Mary Anne Keane

Pitch Perfect: The Mechanics of Media Relations

By: Mary Anne Keane | April 23, 2014 | 

Pitch a Home Run: The Mechanics of Media RelationsBy Mary Anne Keane

Several years ago, I was contracted by an agency to coordinate a multi-city product launch for a well-known, global company.

My job was to plan and oversee every aspect of the event in all 14 markets throughout the U.S., sans the media relations.

I was on event number two and sitting in the hotel “war room” preparing for the day.

As I sat tying up loose ends, I couldn’t help but overhear the three junior account execs who were making last-minute calls to the media.

Listening to their pitches was as painful as nails being slowly dragged across a chalkboard. I cringed with every call they made.

The conversation went something like this: “Hi, my name is Jane Smith, and I’m calling to see if you will be attending the ABC Company event today.”

That was it.

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. They had so much with which to work. The number two in command for this global powerhouse was going to be in town, as well as a popular sports icon and all you can ask is, “Are you coming to today’s event?”

Needless to say, while the events landed the company some incredible business deals, the media coverage was dismal.

I truly felt sorry for these young PR professionals. While they had a well-written news release, they didn’t know the first thing about the media they were pitching, the event’s key messages, or how to appropriately followup.

Because baseball season is upon us, and I am a huge baseball fan (Go White Sox!), I’m going to use a baseball analogy for successful pitching. Get it? Baseball. Pitching. Okay, moving on.

(Note from Gini: As a Cubs fan, it pains me not to delete the aforementioned baseball team.)

The Windup

When a batter walks up to the plate, they know everything there is to know about the pitcher they’re facing. Is he a lefty or righty? Does he throw a knuckleball or curveball? The list goes on and on.

When you’re pitching the media and looking for a grand slam, you better know everything there is to know about the outlet, and the reporter/producer you’re pitching.

Paid subscriptions to media database sites such as Cision or Vocus offer in-depth profiles and contact information for journalists and bloggers.

Whether you have access to these sites or not, you should read the journalist’s articles to get a feel for the content they cover and their writing style. Follow them on social media networks, particularly Twitter where most major media contacts can be found. Comment on their articles or blog.

There is a fine line between following someone and stalking someone, so be aware. When replying to a tweet or commenting on a blog post, respond intelligently. If you don’t have anything of value to add, you’re better off not commenting at all.

The Swing

Once you are armed with some great information about the outlet and the person you want to pitch, it’s time to think about the relationship.

How do you connect?

Are you going to swing wildly hoping for a home-run or sit back and wait for the perfect pitch?

Depending on your objective, there are two things to consider: You could send an email introducing yourself and your client, and offer him/her as a resource for their next article. This is a great option if your client can be seen as an industry expert and has the background to back it up.

A second option is to remain patient and wait for a story to develop. Perhaps your client has a new product coming out, a service that is seasonal, or a dynamic CEO who is comfortable commenting on a hot topic.

Setting up alerts with services such as Talkwalker or  Google will keep you informed on relevant topics and can spark an idea for a great pitch.

The Follow Through

If a baseball player doesn’t follow through on a swing, they won’t generate as much power when they connect with the ball. This can mean the difference between hitting a single or hitting a grand slam.

The same thing is true for media relations professionals.

We can research our media contacts, write, and distribute a spectacular release, but without the proper followup, a great story may be lost among hundreds of other pitches bound for the recycle bin.

Today, the media receives pitches by phone, fax, email, and even social media networks. Your story might be perfect for the outlet, but never made it to the appropriate person.

I recently pitched a client event that had all the makings of a great story. I was careful to create a strong and compelling subject line, and emailed the release.

Included in the email were a couple of sentences describing the event and bullet points with key opportunities for interviews.

I received one call from NBC who saw the release and confirmed they would be there.

The other networks had me resend the release because they didn’t even remember seeing it.

Had I not followed up with them, our client’s event would have not received the coverage it did.

I gave my best sales pitch as to why this event was perfect for their audience, and in the end, the event received coverage from NBC, ABC, and FOX.

Not all pitches end up with this type of coverage, but not all pitches warrant it. The best way to build a relationship with the media is to provide them with story ideas they can use.

If you are consistent in offering solid pitches, the next time they need a resource for an article guess who they’ll call?

That’s right – you!

About Mary Anne Keane

Mary Anne is a marketing communications professional with more than 20 years experience serving a diverse client base, from international not-for-profits to some of the country's largest corporations. She specializes in project management where she is skilled at assessing clients' needs, incorporating their direction, and ultimately producing results.

