This past Tuesday we had the opportunity to sit in on Cision’s “Pitch Smart: Media Outreach” webinar by PR expert Michael Smart. In 60 minutes, punctuated by success stories and a brief Q/A session, Michael shared his top tips and tricks for effectively pitching to the media. These pieces of PR advice work in health care as well. For those of you who missed it, I will highlight and summarize a few of Michael’s pearls of wisdom.

Ever blunt, Michael cut right to the chase beginning the webinar by stating a few bleak facts about media pitching that we already know.

  • Journalists and bloggers are incredibly swamped, so they’ve got less and less time to spend listening to pitches.
  • Traditional approaches to media relations simply don’t work anymore.
  • Sending the same pitch to your entire media list is less effective than ever before.

Given this information, it’s clear that it is our job as PR professionals to find new and exciting ways to frame “boring” stories if we want them to get picked up by the media. Michael pointed out that exploiting pop culture and using compelling content are the two most effective ways of adding value and flair to your story, thus increasing its likelihood of getting picked up by the media.

He used his past work for Brigham Young University as an example, where he took a story about BYU mathletes and turned it into a viral sensation. He did this by creating a rap video comparing the mathletes to BYU’s D1 basketball team, just as March Madness kicked off. The video linked a program that many people viewed as boring to both BYU’s successful sports team and a popular nationwide college event. Those things combined made more successful than BYU could ever have dreamed.

For most companies, however, trying to make your stories more exciting isn’t always enough to get them picked up by the media. Most companies—like ours—rely heavily on the pitch, which is why it’s so crucial that we do everything we can to perfect it.

According to Michael, good pitching revolves around something called the “80/20 Principle”, which basically states that you should spend 80% of your pitch time on the top 20% of your media list. If you’re a company that reaches out to more than 10 media contacts at a time, it’s unrealistic to think that you can devote the time and manpower necessary to customize each individual pitch. Taking this into consideration, you should select the top 20% of your media contacts and focus the majority of your time on fully customizing their pitches. For the next 30% of your media contacts it’s ok to decrease the amount of customization in your pitch, and for the bottom 50% of your media contacts it’s alright to use minimal customization when pitching.

If you’re having trouble figuring out who should be included in the top 20% of your media contacts, there are a few different things you can look for. Keep in mind your target audiences. Try to determine what types of media they’re consuming and the outlets that frequently reach them. Also, try to remember that at the end of the day, it’s all about the Benjamin’s where you’ll get your best ROI. All media relationships, specifically those in your top 20%, should either consistently drive revenue or drive valuation. These are important things to remember when trying to rank your media contacts.

Michael went on to describe exactly how PR professionals can customize their pitches. When pitching to your top 20%, make sure you do your research. Find out what industry they’re in, get to know their personal interests, go through and actually read their past work. The more you know about a media contact, the easier it will be to find ways of customizing your pitch specifically for them. As a rule, you should be both specific and sincere when pitching. Don’t just say, “I noticed you cover industry events”. Dig deeper. Actually read and reference their former work or their personal interests while finding a way to tie it to either yourself or your story. Forging these personal connections can help increase a media contact’s likelihood of picking up your story.

Michael also touched on the appropriate amount of information that should be in your pitch. If you’re pitching to someone at a top-tier organization such as The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal , make sure to keep your pitch short and sweet, giving just enough information to catch their attention. If your media contact is older he suggests ending with “would you like more information?” and if you’re pitching to a younger reporter then you’re better off ending with a link instead.

 

In closing, he leaves us with a few additional pieces of advice:

  • Don’t pitch over social media
  • Start following potential media contacts early, but never friend them on Facebook
  • After pitching to someone, wait 24 hours before a response and then follow up if you don’t get one

Keeping this advice in mind, here are a few takeaways and tips:

  • Find ways to reference pop culture and current events.
  • Exercise the “80/20 Principle”.
  • Follow the customization formula.
  • Ensure that you include the appropriate amount of information in your pitches.

These are all smart ways to improve the quality of your overall pitch, give you a leg up on your competition and increase your chances of getting your story picked up by the media. We’re not sure if there will ever be a formula for “the perfect pitch”, but we think Michael Smart has definitely given us a great framework. The rest is up to you!

 

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