Tag Archives: pitching

How to stop me killing your pitch

Another day, another brutal murder of a public relations person’s pitch. Actually I killed two yesterday: one on the phone and one by email.

I’m not talking about the poorly-targeted piece of nonsense that told me about sales of “sex robots” in the UK – wrong sort of technology for my market I’m afraid. Nor any of the other irrelevancies: if you want to tell me which beer goes better with a barbecue that’s fine, just don’t expect me to write anything as I’m focused on technology and business.

No, these could have been relevant but I scared them off. And I did it with one question.

Ask yourself this first

The question was simple. Without disclosing any details of the pitches – it wouldn’t be fair – I asked the first person by email, “which of my outlets did you think this would fit into”?

That was 10.00am. By 5pm there was no response and I realised there wasn’t going to be one.

Later the same day I was in a supermarket and the phone rang. Hello Guy, is it a good time to talk, they asked: well, I’m in Sainsbury’s, I said…they laughed and carried on regardless.

(Mental note: PR people always think I’m joking when I say I’m in a supermarket, driving or whatever. Must be the way I tell them).

So she pitches – and I say: I’m not sure which of my outlets this would go into.

She falters, stammers, says “OK, nice talking to you” and goes away.

A question is not a dismissal

There may well have been something in the story or stories, I’ll never know. The thing is, I’d have been pleased to read and listen if they’d actually answered. Someone might well have noticed something about the publications for which I write that had escaped me, and if I end up with a commission that’s great – it’s how I earn my living.

Unfortunately they hadn’t thought through to the obvious questions. “Who’s it for” doesn’t just mean the journalist, it means think about the reader. If either of those people had given the matter any thought they could have come straight back at me, to our mutual advantage.

I can’t see that either of us has won as it is.

Do you need help with your PR pitching skills? I can help – fill in the form below or call me on 07973 278780 and we’ll talk.

Don’t pitch me a client, pitch me a headline

I led two masterclasses on pitching yesterday, at a PR company I won’t disclose because my clients are always confidential. One thing became apparent during the session: everyone wanted to pitch their client to me.

Which sounds perfectly logical. But it’s not.

One of the delegates came out with something like this: “Hi, I’m calling with a photo-opportunity. My client is coming to the UK and will be making a speech to his/her employees, and you’d be welcome to come along with a photographer.

Her colleagues congratulated her on the pitch and her manner was indeed superb. The pitch, however, would most likely have died on its backside.

The pitch isn’t about you, it isn’t about me

The problem with the pitch above is twofold. First, it’s all about the client. It doesn’t have to be about me, whatever some journalists tell you, but it’s absolutely got to be about my readers. Consider it again: there’s a photo-opportunity (which sounds a bit manufactured anyway), there’s a chief executive and there’s a speech.

I know nothing about the content or whether it’s going to be relevant to my readers at all at this stage.

The second problem is related to that first one: the delegate had actually pitched me the process, the mechanics of what his or her client was doing, and stopped there. You get limited time with a journalist on the phone. Why would you focus on the process rather than the content? (Come to think of it, why do so many people phone me and start “I’m just giving you a call”? I know that bit already…)

Start at the end

Here’s the way I’d do it. Start from the final output you’re looking for. Imagine you’ve prompted me to write an article. It’s in the paper, on the web or wherever, and you’re happy with the coverage and the headline.

Ask yourself: what does the story say? And what’s the headline?

Now back in the real world, pick up the phone and pitch me that headline. Never mind the process, never mind that your client has done a survey of 3000 clients, never mind that your organisation is in the top ten widget suppliers to the small business market in the UK – that’s background.

Lead in with the story. Tell me that your client has found that half the people who believe they understand IT security still have the default passwords on their phones. Tell me that your business has enabled someone to increase productivity by 30 per cent, meaning they’ve avoided making redundancies. Tell me why someone’s life is better because of your client.

In fact, just tell me the story. If it’s a good one I may well be interested.

Do you need help pitching to journalists? My pitching masterclass is ready to go – fill in the form below or call me on 07973 278780 and we’ll talk.

Pitching a story – read before you chase!