  • OK, so I’m reading this thinking.. hmm.. bit of confused metaphor in the headline?  I mean, I’m not a baseball guy, but I don’t think that one typically wants to pitch a home run. That means you let the other player hit it out of the park.  But wait.. that’s brilliant!  In this sort of pitching, you’re not adversarial, you’re looking for the old win-win.. and, to your point about knowing what the media needs, the perfect pitch is the one that will make the journalist and media outlet a winner.  Play ball!
    (BTW, as I say, I’m not much of a baseball guy.. which may explain why I’m also a Cubs fan…)

  • creativeoncall  Hahaha, I was getting a little confused about the baseball metaphor, too, but I, like you, am not a big baseball fan (and thus, I do love me some Cubbies).

  • All I kept thinking through this whole piece was “Keep your eye on the ball, son. Git it?? Eye! Ball??” Foghorn Leghorn. LOL The baseball metaphor aside, I love how you set this up, to really emphasize the most important part – the follow through!! Amazing how many people miss things, etc., but who would be receptive if they only knew.

  • Staying with your analogy of baseball, I find it helpful to bunt for a while (give stories) until you have perfected your swing and have everything on the bases so when you take that full swing, all runs come on home for the big score. (Gosh I hope I used baseball terminology correctly; wish you could have used shoe shopping as an analogy as I would have really kicked it up;)

  • JohnMTrader

    This is a very clever way to work the baseball analogy into media relations, well done! One baseball term I would add to this is the concept of “bat speed.” If you aren’t well prepared at the plate (knowing the reporter inside and out) and can’t pounce on an opportunity in real-time to get your voice heard, with the speed of communications these days you will swing and miss. Today’s journalists want to work with people who are well prepared, act fast, and are accurate. 

    By the way, even though the logos are scrubbed on that picture above, it is clearly a Baltimore Orioles pitcher. Nice choice. Go O’s!

  • Hacks are self taught folks who use today’s technology in a DIY way for media relations. Anyone who actually works for an Agency should know how to pitch. My first B2B sales job out of college I was taught a structured sales process that is linear discover a need present a solution over come objections ask for the order. I had manuals and we did role playing. If an Agency isn’t training their workers then that is as much a disservice to the workers as it is to those who have to deal with them (clients, media)

  • annelizhannan I’m not a shoe person but I apparently gave birth to one (oops I digress) — I think a post using a shoe shopping analogy would be a blast!

  • biggreenpen I always try to stay within my knowledge sector although as JohnMTrader  remarks, I don’t think I could do much ‘pouncing’ in stilettoes although I have tried 😉

  • JohnMTrader I really enjoyed this post. It is implied (I think) but it’s also important to get to know those future connections before you need something from them — it all goes back to the relationships in many cases.

  • JohnMTrader

    biggreenpen Well said. I’m not sure if it’s even possible to be “over prepared” when it comes to media relations.

  • Great analogy, Mary Anne! Media relations totally gives me the heebie-jeebies, so I admire those who do it well.
    I’m always amused by those articles that ask reporters how they like to be contacted, as if we’ll be able to draw some common rule-of thumb. But some want an email, some want a phone call, some get angry when you follow up, some specifically want the reminder. 
    These articles work great for knowing how those specific reporters want to be approached, but are useless as general guidelines. The key is to treat every reporter as an individual, as you make clear.

  • Sadly, new PR professionals are coming of age in an era where getting on the phone with a reporter is practically unheard of. You and I cut our teeth pitching media in cubicals, nervous as hell that our colleague on the other side of the cube wall was listening and critiquing our verbal pitch. But we pressed on and it made us better professionals.

    Today’s professional relies too much (in my opinion) on e-mail. And that’s a great way for your pitch to get list in the tens of hundreds of emails a reporter gets on any given day.

    We’ve taking it upon ourselves at our agency to make sure that the new pros make an effort to call up the reporter to pitch a story, even if it scares the hell out of them.  We would be wise to share this post with them.

    (On a side note, I’ve never called an assignment desk after sending a media alert and had them tell me they received the alert and would send someone. It always requires a follow up call. But that’s part of our job.)

    Great post!

  • JohnMTrader

    makeaner annelizhannan  Now that is excellent media relations.

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  • Hey, I’m a guy that likes sports analogies…even if it is baseball. Well done (well, there was that pitch the home run thing that Chuck mentioned).

    Definitely a fan of knowing everything you can before making the call.

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