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Quit Being Such a Bad Pitcher

September 23, 2010
Now THAT'S a bad pitch

Now THAT'S a bad pitch.

This past week, Houston Chronicle social and arts writer Douglas Britt wrote a very detailed, very meticulous account of all the ways PR professionals who send him things can be better at their jobs. Of course, that’s not how he phrased it, but that, in essence, is what it was: a breakdown of all the memorably annoying, obnoxious, abstruse marketing collateral/emails/phone calls he’s received throughout his years as a reporter. Being on the receiving end of pitches can be dizzying. I know this, because I frequently pitch, but I also frequently receive pitches from people who’d like to be guests on The Businessmakers Show. Now, I did not receive this document because I do not pitch to him (at least not with any regularity), but I discovered his email the way I imagine many, many thousands of people did… over at Gawker.com. No doubt someone who received it sent it over to the good folks at Gawker, who then posted it. As I told Douglas upon discovering it, when I read his name in the headline, I was, at first, “very, very nervous.” But after reading through it, I was relieved to find that, even though they do poke fun at the sheer length of the document (“Arts Writer Sends 1,400-Word Email on How to Communicate Efficiently“) they never knock him for sending it in the first place nor do they disparage any of his tips. The truth is, the tips are good. Real good.

Last year, I ran a query in the 3X daily Help a Reporter Out (HARO, for those in “the biz”) newsletter. This newsletter features submissions from journalists who are looking for sources. Because the newsletter has many thousands of subscribers, a journalist looking for obscure sources is bound to find a PR pro with a client who fits her needs. What I was looking for: Savvy, bootstrappy CEO’s who had unique and unusual businesses. I wanted to hear from people who had identified a niche, or found a way to grow their business with not much else than an idea in which they believed. I wanted passion, and yes, proven performance: someone who had employees.

I received over 200 pitches, and 99% of them were not what I asked for. Most of them were from marketing consultants (or their PR people) pitching me the new books they’d written about how to make money on the internet, or how to “do social media.” A few gems did emerge amid the crap. Katie and I got a chance to talk to some incredibly interesting people who’ve done some remarkable things, but for the most part, the pitches were off key, out of place, and unusable.

If you’re familiar with the Cision Database – my very favorite PR tool – then you know it’s not only filled with complete contact information, but it also tells you when and how each reporter wants to receive your information. For instance, if you see “Bob only wants press release by fax or mail on Friday’s between 9 a.m. and 12 p.m.,” that is code for “DO NOT SEND BOB PRESS RELEASES. EVER.” There is a good chance Bob cannot use your press release, nor does he have the time to sort through all the press releases you will inevitably send anyway. Imagine if the database was also filled with 1400-word manifestos from each journalist, giving us a glimpse into their minds and motivations. We’d be able to tailor each piece of material to exactly suit that person, and hopefully, be a lot more successful at our jobs.

Unfortunately, not everyone is as kind as Douglas. In fact, I’ve never seen this before, and probably never will again, which means, we have to pretend we have all of this information anyway. We have to try to imagine what motivates each person we pitch, and to do that, we actually have to READ THEIR STORIES. We have to use our best guesses to provide them not just with content they can use, but WANT TO use.

The better you get at pitching, the less you’ll have to do it. If you’re able to seriously tailor your information to suit the person you’re speaking to, you’ll get more hits out of less pitches. Your goal should not be to pitch 1,000 people and hope 10 cover what you pitch. Wouldn’t you be more effective putting 100% more effort into pitching 20 people and getting those same 10 mentions?

What are you working on right now to laser-focus your pitches and be an all-around PR powerhouse?

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