How can someone grab your attention with a pitch?
By being specific. I know it’s been said on this blog many times before, but if I get a pitch that demonstrates a familiarity with the regular columns and sections that run across Sun Media, it makes my job easier, and easy is good.
It’s not that often that I run stories based entirely on one pitch and/or product, so if the idea can be presented in the context of a larger story, that’s really helpful. As part of a news organization, it’s important to be able to tie things into current events.
Having all of the information at the ready is always appreciated. Companies that have easily accessible FTP or press sites with images and product information are my favourite, but a USB key that comes with the press release or a contact who can get you an image quickly is great in a pinch.
Also, it has to be said that there’s an element of luck when it comes to pitches. It’s unfair but true that sometimes it’s just a matter of the right press release coming in at the right time – to fill a hole in a page, to flesh out a story more fully, and on truly inspired occasions, sparking an idea for a piece in full.
What do you find most useful when dealing with public relations professionals?
Personality. I know that sounds like an obvious thing in such a people-oriented industry, but if I answer the phone and hear a monotone “Are you the right person to speak to about XYZ?”, it loses my interest right off the bat. Make an effort to be friendly – in general, we’re talking about fun topics, like fashion and food, so it should be easy.
Also, to that end, meeting in person. Whether that means making sure to introduce yourself at a launch, setting up a lunch date to pick my brain about a variety of clients or even just dropping off a press release in person and insisting I come down to get it, that puts a face to the name, and hopefully, creates a camaraderie as well.
There are also some PR folks who I’ve known for years that I can always rely on in a pinch, whether that means a last-minute suggestion for a product, easy access to photos or pointing me in the right direction (even to the competition!) for experts. That’s not something that develops overnight, but if you can build that kind of trust with an editor, it goes a long way.
What is the biggest mistake PR professionals make?
A big one would be having different people contact me with the same pitch. I know some companies are quite large, but receiving the same e-mail within minutes of each other makes me wonder who the best contact is, fills up my already crowded inbox and makes me want to delete the whole thing.
But probably the worst thing a PR pro can do is be rude. Pitching is not a one-off – it’s something that happens again and again, between the same people, and once I’ve had a negative interaction with someone, I’m less than inclined to work with them again.
Your pet peeve
I know this one’s on everyone’s list, but it really has to be said again – the follow-up phone call that comes about an hour after the e-mail pitch is incredibly annoying. I recognize that this is likely part of a company’s protocol, but it’s also the reason I screen.
One of my colleagues’ voicemail messages goes something like, “If you’re calling about a press release, due to the volume of calls, I cannot answer every one. But if I’m planning to use your content, I will definitely get in touch with you.” I love this.
Any other thoughts you’d like to add?
There’s a lot to be said for attention to detail. It may sound silly, but I’m appreciative when people remember how to pronounce my last name correctly, or send a little hand-written note with a press release. I know the pitch is often blanketed across a list of similar media types, so being made to feel a bit special goes a long way.
And one super small environmental thing, but not putting big stickers on the bags in which you send those often awesome press releases so that they can be used again? That would be amazing.