Know the Facts Before You Pitch the Journalist
You did it. You broke the cardinal rule of PR.
I’m sure it wasn’t really your fault. Time wasn’t on your side. Your reliable contact was on vacation. Investors were on your back, pushing for you to take the plunge. And yet despite your better judgement, you hit send on that unresearched, Arctic chill pitch email to journalist XYZ with whom you’ve never spoken to in your life.
And you’re likely never to again.
So how do you avoid the PR world’s biggest faux pas? Start by knowing the facts.
Research First, Pitch Second
You need to practice what you preach. Whether you’re a PR pro or a founder or CEO, you’re in the business of making valuable relationships. From investors to customers, potential hires to journalists. You’re taught to always make relationships before you need them and cautioned to never ask someone you’ve just met for a favor.
So why would you ever pitch a journalist you’ve never emailed until now? Furthermore, why would you do without doing any research before hand? No one wants to cold pitch anyone, but the reality is, it’s going to happen at some point. How do you avoid looking desperate? By taking the time to dig a little.
Identify the Outlet. Start by determining the outlets you’d like to pitch and ensure that they hold the right audience: your potential customers. Be cautious of vanity wins — while some outlets come with certain bragging rights, are they truly the right fit for your company? Where will you see the biggest return?
Search for Keywords. Take a look at previous articles and do a search for common keywords that resonate with your industry and audience. This is a great way to confirm your looking at the right outlet (or rule out said outlet if they don’t cover your industry.)
Pitch Those that Cover the Industry. In the ecommerce space? See who’s covering it. Building the next Snapchat? Pinpoint who covers mobile apps. Narrow your search to see who covers social apps. These are the folks you want to talk to.
Remember the Rule of Three. Just because a writer covered HR technology that one time a year ago, doesn’t mean she’s the one to pitch. For every journalist you discover, make sure they’ve covered your industry or topic on more than three isolated occasions.
You Are Your Own Worst Enemy
Now here’s the thing. The reverse is also true. While you should never reach out to a journalist without knowing their beat and what they like to cover, you shouldn’t be reaching out to journalists until you know your own beat.
It’s your company. Your product. Your story!
Shockingly, some founders, community managers, or media relations pros still aren’t great when it comes to knowing product features or growth stats. And when was the last time you spoke to a founder still trying to identify their story or WHY? As people, we know ourselves better than anyone else. Yet when put on the spot, sometimes we can’t even answer questions about our favorite things, dreams in life or goals. You’re only human.
Your WHY. Your product is one in many, so stop telling journalists what it does. Pitch why it’s important and why a journalist should care.
Your Story. Similar to your WHY, your story is the passion and driving force behind your why. What made you decide to build this product, solve this problem, or change the landscape.
Your Hook. This is what sets you apart from everyone else. Why is your product/story different (and better) than all the others before it.
Know What They Want and Give it to Them
Once you’ve identified the right journalists, always have your story straight and know how to tell it. Include your WHY, share personal stories about your journey. Tell it like it happened but in a way that is not only creative but that offers actionable insight to readers. Include valuable takeaways, make it easily digestible. Prepare yourself for any questions they may ask that you’re not willing or ready to discuss, such as funding, investors, or any bad reviews or criticism in the media.
It may help to make a list of talking points, especially if you’re easily flustered or worried you may forget something. Especially when it comes to facts or data. Journalists love numbers, both quantitative and qualitative. Yes, show growth and user acquisition, but also include influence and customer success.
Keep all of your stats, talking points, testimonials or customer case studies up-to-date in a media prep document, so that it’s always readily available. For those tough to answer questions, include a list of alternatives to use or switch to a topic of choice. Being overly prepared isn’t a bad thing. It’s a great thing.
Lastly, know your product inside out and ensure that your team does too. PR pro? Take the time to understand your client’s product. Download it, get a demo, encourage your friends or colleagues to use it and share their thoughts.
Time is Money. Don’t Waste It.
In conclusion, time is money. Both your time and that of journalists. In a perfect world, you’ll have enough time to answer every media request or journalist’s question on your own clock and to perfection every time. Unfortunately, that’s just not the case. Some of the best media opportunities will come out of nowhere and will likely have looming deadlines, but if you’re prepared and you know your facts, you’re more than capable of making every opportunity count.
Breathe easy, you’ve got this in the bag.
Do you have a nightmare pitching story to share? A confession of a time you send the coldest pitch to the journalist farthest removed from your beat? We’d love to hear about it in the comments below or tweet us @Onboardly.