Pitching Part II: Reeling in the Reporter

Dennis McCafferty
McCafferty: “If you’re pitching something that fails to establish any kind of differentiation from the rest of the crowd, then you’re pretty much wasting everyone’s time.”

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In my last blog on pitching reporters, I casted out a fishing analogy. (Sorry for the pun.) Sure, it’s a bit hokey. But it works: Getting journalists’ attention commands an angler’s skill set. It takes a lot of savvy and effort to simply get a bite on the line. And even more so to close the deal – in this case, with a client placement. That’s part of the “total package” of services that any decent hi tech PR agency provides.

Given this, here are some more best-practices suggestions from the guy who was on the receiving line for many of those PR pitches:

Don’t always pitch the big fish. (That’s the last of the sea-worthy analogies. Promise.) Seriously, it likely takes far, far more time and effort to get your client CEO on the phone than a lower-level VP or senior executive. And there’s nothing worse than taking a week or longer to get the CEO on the phone with a reporter on a very specific topic, with the CEO offering little beyond generalities and a wave of “Let me get back to you on that” responses. Unless the writer is lobbying specifically for the highest of C-Suiters here, better to more swiftly accommodate a request with a more accessible, senior veep/veep executive — or even a lower-level manager — who has hands-on knowledge about the targeted topic point.

Always aim for distinction. If you’re pitching something that fails to establish any kind of differentiation from the rest of the crowd, then you’re pretty much wasting everyone’s time – that of the client, the press and your firm. When developing a strategy, keep asking “What’s uniquely compelling here? How do I concretely and concisely describe it?” When I wrote for tech industry pubs, I always sought to demystify IT by breaking it down to its core, utilitarian value, i.e., “What does it allow customers to do that they couldn’t do before?” Make sure that question is answered before you launch a campaign – hopefully backed up with meaningful metrics and/or strong customer anecdotes, as opposed to empty buzz phrases and jargon.

Ditch vague “what are you working on?” inquiries. If you don’t have a specific purpose, this too amounts to an unwelcome distraction for journalists. Instead, keep up with what they’re writing about lately. (Or at least call up some recent stories before you make contact.) Suggest a legit follow-up that could present a client opportunity. At the very least, you’ll demonstrate that you’re aware and possibly even find interesting what the reporter has been occupied with, and this helps further distinguish your pitches.

Strive for in-person briefings if possible. Not that a “let me introduce you to our client” phone conversation is a bad idea. It’s just rather limited in its usefulness for a journalist if there’s no immediate, relevant assignment pending. (If the writer is on the phone, there’s a very, very good chance he or she is multitasking and otherwise not really focusing while your client makes the presentation.) It makes a far greater impression – and better use of everyone’s time – to conduct this kind of briefing in person, such as at a trade show. Clients tend to loosen up a bit, conveying their human side as opposed to trying to remain “on point” with lots of corporate speak during a phone call.

Or if the publication’s ethics policy allows, offer to spring for an informal lunch. If history has taught us anything, it’s that a journalist will rarely ever turn down a free meal. That’s a “captured audience” opportunity that can pay dividends down the road.


Dennis McCafferty is Director of Content for W2 Communications.