HARO – How to Pitch A Reporter – The Second Edition

So I just finished up listening in on Peter Shankman’s Help A Reporter Out (HARO) “How to Pitch a Reporter” conference call.

Some good tidbits and a lot of “really, who’s running your agency???” type of questions.

Peter did a solid job moderating and bringing a great group of journalists onto the call, including:

* Lisa Belkin, Contributing Writer for the New York Times Magazine, and author of “Life’s Work, Confessions of an Unbalanced Mom”
* Shelly Banjo, personal finance reporter for The Wall Street Journal Sunday. She also writes two columns related to Gen-Y, called “Starting Out” and the Journal Women’s “Fast Track.”
*   Abby Ellin, Former NYT columnist, frequent NYT contributor, author of “Teenage Waistland: A Former Fat Kid Weighs in on Living Large, Losing Weight and How Parents Can (and Can’t) Help.”
*  Megan Scott, Reporter for the Associated Press.

What I loved the most about this call (and I’m focusing on through this post) is the overarching theme of “don’t be an idiot” when it comes to PR/media relations.  For example:

Lisa Belkin from the NY Times Magazine said one of her biggest pet peeves was PR flacks that pitch off target.  Maybe this comes from people relying too much on media lists from Cison on Bull Dog Reporter, but she stressed how easy it is to check targets online first BEFORE you pitch.  Lisa also happens to be a fan of PR types.  She often gets her story ideas from them and of course, we’re often the gatekeepers for clients anyway ;-).  At the same time, she appreciates when you offer up experts and ideas for the future, not just pitches.  I’m glad to hear this, as it’s contrary to my friend Marisa’s cousin (a junior editor at a women’s book) who told me at a wedding “I never take story ideas from PR people!”  Then again, she was maybe 22 and had a lot to learn….

Abby Ellin from the WSJ is a stickler for grammar, which I can see.  A little thought in a pitch goes along way.

Shelley Banjo noted that your pitch should be concise and relevant.  Not a book.  Get to the point right away and supply more details as necessary.

AP’s Megan Scott feels bad for PR people.  She knows following up is part of the job, but don’t badger reporters… they’re getting our messages, even checking their spam folders.  Also, she noted you shouldn’t pitch on a topic she just wrote about; it’s too late then.  If someone does a story on Halloween costumes, don’t come back to them two days later with new trends, you missed your window.  Do however, track what this person does and offer them ideas in advance.

In terms of online and social media, none of the reporters wanted you to reach out or befriend them via Facebook expect them to follow you on Twitter, etc.  I know a lot of people are on the Twitter bandwagon these days, but for most PR related purposes, it doesn’t work for me.

Also, noting how many interviews or features a client has secured may backfire on your clients.  Showcasing all the great national coverage someone has received could give the perception a client or brand is overexposed.  Likewise, if something was just in the NY Times, do you really think the WSJ wants to cover it?  Or HypeBeast versus High Snobiety?

Some on the panel said they do go online for story ideas, so as PR people, we shouldn’t hesitate to work with the bloggers and online media that maybe don’t have the reach of USAToday.com.

Also, don’t mass-pitch.  I can’t believe someone asked this, but the BCC email is obvious and a big turn-off to media.  And if you do pitch more than one reporter at a publication, let them know.  Jim Smith is going to feel like a dummy at an editorial meeting if he brings up an idea that Pete Jones  has already cleared with his senior editor.

So that’s about it.  There was more, but I’m not going to go through it all now.  The call was definitely worth the $, if only to reinforce my thoughts on the right way to work with the media.

Megan Scott’s point about PR people having a difficult job was a touching one, but the difficulty is partially a result of the PR industry not changing with the times.

Too many people on the account and new business side are out of touch… they’re not in the trenches and don’t realize that it takes more than a pretty girl to get you into Maxim or an exclusive to get you that Today Show feature.  When I was at a pretty great agency in NYC, occasionally I’d get a project handed to me that was sold in by a higher up, with some unrealistic expectations.  One day, during happy hour and Buck Hunter (Stephanie, Zach and DK, I miss you guys!!!) I proposed an idea to my closest colleagues, called “Pitch It Yourself!” Actually, it was “EXPLETIVE Pitch It Yourself,” but that’s not the issue.  The idea was that everyone on the account team and in brainstorm sessions for clients (their own or others) had to pitch one outlet.  Not necessarily the NY Times, it could be a smaller paper, but if you think this idea you’re proposing is so rad, then “#&$(&^# Pitch It Yourself!”

Unfortunately, as great as the agency was, this idea didn’t fly in during our monthly staff meetings.

I’ve been lucky enough to have a career that goes beyond action sports marketing (although that’s what I seem to be called on the most for these days), with solid stints in personal care/men’s grooming, technology, mobile communications, the green world and healthcare.  Is my job ever easy?  No, but being honest and realistic with my clients, during the new business and programming phases, makes the job easier for all involved.


~ by doubleb on October 21, 2008.

2 Responses to “HARO – How to Pitch A Reporter – The Second Edition”

  1. Hi Bill — Thanks for the report out on the HARO webinar. Regarding the notes about PR people not doing their homework. I was at a meeting last night and a comment was made about Interactive online agencies starting to reach out to get editorial coverage for clients. The point was made that these people aren’t PR professionals and in many cases don’t know the right way to approach media. And since it is a PR tactic, there fumbled attempts add to the bad rap PR folks get.

    Enjoying the blog!

  2. Thanks for checking it out Tami! And you’re colleagues experiences mirror my own in online marketing.

    I’m managing an online project now for a luxury brand’s foray into online entertainment and I’ve seen first-hand some similar issues pop up. Luckily, the client gets the difference between online media relations and online advertising/marketing, so things have gone pretty well so far (I LOVE smart clients ;-).

    The biggest issue I’m seeing in PR in the digital world is budget. It simply takes time to do a thorough job managing the new media, vetting who’s great, who isn’t and who the next HypeBeast or Treehugger might be.

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