PR agency work is a new frontier for me. Professionally, my background is in journalism and marketing. I started pursuing a PR career three months ago because I’ve worked with great PR folks and respected the job they did. Their good work inspired me to see if PR was a good fit, and got me fascinated with the practice of pitching. My rudimentary introduction to the trade has taught me pitching is not a science – nor an art – but rather something akin to a recipe. There are obvious ingredients that go into each pitch but how you use them changes depending on your message and target. Like a great recipe, a good pitch evolves as you gain a better idea of what might work best.
While smugly content with my thoughts on pitching, my reflections are still coming from a very green PR person. So I decided to reach out to a few leading journalists to learn what they look for in a pitch, and PR partners as a whole. My quest led me to talk to John Gallant, Chief Content Officer at IDG. John works on IDG’s hodgepodge of consumer and business tech publications including Computerworld, CIO, CITEworld, CSO, Greenbot, InfoWorld, Javaworld, Macworld, Network World, PCWorld, TechHive. With over 32 years of journalist experience, he is a great resource for understanding the new media landscape and how PR people can cut through the email noise.
John discussed the changing media landscape, and what PR people can do to get noticed by the tech media. Our far reaching conversation, can best be encapsulated in the following six pitching tips from John and his staff.
1. Don’t Keep Sending A Press Release if No One Responds to It
As the common saying goes: If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again. While that might be true for many things, it’s not true for pitching a product or company announcement. No response doesn’t always mean the pitch was forgotten. It usually just means your contact doesn’t want to write about your release. Instead of resending the same email, John recommends writing a custom pitch, leveraging the release, but that shows you’re offering something relevant to the writer’s beat.
“What I’ve heard over and over from staff members and I know it myself is: If you get a sense that a person actually knows who you are and knows what you’ve worked on then they’ll be more receptive to listening to what your proposing,” John said.
2. Don’t Call, DM, or Message After You Send A Press Release
Back in the day, a journalist’s primary point of contact was the office phone. You’d ring them up to pitch a story and learn about what they’re working on. No longer! It’s now a rarity for most people to even know their work phone number, let alone give it out. Journalists of today are less likely to want to be introduced to you via phone—they are also less inclined to reply to your DM or Facebook message. Instead, send an email and make sure they want to talk to you.
“Stick with email and try to be targeted within that email. Don’t call me to see if I got your email,” added John.
3. Don’t Send us Things that Have Nothing to Do with Our Audience
Do you actually read the publication you’re pitching? Do you truly believe your pitch is a good fit for its audience? If so, then you’re on the right track. Days are gone when a mass email pitch would get you much traction. Tech press is becoming ever more fragmented and specialized. This means that a one-size-fits-all email will no longer work. Today’s pitches require a little bit of homework and an understanding of a publications audience.
“Part of it is really; do you read the publication regularly? That’s a fundamental thing, reading what these publications cover so you get a better understanding of their worldview and the audience they’re trying to reach,” reports John.
4. Don’t Blanket A Group of People within the Same Team with the Same Announcement
It can be frustrating when a pitch doesn’t get the response you were hoping to get. But that doesn’t mean you should mass email a newsroom hoping to get a whole newsroom in front of a release. This will only lead to confusion in the office and reporters working on the same story. Instead, try spending more time researching a reporter’s beat before you hit send.
“[Reporters] tend to see all the things that get sent to them via email, they tend to discard them pretty quickly unless there’s something pretty interesting or unique to them,” said John.
4. Don’t Assume Every Reporter Only Wants to Talk to a CEO
Conventional wisdom suggests that you’d want to book an interview with the most senior staffer you can get. Yet, tech journalism is a unique beast that sometimes calls for technical knowledge over the big picture. John recommends that PR people consider a diverse group of potential interviewees when pitching journalists. This way the interview can talk to the technical folks and cover the tidbits most relevant to readers.
“Folks deeper in the company can add a lot of technology value to a story. So if there are ways to get those type of people together for an interview— or suggest some different people who have different expertise within a company— that’s great,” continues John.
5. No One Journalist is Alike
A common criticism for PR folks is that they make little attempt to be a valuable resource for the media. They push for bylines instead of building relationships with the media. Yet, the biggest take away from our discussion with John was that good PR people build real relationships with reporters.
“There is a fair amount of PR bashing among reporters, it’s almost a little mark of pride to bash PR. But I’ve actually worked very well with PR folks over the years, and I’ve found the best reporters work very well with PR,” adds John.
Taking John’s words to heart, instead of calling a reporter to ask if they’ve read your email maybe you can try reading more tech blogs and educate yourself as to the writers’ motivations instead.
In Closing: PR is really about the R
It’s easy to assume a PR person’s job is mostly transactional. You pitch, a journalist writes, and a reader reads. Yet, a good pitch can be far more than transactional. A good pitch can be a relationship builder. The first pitch is an introduction to a client, to a story, to you. Taken through this lens, a pitch is less a single action and more the fulcrum for which the PR foundation is built. So how do you build a relationship with a single pitch? Well, you talk to real-life journalists to understand what they need to do their job effectively.
A great PR person can be a valuable resource to a journalist. If my brief trek into PR – and my discussion with John – has taught me anything, it’s that a PR pros’ job is to cultivate the “relations” part of PR. Getting news to the “public” is the goal, but building “relations” is the actually nitty gritty of day-to-day work.
James is the editor for Witz End and a former journalist who decided to take his talents to marketing and PR. His writing has appeared in publications like Mashable, GameNGuide, Clickz, V3, and notebooks around the world.