pitching, map, public relations

Pitching to journalists: where are you going with this?

Pitching is difficult if you’re in public relations. As a journalist I’m relatively busy I like to think. So when someone who doesn’t know me calls up with a story pitch, it had better be good. “No thanks” is by far the easiest answer as I don’t have to make any effort to produce it.

I was reminded of this today when I had a pitch from someone who’d been trying to get me to meet their client for ages. He would be in my subject area, they told me. He’s interesting. You’d like him. Here’s a list of dates, they said, so I gave in and chose one. Then they asked the deadly question.

“What questions will you be asking and what areas interest you?”

Pitching can be courteous but ineffectual

That just sounds polite. Like a lot of journalists I don’t want to be told what to do. I don’t want to be told “such and such will not speak about such and such a subject”.

However, I didn’t have any strong feelings about the interview. I was going because they’d been persistent, not because I particularly wanted to speak to the client. “Who the hell are you” is a likely first question, not that I’d phrase it as such, and other questions will depend on the response.

I threw it back and asked what their client would want to talk about. They ummed and aahed a bit. In other words, they’d spent ages and a lot of energy setting up a meeting for which they had no real objective.

Know your destination

This approach is often the fault of the client. Get me some coverage, they say, and the PR team finds itself measured by the amount of journalists’ hands that get shaken. It’s a faulty metric but if your client uses it, I’m not going to hurl insults when you adopt it.

However, it’s better if you can work out some sort of game plan beforehand. Journalists are almost certain to ask why they should meet a particular executive, so tell us. We may well be receptive if there’s a good answer. We certainly won’t if there isn’t.

Today wasn’t the worst example of this that I’ve had. Many years ago (that’s right, I’m off again) I was sent to a press trip to America. There was a party, and in the middle of it all the European press were yanked out because the CEO of a company called cc:mail wanted to meet us, we were told.

(Never, ever, drag a bunch of twentysomething journalists out of a party. Or anyone, if it’s phrased like an order. It’s just rude.)

So they dragged us out and put us in a room with this CEO. He smiled at us, we nodded frostily.

There followed 45 minutes of the most strained silence I have ever endured. I imagine he’d been pulled out of the same party and told we wanted to speak to him.

The PR person blamed the journalists of course, it was easiest – I do wonder how much longer she lasted.

If you want to pitch to a journalist, great. Don’t let the fiercer ones put you off, we need interviews or we stop earning a living. Try, though, to have an idea of why we might be interested. You never know, we might even agree.

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