Wednesday, February 10, 2010

timing and the pitch: 6 ways to change

Dave Fleet's very good blog on the nexus between public relations and social media asks, "Do the old timing rules still apply for media relations?"  He's referring to a longstanding rule of thumb from what now seems like the Pleistocene era of pitching:  If newspaper reporters are filing stories in the afternoon to meet a 5pm deadline, you shouldn't be calling them after 2:30 or 3, unless you're the subject of the story and someone has just set you on fire.  With multiple deadlines throughout the day, journalists now can rightly say, "I'm always busy," as Fleet points out.  So how does that change your timing?
I agree with Dave that your timing can and should be more fluid--and I think it's your approach that may need the change.  Embrace a mix of time-honored and new tactics and technology with these 6 ways to change your pitch to fit the 24/7 world of breaking news:
  1. You had me at "Are you on deadline?":  I don't say hello. I don't ask how you are today. I say, "Dave, this is Denise Graveline from My Organization. Are you on deadline?"  And invariably, I hear, "Yes, but what do you have?" or "Yes, but go ahead." That's why it's number one on my list of 12 questions to ask reporters.  That will never change. You'd be surprised how few PR folks bother with this--it's more than a nicety.  No matter what time of day it is, this is the question that matters.
  2. Don't dive in with every pitch. Stand in the river:  Think fly-fishing, not spear-fishing.  Get yourself established in the social-media stream, hip boots and all.  Be a patient, available angler, not someone looking to make a splash.  The time this takes will allow you to become an observer of what catches the reporter's eye, and what doesn't.  Remember: As in fly fishing, mostly it doesn't. Keep standing. At various points throughout the year, when the river rises and your topic becomes news, you'll be ready--and then can pitch with confidence.
  3. Be continuously useful.  Share widely all those dull, boring, non-deadline-oriented but essential bits of information you think nobody wants.  Curate collections of related information, even if not new, into background packs online:  A report here, photos there, charts with underlying data, related news coverage from other outlets, and sooner or later you've become the library on your topic.  Share them on social media. Create bundles of blogs on your topic on Google Reader, and let people know how to find them. Tweet your resources on a regular basis. Publish them to your Facebook feed. Create a Twitter list of experts in one area, and cross-publicize it on your website. 
  4. Make sure others recommend you to reporters:  The second-hand source--one recommended by a source already sought by the reporter--should be a coveted position, but it's too often ignored by communicators.  Do you have partners, fellow experts, satellite organizations, company branches, regional headquarters?  Each of them should know how to recommend the others--and you--when reporters call, and know their specialties and contacts.  Don't forget to cultivate this option, and return the favor.
  5. Pitch when you don't have to:  Nothing takes the stress, pain and annoyance out of media pitching for both parties like the pitch that isn't pressured. Do you see a trend developing? Know of an interesting debate that will happen at an upcoming industry meeting?  Have the interesting followup answer to a question posed publicly last year?  Share it, especially if there's nothing clearly in it for you or your organization.
  6. Make better use of in-person opportunities:  Be known as one who connects people, and demonstrate that by doing it. Show up at tweetups, writers' meetings, industry or association conferences. Serve on a committee in a professional group where communicators and journalists mix.  Offer your space for a gathering, chat with everyone, and listen.  The last time I went to such a meeting--with nothing to pitch--I walked away having connected 4 clients with reporters hunting for exactly what they had to offer, just by participating, listening and connecting the dots.  Having trouble making the case for travel? Remind your bean-counters or boss that now, more than ever, the chance to establish contacts in person resonates in an era of all-online-all-the-time.
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