I don’t know when or how it happened, but some person or group decided to make PR—that is, earning media coverage on behalf of clients—way more complicated than it needs to be.
When I started cutting my teeth in the media relations biz, I figured getting coverage necessitated strong-arm tactics, trickery, or some Machiavellian combination of the two. On top of that, I knew my pitches to reporters would go up against those from PR veterans who had more years of experience than I have chest hairs.
How was a 20-year-old like myself, with no experience and no connections, supposed get reporters to open my emails, much less respond to them?
After a few months of trial and error, I stumbled upon a wild idea: I could treat reporters like human beings.
Of course, you say, who wouldn’t treat a reporter like a human being?
Well, a lot of people. Here are just a few of the ways PR people manage to shoot themselves in the foot when trying to “do their job”:
- Spamming reporters with mass or automated pitches
- Failing to acknowledge reporters by name
- Treating reporters as subordinates
- Conflating editorial needs with brand needs
- Disregarding reporters’ busy schedules and sending lengthy emails (more than 100 words)
- Pitching non-news that does nothing but clog reporters’ inboxes
Today, anybody with an internet connection and half a brain can track down a reporter’s contact information and commit the above sins. And trust me, reporters hear from way too many of these people. Muck Rack even acknowledged that for every journalist, there are more than six PR people.
On one hand, this sucks for reporters in the sense that hitting inbox zero is a pipe dream. On the other hand, it’s an opportunity for legitimate PR professionals because the bar for quality pitches is set so low (we’re talking like two inches above the ground).
In my brief media relations career, every successful pitch has boiled down to three ingredients: respect, authenticity, and brevity. Here’s a recent exchange I had with an editor at a prominent national publication (edited for confidentiality)
SUBJECT: We might live in parking garages in 50 years – here’s why
I saw Outlet’s recent article about urban sustainability and was hoping to get your feedback on a potential op-ed. Firstname Lastname, a principal at St. Louis-based architecture firm XXXXX, wants to contribute a piece about the importance of building “future-proof” parking garages which can be repurposed as residences, offices, or recreational areas.
Do you think your readers would enjoy this? If so, I’ll have her send a draft early next week. What do you think?
Interesting concept. I’d love to read a draft of Firstname’s op-ed. Talk soon.
No bullshit. No braggadocio. No fluff.
Some industry experts will tell you that the pitch has evolved through the digital era, but really the pitch has devolved. It has been pared down to its simplest form: conversation—being human.
I do not have a rolodex of reporters on speed dial, nor do I have friends in the media who can pull strings for me. Quite simply, I’m a nobody. But I do have a sense of humility and empathy that many PR hacks (apparently) do not.
Are there are some old, gray-haired guys in suits out there who can make a call and get a story placed on demand? Sure. But in the Wild West of web 2.0, those people are becoming extinct and the future of successful PR will boil down to one character trait: empathy.
Can you treat reporters like human beings?
I suggest we all do, lest reporters become more cynical than they (understandably) are.