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!

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.

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