Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The Perfect Pitch

"The Perfect Pitch." That's what the baseball said on the desk of my manager when I was an intern at a large PR house. I remember asking him: "What makes the perfect pitch?" He responded: "It depends."

Its been almost 11 years since then. As media relations changes, I've been thinking about my exposure to the industry and how I was "taught" to pitch. I use that term loosely because it wasn't until later in my career that I actually met people (PR professionals and journalists) who took the time to actually explain how to pitch.

I've come to a conclusion - The perfect pitch is equated with having common sense.

When I first started out in my career, no one taught me how to pitch. My first pitch assignment (when I was still an intern!) was to call a list of reporters and do what I now know to be soft soundings for an event a client was hosting.

I was SCARED to death to cold call reporters. I remember asking for guidance and being told "It's easy. Just tell them about the event and see if they would want to come."

Keep in mind that no event date had been set. No content/programming had been determined and I was handed a list by my supervisor who gave me NO background further than I've already listed.

Thank goodness my common sense kicked-in. I went through a media list of 80 reporters and did a search on each one. I determined from my own vetting of the list that only 18 reporters out of the 80 that were listed would probably be interested in hearing about the event, let alone covering it. There were some reporters (not to mention publications) on the list that didn't even cover anything anything remotely related to our client or the event they were going to sponsor.

I pitched the 18 (via e-mail) who were very appreciative and asked for more information.

My supervisor was livid.

I explained my reasoning. Showed my research. Thought he would be proud of his young intern for taking the time to learn about who we would want coming. I will never forget his words:

"When I give you a list, you contact EVERYONE."

When I asked "why?" I was told that I was "just the intern" and "needed to learn to follow directions." No further explanation provided. No additional information (e.g. "I'd already vetted the list and there are people on there who asked to be contacted"). Nothing.


I almost left PR after that internship (talk about an introduction to the industry). But I'm glad I stayed.

Throughout my career, I've sat in agency sponsored (sometimes mandated) brown bag lunches on pitching. I've attended at least five "media relations" seminars and classes held by various industry associations, and I've listened to countless conference speakers, corporate communicators, marketing managers, VPs, CEOs, editors, reporters, clients and others go on about pitching. I get at least one e-mail a month (sometimes more) about the latest pitching techniques in a seminar/webinar/class/teleconference/virtual conference/etc. sponsored by so-and-so in conjunction with such-and-such publication/company/vendor/etc.

Everyone has a take on what it means to craft and execute the perfect pitch. The reoccurring themes I have heard in all of these seminars is 1) do your homework before pitching (including reviewing the last three months of a reporter's stories) and 2) be responsive when a reporter contacts you (to find our more information or to remove them from the list). All good advice.

Too often, however, I've sat in these seminars on media relations and heard my fellow PR peers take the speaker's advice as gospel - even if it wasn't relevant to their client.

Just like the hypodermic needle theory holds very little weight in communications theory today, there is no "one-size-fits all" response when when it comes to pitching. Good practices (manners), yes, those exsist. As I've alluded to in previous posts, media relations is changing and the rules of engagement are evolving. What may work for one company or organization, may not work for another (due to the industry, client budget, target audience, relevant content, etc.)

Maybe my old supervisor got right - "It depends."

Did anyone teach you how to pitch? Did you get any guidance before your first pitch? Do you have a first pitch story that beats mine?


Christy said...

Your first pitch sounds exactly like mine this summer. I interned for a PR agency this summer and on my second day on the job, I had to call a large list of reporters to see if they would be interested in attending an event. Like you, I knew that research on each reporter would've been better and I tried to do a quick Google search, but struggled to find everyone. I really didn't have time to read enough of each reporter's work to specifically tailor the invite to their work.

I was scared when I was cold calling the reporters because (1) I didn't know much about the event and (2) I didn't know these reporters. Like you, it was a hard introduction to PR but it sounds like a lot of interns go through that in the beginning so it can't be all too bad.

Colleen Campbell said...

Thanks for your comment Christy. It's been 11 years since my first pitch and I'm sorry to hear that your experience was similiar to mine. Thanks for writing in and sharing!