Humans are creatures of habit. We like to do the same things, see the same types of movies, eat the same types of food, and tend to date the same type of person. We see the world in a linear way, with cause and effect, and where an action has a predictable reaction. While that’s an acceptable approach for most of your life, it’s not okay for PR professionals that want to cut through the clutter that bombards most journalists.
Here’s where linear thinking comes into play within PR. A client or company wants to make an announcement; a PR person writes a pitch and e-mails it to an editor, reporter, analyst or blogger. There is no response so the PR person sends another e-mail, then another, then follows up with a phone call. If this doesn’t work, they might try to ping someone on Twitter or will more likely move on to someone else on the list at the publication, or another publication that covers the topic. While sometimes a non-answer can be a simple timing issue, it’s usually a sign that the journalist isn’t interested. This, however, is where the process breaks down because the PR person will just move on to other journalists, or another pitch, and never consider the fact that their methods might be the problem.
There is the old adage about the definition of insanity – doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. The linear thinking for many in our profession is that the PR person doesn’t change the approach, value proposition or idea as they try to connect and generate interest from the editor; they just bang away because it is what they learned to do. The linear approach can work, especially when a reporter knows the company or PR person, but more often than not, the PR person ends up getting called out on Twitter by an annoyed reporter (fairly or unfairly).
There are ways other than a standard pitch to create attention for and interest in your company or client. First, you can try to tap into a broader trend that is shaping the industry and use that as a means to introduce your idea to a journalist. Second, you can share an idea that includes several clients or companies that are all able to talk about a different aspect of an issue or market trend. Third, you can include customers, partners and respected analysts in the mix to demonstrate that the idea is bigger than your company alone.
You can also leave the pitch in your draft folder unsent and look to engage with media in a non-traditional way. Over the past decade, we’ve created a variety of events and programs that showcase our clients without a standard pitch. The first was an event we called “CXO Dinner,” where C-level execs from our clients’ companies got together for an open Q&A with the media on an industry topic. They weren’t allowed to talk about their company or solutions; just the market need and what should or could happen. The idea here was to show that the men and women running these companies were smart and understood how the market around them was developing. The intent wasn’t coverage of the event, although that did happen. Our goal was to get reporters thinking about our executives as thought leaders, on topics bigger than their individual companies.
We also do something each week called “call downs.” This is when one of our team members touches base with a reporter or analyst to check-in, see what they are working on or even to simply catch up on a common interest outside of work. It’s not a pitch per se, but more about building relationships, understanding what the reporter is interested in at the moment and what stories they are planning in the near future. During these calls, we might offer some insight, or suggest and analyst or executive they can talk with, but it’s always part of the organic conversation. Most PR people only reach out to reporters when they want or need something and that kind of linear thinking doesn’t help you, your client or the relationship with the reporter.
The beauty of lateral thinking is that it can be specific to a reporter, an industry trend, a pitch or a company. The goal is to be unique and creative and present your idea in a way that is surprising, intriguing and engaging.