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The Media Pitch and Your Phone – Not as Repellent as You Think

The Media Pitch and Your Phone – Not as Repellent as You Think

By Michael Smart

I’ve noticed the most successful media pitching pros I work with share a common trait.

They are constantly dropping journalists’ and bloggers’ NAMES.

That might sound arrogant, but that’s not why they do it.

They don’t say, “Last week I pitched the Wall Street Journal.” They say, “So I pitched that to Emily Nelson at the Journal because I know she . . .”

Not: “I’m struggling to break through at the New York Times.” Instead: “David Carr is really tough to earn coverage from – and he even answers his own phone!”

Not: “This would be good for USA Today.” But: “I’m thinking we can make this work for Hadley Malcom’s ‘YoungMoney’ show as well as one of her articles.”

The cool thing is they don’t do it consciously – that’s just how they think. And that’s a key element of what makes them successful.

Want to know the fastest way to train yourself to think this way? To see media “targets” as real people with individual personalities, quirks, and favorites? And then learn to meet their high standards for customization and relevance?

Pick up the phone. (Gasp.)

Yes, I know. When I speak at conferences about media pitch training, I hear the same journalist panels you do. Reporters chant in veritable unison, “Don’t pitch me over the phone.”

But I’m not talking about cold calls. (Although those can actually work, too, when done properly in specific instances. But that’s another blog post.)

I’m talking about moving your key media relationships from digital ephemera to real human connections.

That transition happens when you talk to a reporter on the phone for 10 minutes.

It happens because there’s a heightened level of emotional response. And also because more stuff comes up than you can elicit in a brief email or 280-character Twitter exchange.

Like the fact you used to drive the same commute the journalist does now. Or you both balance your love of doughnuts with running. Or you have kids the same age.

Of course, when we think about journalists as a big group to generalize about, then that faceless mass would be collectively horrified to find PR people of the world reading a blog post that advocates phoning reporters to “shoot the breeze.”

But if you think about one specific reporter – the one who has responded to some of your emails but just couldn’t make a story work yet. Or who had a fun Twitter dialogue or two with you. The one that you were able to impress as someone who knows the industry and respects their time.

THAT reporter will take a call from you the next time you have a useful industry nugget to share. And, if it’s not a crazy day, he or she will tolerate or even welcome you referencing some personal detail revealed in a Twitter bio. You’ll make a connection around it, and the conversation will flow naturally.

Of course, you’re careful not to overdo it. You’re off the line in 5 minutes or so – 10 minutes max, no matter how well the conversation’s going. And you only call back when necessary to keep that human connection – every two months or so, with email and Twitter contact in between.

But that first call makes all the difference. It changes you from thinking about pitching “outlets” to pitching “people.” And it transforms you from yet another name in a journalist’s inbox to a real person with real value to share.

Here’s the process again in short:

  • Call journalists after you’ve made a favorable impression digitally
  • Don’t start with a pitch
  • No script – sincerely and authentically make a personal connection and show that you really care about what they want

I know this message may be hard to swallow — especially among twentysomethings who prefer texting to phone conversations even with friends. I definitely notice the raised eyebrows and even outright scowls when I bring this up in my media pitching training sessions. Aversion to using the phone for media relations is widespread.

But that provides yet another reason to buck the status quo:

Wanna stand out from the flood of publicists crowding your key journalist’s inbox?

Pick up the phone.


Michael Smart is the media pitching coach PR pros turn to when they want to boost their positive media placements. He’s trained more than 6,000 communicators from agencies large and small, from Fortune 50 companies to regional non-profits.

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