The Evolution of Media Pitching
By Tim Johnson
Media pitching has evolved drastically over the years.
Over the break, I rented The Post. I’ve always been interested in moves about journalism, the Pentagon Papers/Watergate era in our history and any movie that features quality actors such as Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep. Several scenes begin with an establishing shot outside The New York Times’ old offices at 229 West 43rd Street. Those were the doors that I went through many times when I was an account executive with a bunch of bank and investment bank clients.
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It reminded me how personal media relations was and should be as a business. Pitching media at that time began with making sure I’d read the last 3-5 articles the target editor had written. Back then that meant going through the stack of papers that we kept in the office. Then, I wrote the pitch with as personalized an angle as possible. I’d either mail or messenger the pitch to The Times, after which following up with a phone call a few minutes or hours after we think the editor received it. Most times, I spoke to the editor after the first or second call – so I’d know right away if he/she would pursue the idea or shoot me down.
For important news, a common practice was to walk over to The Times with pitch or press release in hand. I’d ask the lobby attendant to have the editor come downstairs and talk to me. About one-third of the time they actually did, and I had about two minutes to make my case. Other times, I was rapidly dismissed with words I can’t share here.
Today, there is the potential for greater distance between a PR team and the media they target. Fewer media are covering more news in today’s 24-hour news cycle and don’t have time to kibbitz in the lobby. Email and social media make it easy for PR people to reach out without actually engaging with editors. These tools also make it easier for the media to not respond to PR people. The flip side is how much information PR people can learn about an editor with just a few clicks. When used correctly this can reinforce what a good PR professional’s role should be – tailoring client information to fit a target editors needs and then facilitating the exchange of information.
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There are a few practices PR people can use today to ensure that email and social media close the divide with media in place of widening it:
- Ensure all outreach to media is highly targeted to past articles they’ve written and/or specific topics they have told us they cover,
- Put yourself in the editor’s shoes – if they covered your client’s product category in the last 1-2 months, it’s pretty unlikely they are going to cover your client’s announcement, you need to find a different angle or editor to earn that coverage,
- Make it easy for editors to find you and your client through active engagement on social media.
Is your organization’s outreach to media based on building the personal engagement that will result in both short- and long-term coverage? If you’re not sure, contact us!