You’ve just published your press release, and you’re ready to start pitching. It’s a solid piece of news. Then, just as you’re about hit “send” on your first email to a reporter or pick up the phone, it comes: that first pang of anxious unease.
You start to second-guess yourself as the nervousness builds. Maybe instead of a pitch, you should just send your announcement as an FYI, and leave it to the journalist to read through and decide whether to write about it. Or maybe you shouldn’t bother at all? After all, the reporter is busy, and one of your competitors just recently announced something similar…
Now, I don’t have hard data on the numbers of nervous PR people. But I can tell you from my experience as a journalist, in-house PR executive and an agency leader, there more than you might think.
It’s worth unpacking a couple of the most common the reasons behind this anxiety. That’s because understanding them can help you overcome them. And that, in turn, will make you more effective as a PR professional, all while deepening and nurturing your relationships with the reporters who cover your client.
1. “They’re going to think what I’m pitching is boring, and they’re not going to write anything.” If that’s what you’re thinking while you’re drafting your pitch note to a journalist, it’s time to look in the mirror. Chances are that the reason you’re thinking this way is because a part of you – big or small – knows that your pitch isn’t exciting or newsworthy.
Instead of hitting “send” anyway, step back and stare down what’s in front of you. Did you write it with the reporter’s audience and interests in mind? Or is it all about you, your company, the product you’re launching and why all of the above are amazing? Is the pitch so long that you fell asleep half way through it?
Instead of getting nervous that you’ll bore the reporter, try to answer those questions and position your pitch to be about them (reporter and his or her audience) as much as possible, and as little as possible about you. Is there a trend in which you can wrap your story? Do it. Can you tighten up the pitch note by 100 words? Do it. Is there an excited customer ready to talk about the product? Get them involved.
If you’ve done all this and you’re still not pumped about the story, maybe it’s time to reassess whether you should be pitching this particular announcement at all, or whether you should be aiming it at a smaller or more targeted publication.
2. "They’ll write something I don’t like or, worse, that my boss/client/CEO doesn’t like." Here’s a bit of breaking news: the media are not out to get you (unless you’ve been behaving badly, and your bad behaviour is newsworthy). They’re also not out to write whatever you tell them to write.
The fundamental job of a beat reporter is to inform their audience in a compelling and engaging way about news that matters to them. It is therefore your job to a) understand exactly what “matters to them” means for any media outlet you’re pitching and b) package your pitch so that the reporter you’re approaching can see how it would be relevant to his or her audience.
That does not just happen as you’re drafting your pitch email. It happens much earlier than that, when you and your boss/client/CEO sit down and have a realistic conversation about what the reporter in question will likely be interested in speaking about, and how to prepare. It’s not enough to tell a reporter “we are launching product X today, and you can’t ask my CEO about anything else when you speak with her.”
I received this line (sometimes delivered as an ultimatum) many times during my decade as a reporter. Every time, I ignored it. Here’s why: if, for example, you’re launching an update to your product, and your CEO is going to speak to the media about it, you should expect that the reporter just might also want to ask why overall sales are down, or why a key piece of executive talent just walked out the door, or how you think the company stacks up against a new and exciting competitor. Again, this isn’t “gotcha” journalism – it’s just a reflection of the basics of what journalism is about: the news.
It’s your job to flag this when you’re considering the pitch, and rather than hide from it, to prepare for it as you would for a real conversation. A question about a new competitor or about sagging sales can be a great opportunity to talk about what your leader is doing to turn the corner or revitalize the company’s strategy. Developing a robust Q&A not directly related to whatever you’re pitching proactively is always a sensible approach.
The reality is that there is always an inherent element of risk to PR. Your job is to mitigate and manage it, while telling a compelling story that interests the media and drives value for your clients. If that sounds like a lot, it’s because it is – and it’s what makes our field so exciting.
By keeping some of these considerations in mind as you set out for your next pitch or announcement, you’ll set yourself up for success, arm the media with a great story about your company, and equip your bosses or clients with realistic expectations.