“I get hundreds of pitches weekly from publicists. And the vast majority of them won’t get read because they are outside of my coverage area or not a good fit for outlets to which I contribute.”
This is what freelance travel journalist Victoria Walker recently posted on LinkedIn. Sick and tired of getting irrelevant pitches, she crafted a pitch guide to help publicists stop wasting her time and their clients’ money.
The pitch guide is straightforward, succinct, and informative. It’s very helpful to publicists who want to place clients’ narratives into Walker’s stories.
But she should never have had to publish it. A publicist’s job isn’t just to be fearlessly opportunistic. It’s also his or her job to do the work to make pitches exceptionally relevant.
Anyone can hit “send.” Great publicists do a lot more.
Many PR professionals are good at being fearlessly opportunistic. They eagerly pick up the phone or send an e-mail. But just like a soldier who uses the “pray-and-spray” strategy in battle, they’re going to hit a lot of targets that were supposed to be left untouched.
Nobody’s going to die because a good e-mail was sent to the wrong journalist or a bad e-mail reached the right journalist. But doing it repeatedly will burn bridges that lead to your target audiences.
And the burning can happen two ways. Going back to Walker’s quote, most pitches are irrelevant to her beat or her outlets.
This means that many publicists commit two professional sins. First, they aren’t researching the outlet – which is as easy as scanning a handful of stories on a website. Second, they aren’t looking at her stories – which is as easy as scanning a handful of stories she’s written in the last six months.
Twenty to 30 minutes of research plus 15 minutes to build a good pitch – 45 minutes of work (less if research shows the journalist is a bad fit) to avoid burning a bridge with someone who could be the perfect journalist for your narrative next week.
Two case studies
We have two recent client case studies which show how being opportunistic and relevant can cut through the media noise to reach journalists.
- The first happened at a recent political event. Our job was to find on-site media that would want to spontaneously interview the client amongst thousands of other people.
Getting in front of journalists was easy. We simply walked up and said hello. The much harder part was to make our client exceptionally relevant. The journalist likely didn’t want the same talking points as everyone else, so we (accurately) framed the client’s research-based narrative as being outside of the common political divide.
It worked. Within five minutes, the camera was on and the client was speaking with a journalist who previously hadn’t known she existed.
- The second client success also started with trying to get through a crowd: journalists covering ChatGPT, the AI system that’s taking the world by storm. Journalists receive hundreds of pitches per week on this hot new topic. Three outlets we contacted interviewed our AI/tech client because he could discuss ChatGPT’s strengths and weaknesses for a niche stock market audience.
This success was based upon two relevancies. First, the client was offering something unique: ChatGPT’s benefits to market movers and shakers. Second, the target audience was very narrow: financial markets-focused tech journalists.
Fearlessly opportunistic and exceptionally relevant
Walker’s story is common, which is why many journalists appreciate great pitches. We use the Three T approach so that journalist receive:
- The right topic for their coverage beat.
- Excellent timing – we don’t pitch taxes during Thanksgiving.
- A great title – the right spokesperson for their article, segment, or column.
Not every pitch will be the right one, and success is never guaranteed. But your best chance to hijack the news combines being fearlessly opportunistic when reaching out and also taking the time to make clients exceptionally relevant.
It’s also the most ethical way for PR practitioners to treat customers.
A version of this piece was originally published by Dustin Siggins at American Business Magazine.