to 5 blogs and we got 3 to pick up the story."

 

It may just be that sending a pitch to everyone makes their boss feel good.

MichaelBowers
MichaelBowers

I think you hit it on the head when you called it "lazy". People have replaced quality with quantity because of the ease of reaching people on the internet. Unfortunately, in many cases this has become a number's game. 

John_Trader1
John_Trader1

It's also important to note that at times, the first contact with a journalist need not be a pitch. Sometimes it's commenting on a post. Other times its alerting them to a piece of research that may alter an article they previously wrote causing them to write a follow up piece (this happens a lot in tech). Sometimes it's commenting on their personal tastes or something that is of interest outside of their 9 - 5 job. Be real. Be personal. They like it.

polleydan
polleydan

Yes, yes and yes. I can't believe the PR pitches I get for my food blog. Some of them are so irrelevant to the blog topics that it's clear they are just doing searches, finding contact info and sending out their pitches. It's so frustrating.

benrothermel
benrothermel

@jasonkonopinski @spinsucks Great article!

rachaelseda
rachaelseda

Amen sister! Stop being lazy people, I promise it will not start to pay off!

Corinne Marasco
Corinne Marasco

I used to anchor the career and employment beat for a scientific association's newsweekly magazine. Our target audience was chemists, chemical engineers and allied professionals. I would get pitches about books as well as individuals where it was obvious that the PR person hadn't done his or her homework. I used to just delete them and when I did get a follow up phone call, the person on the other end of the phone was a young person, probably just out of college and learning the ropes.

KenMueller
KenMueller

Dear Gini,

 

This is a metaphor for a lot of what we've been talking about the past week or so. This is how all of us should be running our businesses. Relationships vs. Cold Calls. It's a no brainer. Be human. It's so simple and yet ignored. 

 

Smooches,

 

Ken

 

P.S. I think I'll nominate you for the CLASSY Awards. Oh...wait...I mean SASSY Awards.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich

@EdenSpodek Why is it so hard? I mean, really.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich

@sophie180 It makes me crazy we still have to have this conversation

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