Media pitching is the crown jewel of the public relations industry. It’s also a mysterious art that we develop a lot of questions about as we study the craft.
We can’t help but wonder—what’s the reality behind successful media placements? How is it done? What are the secrets? Naturally, there are a lot of people stepping up to the plate to answer those questions. But there are a lot of mistruths circulating about media relations and how it’s done well.
Here are a five sobering truths about successful media pitching.
1.) Successful media pitching starts with thorough audience research.
The secret to true marketing communications success is identifying the three-to-four ideal audiences—the true tribe—for your clients or your organization.
The misconception is that media pitching is a shotgun blast to any and all publications. The truth, however, is that successful media pitching starts with research. By first understanding the ideal audiences, you’ll suddenly filter out all of the outlets that are unnecessary. This takes your approach from a broad stroke to a surgical maneuver.
This is also key to developing story angles. By understanding your client’s or organization’s tribes like you understand your own best friends, you’ll know exactly what they believe and what they care about. This helps uncover what’s truly newsworthy to the people that matter the most.
2.) Media pitching is a longer process than you might think.
Another illusion is that media pitching is as simple as picking up the phone and charming a member of the media. That notion couldn’t be further from the truth.
As I just mentioned above, you have to clearly identify your audience and use that info to really chisel out a developed story angle. And that’s just the beginning. Next, you have to prepare the supporting materials—these are the press releases, photos, videos, etc. But before you even start the first pitch, you have to know who the best people to talk to are.
There are a lot of false media relations prophets who say to “pitch the newsroom editor at the biggest publication you can find” with a story. That might work once (probably not, actually), but it’s not a repeatable method for continued success. Based on the newsworthy story you’ve developed and built, you have to find the most relevant people to pitch to. This takes digging, regular reading and analysis.
OK—so now you have the story, materials and right people to talk to. It’s a slam dunk, right? Definitely not. Now you have to work on your pitches, carefully crafting and personalizing every, single one. Even after you do that, and follow up appropriately (four-to-seven days later minimum), it might take months before you see that story take shape. That’s why it’s important to start the process early.
3.) Success is never guaranteed, no matter how many pitches you score.
One massively successful campaign doesn’t ensure future success.
You have to develop a repeatable, winnable process driven by research and due diligence. You’ll quickly realize that it takes the length of that disciplined process to see continued success over time.
You might get more experience, more wins, better relationships and more know-how about the craft, but you can’t take the full process for granted at any point. Approach every pitch like it’s your make-or-break pitch.
4.) Don’t expect to land every pitch (and if you do, you’re really lucky!)
This is an important expectation to communicate to your organization and clients—you won’t win every pitch. It’s important to have a well-rounded and thorough list of potential opportunities. If you see more than half of that list come to fruition, I’d classify your particular campaign as a success.
Too often, we—and our organizations and clients—expect to land every pitch, but that’s just not reality. It’s not to say that you might land (insert your favorite publication here) in the future—it’s just to say that it doesn’t always pan out 100 percent in your favor. That’s just the way it works.
5.) It’s really easy to make the wrong impression on a reporter.
Here are the facts. Newsrooms are shrinking and the ratio of public relations professionals to reports are pretty sobering.
The way you communicate is absolutely critical to seeing success. A lot of people spam-blast lists of reporters with irrelevant pitches that are too long and too impersonal. Others might have a relevant angle, but don’t demonstrate etiquette in the process, which is just as bad as a spam-blast.
Be polite, be courteous and treat others like you’d like to be treated. We all hate irrelevant emails in our inbox that are too long and unhelpful, so don’t send them to reporters. Send relevant, concise and helpful emails that will make the person on the other end’s job easier.
Ben Butler is an entrepreneur, marketing communications professional and founder of Top Hat IMC—a fully integrated marketing communications firm in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. You can connect with Ben on LinkedIn and on Twitter @BenButlerPR.