I’ve just had one of my least favourite things. A PR person sent me a press release yesterday, aimed at a particular outlet for which I write. He or she has just sent a polite follow-up: sorry to hassle, they said, but they wondered whether the news story was of interest.

Why yes, is the answer. That is why it is on the front page of the site at which you were aiming it.

I’m still trying to work out why it was easier to email me and wait for a response rather than click onto the site – I’m guessing “because that’s how we do things” is the answer, The weird thing is that it’s not the first time this has happened. It’s not even the first time this week.

Pitching competencies

I’m not one of these journalists you get, of whom there are quite a few, who tell PR people not to follow up at all. First and foremost, I get that you’re accountable to clients rather than to me. There is no particular reason you should do what I say, and if I’m calling myself “journalist” – particularly a business journalist – then fielding information and calls from you guys is just something to which I’ve signed up. It’s part of the deal.

Another part of the deal, though, is that you’re supposed not to ask stupid questions, and “have you found a use for this story” when it’s on the front page of your target publication is seriously one of the daftest. This isn’t a vanity thing, you need to be reading. On this occasion the PR person was probably perfectly happy with what I’d written. That’s not actually a worry to me, as long as it’s accurate I’ve done my job.


What if I’d written something inaccurate or misleading? You’re not going to know if you’re not reading.

I’m not suggesting the PR community needs to be reading every website every day (a Google Alert will take a lot of the work out of that for you). But if you’re going to pitch to a specific site for which I write, one that swallows up multiple news stories every day, and then follow up, at least check to see if the story is on there before hitting “send”.

Do you need help communicating with the media? I can help – call me on 07973 278780 or fill in the form below and we’ll talk.

PR professionals, time your pitching!

5 January and the poorly-timed pitching is in full swing. Even in an age of instant publication, journalists will have planned roughly what’s in their schedule – outside the news – in advance.

Let’s put it another way: there is no point, repeat no point, in asking me if I’d like a round-up of technology predictions from your client for 2017 for New Statesman Tech, Professional Outsourcing or any of the other publications in which I am involved.

The reason is very simple. The beginning of the year was not a surprise. It’s been in the calendar for some time. I was therefore able to plan for it and ask people for considered round-up tips, if I wanted them, in early December or even before that.

Pitching Christmas in July

Journalists have a tradition of “Christmas in July”, by which we mean that the consumer goods companies wanting to publicise goods start to push them to is in the middle of the year. Many of them have special launch events at that time of year.

The tradition dates back to older publishing technologies, when in order to get into a monthly magazine’s Christmas pages you really needed to get into the planning for July so that they would finish the relevant section of the issue for (probably) September, go to press in October and come out in November.

It is now easy to shorten the timescale of course, but “think ahead” is never a bad mantra in Christmas. Here are some mistakes I still see:

  • People pitching 2016 round-ups – it’s 2017 now, guys, I’ve checked
  • People pitching 2017 forecasts as late as this morning. I want my readers to think I’m up to date, not trailing a few days behind everyone else!
  • People pitching Easter/chocolate stories in the week running up to Easter Sunday. First, it’s too late, second, I tend to write about business and technology rather than chocolate so have a think about where you’re pitching.
  • People linking their technology story to irrelevant items in the news. I appreciate that piggybacking a relevant story is probably a good idea, so “Startups are doing well in CES but my client has just got funding for her technical widget without leaving her sofa” is fine. The pitch I had roughly this time last year saying “David Bowie was a great original who always delivered. Software also has to deliver…” not so much.

A lot of it is common sense. Some of it is good taste. A handful of practitioners, however, don’t seem to have thought about how their target publications are produced – or they’re being measured by how much pitching they do and don’t actually care.

Do you need help with your pitching skills? I can help – call me on 07973 278780.

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.

Can I help share my experience to help you engage with journalists? Fill in the form below and we’ll talk.

Pitching: it’s not about you (or your client)

I had a fine afternoon media training yesterday and in one of the exercises the PR team pitched their event to me. The idea was that they needed to get journalists to their show in another country, so they tried their real live pitches on me. Some were pretty good.

