We’ve all tried it. At some point in your career as a public relations professional, you’ve tried to piggy back a client pitch on top of a holiday, dramatic news event or some unfortunate occurrence that could have been prevent by your client’s gadget/expertise/flavored gum. Whether it is pushing your client’s CEO as an expert who can comment on a database security breach exposing customer records, some random plastic surgeon as the person the media should talk to regarding Kate Middleton’s rumored ear lift, or, recently, a PR firm that thought the upcoming Mother’s Day holiday would be the perfect opportunity for a pitch on vagina moisturizer. (sadly this is no joke, and sadly, once again, the PR firm blamed an overzealous intern. I’m beginning to suspect that PR firms only hire interns so there is someone to blame when a PR initiative is botched).
At times this can be an effective means to inject clients into the news cycle. But I suspect the majority of the time PR pitches of this nature end up in a proverbial email stack of hundreds of similar attempts at a time when the reporter is really just looking for the quickest, most credible source he/she can find. Here are a few tips for news cycle piggy back pitches to consider:
1) Don’t pitch into the chaos - If you are like me, what happens on the first warm, sunny Spring day is that you head on over to the car wash to get that car looking all spiffy for Spring. Not surprisingly, 200 other people have the same idea. My point is that when it comes to pitching reporters you should not wait to approach them at the exact time when demand for their attention will be at its peak. You will get drowned out. You will get ignored. You will not get their attention.
Instead, anticipate who the reporters are that might be approached during a relevant news event. Connect with them when there is nothing going on in the news cycle. Make yourself familiar to them when demand for their attention is at its lowest, so that when you go back to them when news breaks your name will be a familiar one.
2) Don’t try and “out-expert” everyone - Everyone’s client CEO is the foremost expert on whatever it is they do. Reporters have no way of vetting the genuine experts from imposters so don’t waste email space with this useless posturing. Including a few key bio points in the email is fine, but what you really want to do to whet the reporter’s appetite is tease what your client would say if utilized for an interview. Include 3-4 bullets of points your client would raise, because by doing so the reporter may find one of the bullets unique. There is no need to write a novel about what your expert would say, just tease some unique or contrarian points to whet the reporter’s appetite.
3) Don’t focus solely on elite media – Sure, there are no downsides to sending an email pitch to an NBC Nightly News producer or Wall Street Journal reporter. Worse case scenario is your email is ignored. But limiting your pitch to elite media is self-defeating. The fact is that reporters do look at other articles to see which experts are being quoted and, as a result, assigned credibility. Landing 2-3 hits with mid-tier pubs that may not be getting pounded by pitches can be valuable for showing up in search engine results and often, can lead to other inquiries from reporters – even top tier pubs. I’ve seen it happen. Not to me per se, but to this guy, in Canada. His phone number is unlisted so don’t try and validate it.
4) Be prepared to open a Pandora’s Box with client - I’m all for PR professionals being proactive and creative with press angles. Most of us don’t have the luxury of clients that are dictating the news cycle every week, and we have to find ways to inject clients into the existing news cycle. That said, managed expectations with clients on this type of low probability outreach. If you overpromise and alert clients to all of these news stories, then, logically, clients may start to see competitors quoted all over the place and wonder why they are not included. I say this not to discourage this type of pitching, but to carefully manage client expectations and pick your spots. Don’t go after news events for which the client has a peripheral connection to, focus on those for which your client is really uniquely positioned in a way that others are not.