By way of the most ridiculous and delicious analogy I can think of–a serving of root beer—I hope to illustrate how much details matter when it comes to crafting a pitch on Qwoted. For in the Qwotedly qwest to turn qwestions into qwick media placements for your sources, it’s not just a matter of jotting down a sentence or two, hitting send and calling it good. More must be done to tilt the odds in your favor. And so, let us raise a root beer…
Ah, but… is the root beer cold? Did you serve it in a can? Or a cup? Or a bottle? Or better yet, a mug? A frosty mug? Is it one of those generic supermarket root beers larded with corn syrup? Or a boutique brand that is going to surprise and delight your friends? Hopefully, it’s something like Milwaukee-based Sprecher Fire Brewed Root Beer, which did not pay me for this ringing endorsement. Now I am getting thirsty.
My obsession with root beer aside, I hope you get the point. Paying attention to details, and stacking those small adjustments into your pitch, can make a big difference. Notice how I didn’t say “guaranteed results.” Let’s leave that hooey to the macho guys hawking mysterioso exercise regimens on YouTube. The point here is to increase your chances, stand out and make an impact that will last not just with one pitch, but also with anything you subsequently send the journalist’s way.
Ready? Let’s begin.
1) Get the right info in your pitch.
Seems obvious, right? Not so. You’d be amazed how many pitches I field as a reporter that just offer up a generic response. The reply might as well read “Dear Occupant.” Specificity matters. So dig into what the reporter is requesting. While you’re at it put yourself in the reporter’s shoes. What kind of pitch would you want to see if this were your story to write?
Bonus points here if you can refer to some previous story the reporter did to show you know something of what they are trying to achieve. Did I add to always, always, always refer to them by name? No “Dear Occupant.” Unless, of course, their name is Occupant.
2) Get the right angle in your pitch.
Once again, this requires going deeper, employing some empathy for the reporter, and giving some good thought to how your source can address a sharply-defined element of the pitch. Here’s an example of how this works:
Reporter: Lou Carlozo, Editor In Chief of Qwoted, is working on a story about the disappearance of pink elephants from bars.
Ms. Pro PR: Dear Lou: I loved your last story in Qwoted about saving pink elephants. One fascinating part of the pink/elephant bar issue is how double the number of pink elephants are disappearing from root beer bars. I’d love to introduce you to Dan Simon, who has spent 20 years researching this topic and just released a fascinating report about…
Notice how Ms. Pro PR dove into the heart of the pitch in a way other PRs most likely will not. Again, the common denominator here is empathy: She walked a good mile in the reporter’s shoes and asked herself not only “What will make my pitch stand out?” but also “What will help the reporter’s story jump off the page?”
3) “Zig when everyone else is zagging”
One of the greatest newspaper editors of the 20th Century, Gene Roberts, taught me this principle when I was a cub at the Philadelphia Inquirer. If you are doing what everyone else does, you’ll never stand out. If you do the different thing, while still maintaining your focus on serving the reporter, you stand an excellent chance of moving to the front of the pack.
Much of this has to do with angle, which I’ve discussed above. But part of it also has to do with the originality of your presentation, and what you choose to talk about. Like: “I’LL GUARANTEE WRITTEN REPLIES WITHIN 24 HOURS SO YOU CAN MEET AND BEAT YOUR DEADLINE!” Now that’s not just music to a reporter’s ears, but a freaking Mahler symphony.
Another way to approach the “zig-zag” dynamic is to pitch an unlikely but fascinating source. When I was working on a U.S. News story about value investing, I was pitched Edwin O. Thorp. Edwin O. Who? Why, only the guy who wrote “Beat The Dealer,” the 1966 book that paved the way for professional gamblers to master “card counting” at the blackjack table and wipe out the casinos. He was not the logical egghead source. But he was fascinating: a hedge fund manager, math professor and card sharpie who also knew a thing or two about the subject. Helllllooooooo, Mr. Zig. (You can read the story here.) I quoted him alongside a few billionaires, by the way.
You may not always be so lucky to represent such a colorful character. But you are creative enough to figure out different ways to approach a topic with sources who are offbeat. Or funny. One of the best sources I was ever offered as a journalist managed to throw in a few jokes or quips with every reply. He was like the happy Italian uncle of finance journalism. Because humor is a good thing when writing about desert-dry topics such as fiduciary responsibility, he often made it in to my stories.
Here’s another look at the zig-zag dynamic: My favorite Gene Roberts story involved the bombing of Baghdad during the first Gulf War. While every domestic and foreign newspaper and TV crew descended on battlefields and bomb sites, Roberts sent the Inquirer’s reporter to the local race track. Yup. Betting on the ponies, “they’re off,” all that sort of stuff. His thought was that these poor gamblers were just trying to have a fun day at races, and jets were screaming overhead, bringing a mixture of annoyance and outright fright. What a journalistic triumph. Years later, no one remembers all those battlefield stories. But the Roberts assignment gets talked about a lot to this day.
4) Give to get
The notion here is that there’s a simple quid pro quo implied with every pitch–but that we need to go beyond it. “I’ll give you a great source and you’ll give me brownie points to score with said source.” Yet proactivity here is everything. A smart PR who applies “give to get” may just offer those quotes up front. Without being asked. Ahead of the pack. And, with an invitation to begin a more lasting relationship.
How do you embody “give to get” in your work and pitching? It’s not an obvious question to ask, and good answers require some serious thought. But it could be as simple as inviting a reporter to lunch (they pick the spot) now that the pandemic has lifted. Can’t put that in a pitch, you say? Why the hell not?
I think another way to do this comes through a question as simple as “How can I help?” Or: “How can I serve you?” Or :“You’ve got a lot of pitches, what do you really need to get this story to sing?” The logic here is simple: Reporters are harried people. Everybody wants something from them. Rare is the person who steps forward with a warm invitation extended and good intentions to make the first giving move. Don’t you just love when someone asks it? “How can I help?”
Again, I cannot stress enough that this list will not guarantee results. It’s more a roadmap that you must follow on your way to PR Success. If my dear friend Mr. Thorp were here—and boy, was he one hell of an interview—he’d say that counting the cards in a blackjack deck does not ensure a win. Rather, it greatly increases the chances of one.
I am a reporter and editor who cares about PRs. Yes, we really exist. When I help you to do your jobs better, it in turn helps me to do mine. Then we can all join hands around the campfire and sing the “Qwoted Kum Ba Ya,” or something like that.
Better yet, pass me a root beer. You know just how I like it.