They all had the content. They told me about:

  • Speakers
  • Previous successes of the event
  • Other contacts in the audience

So, so far, so good. Except I would never have attended in a zillion years.

It’s not about ego, but…

If you’re talking to journalists, you need to be talking to us about our readers. Before we do anything at all we need to know there will be something in it for them, or else there will be no point in engaging.

Think of it as a headline and some bullet points. If your headline is “we think our event will be really interesting” then great, I hope you do – if you don’t, nobody else will. It won’t engage my attention, though, and I’m unlikely to attend. Massage that slightly to “your magazine covers X subject and there will be exclusive content at my event” and I’m slightly interested. Add “Your readers have shown interest in such and such a topic and the world specialist will be speaking exclusively for us” and I’ve gone past “interested” and am bordering on “fascinated”.

Then you introduce the detail. Who exactly will be there, what they’ll be speaking about and above all whether I can get some time with them away from other hacks – I’m looking for an exclusive story rather than something everyone else has as well.

Then feed me some proof points. At last year’s event, company X succeeded in getting its first round of funding, so it’s a heavyweight event (this is a real example from yesterday’s pitch).

Journalists get swamped with requests for our time so “no thanks” is still the easiest default answer. However, structure your pitch around my readers rather than around what’s important to you, and it’s a lot more difficult for me to write off immediately.

Guy Clapperton’s media training offering can be found by clicking here.

Watch where you’re pitching

So last week I get this pitch – it’s an infographic about…actually it wouldn’t be fair to identify the person who sent it, it’s just an infographic and it concerns a technology issue. The covering note says the PR executive thought it might work for my blog.

Nice though it would be to think that this blog is getting noticed, it would be a completely  wrong thing for me to include so I disregard it. My best guess is that many people have had a similar note because we’re on a list of technology journalists. That is of course fine and respectable.

Then this morning I get the follow-up note to ask whether it’s any use for my blog. I reply and explain I’m not sure which blog she means. “Your technology blog”, comes the response.

Pitch to something that exists

I’m racking my brain here trying to think of anything at all I write that could be construed a technology blog. Let’s discount anything that’s been dead (or which someone else has taken over) for a year or more; this is a paid, professional PR person and part of her job is to keep up to date with who’s doing what.

So I can confirm here: I do not and have not recently written a technology blog at all. You can pitch what you want at it, since it doesn’t exist I’m positive it will do you no good.

This isn’t the first time I’ve been aware of people pitching to nonexistent publications. A colleague of mine used to work on a magazine that closed down. She had a call from a PR person asking whether she’d be able to include the case of wine she’d just sent by courier (which my colleague hadn’t received). No, she replied, the magazine has closed. “But I’ve sent the wine now!” came the angry response; fascinating, said my colleague, where did you send it, since we no longer have an office?

Again, for several years I was associated with a section in the Guardian called “Small Business Solutions” (then “Business Solutions”, then “Business Sense”, but it remained focused on the small business market). I didn’t edit it, but was in it so often a number of people got the impression I did, so they sent me pitches. More than once I had a pitch offering me a new director of a small business client for the “people page”.

You know what’s coming next. I worked on that supplement for nine years and we never, literally never, had a people page.

Do your research

Here’s now it works. PR people pitch ideas to journalists and whatever some hacks tell you about resisting the approach and getting sucked into the PR machine, we need it. Without ideas and fresh input we dry up, it’s as simple as that. So however reluctant or damned rude some journalists are, they need you but we do get a lot of pitches so they need to be sharp.

And one way you can sharpen them better than some of the competition – and as you’ll have gathered this was true as of this morning – is to make sure you’re pitching to a publication or part thereof that actually exists. This is fundamental market research. Yes, the amount of blogs out there makes it difficult to keep track of us all but there are press agencies out there which specialise in this sort of monitoring. It’s part of the PR job, and if you went into it voluntarily then it’s reasonable to expect you to make the effort.

Overall the quality of pitch from PR people has shot up in the 26 years I’ve been a journalist. But the schoolchild errors are still being made – and failing to check that your target publication actually exists is probably the worst.

For information on Guy Clapperton’s media training sessions please click here.