It seems like every few months I see a tweet ripping into a bad PR pitch.
I remember a particular one from a few years ago, not only because it was brutal, but because I felt it could have been avoided. Also: I am going to refrain from linking to the post because I don’t like boosting ad revenue for crass, antagonistic blogs. Instead, I’ll just describe the situation.
I found the tweet when someone sent me this blogger’s lengthy takedown of a PR firm’s efforts to publicize a hollow startup. The blogger portrayed the pitch as comically superficial.
And the material actually was superficial. It went against every principle of clear writing that I talk about in my post, trainings and even tweets. All things being equal, the firm should have pushed back on the client to get more concrete facts about what the startup does and why it’s credible.
But that wasn’t the main problem, and it didn’t even stop them from ultimately succeeding elsewhere.
The biggest problem is where their material ended up. Granted, this is a blog that’s well read among the startup’s target market — millennials. But the blog also is known for snarky opposition to PR outreach.
The firm fell victim to the same type of thinking that I used to struggle with and that still distracts many of my clients. When I’m asked to review pitches, PR pros generally start by asking about their subject line, their opening sentence or their call to action. But there’s a factor that has way more impact on their likelihood of success than the language and phrasing of their actual pitch.
That factor is what I call “Message-to-Influencer Match.”
And that’s why the first thing I ask when looking at any pitch is: “Who is the target, and why?”
When you’ve done your research and you know you have the right journalist or blogger, the pitch almost writes itself. You don’t need to stress as much about the precise phrasing you use because your target is going to find the information useful regardless.
I’m not simply talking about identifying the topics a reporter or blogger will likely cover. When choosing targets, media relations masters think through the style and tone of the piece they want. They ask: Is the outcome awareness, persuasion, or branding? That’s why you consider the overall message of the piece you’re suggesting and weigh whether it’s a likely match to the influencer you’re pitching.
Remember that startup that was mocked as comically superficial by the popular millennial blog? It also landed a positive placement on the site of a respected business magazine.
So, in summation: What you pitch is secondary to who you pitch. Rather than blasting the same email to everyone in your database, spend 80 percent of your outreach time on the top 20 percent of your media list. That allows you to hone your Message-to-Influencer Match and land the coverage you deserve.
Michael Smart teaches PR professionals how to dramatically increase their positive media placements. He’s engaged regularly by organizations like General Motors, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and Georgia Tech to help their media relations teams reach new levels of success. Get more media pitching knowledge from Michael Smart here.