The PR Pitch Dilemma

Jeremy Pepper wrote a post yesterday about how we in the PR biz have become slaves to technology. He believes it’s caused many of us to abandon the phone and in-person meetings with reporters thanks to the ease of email pitches. Lost, he says, are the real relationships that make us valuable and, subsequently, many press clippings for clients.

His post got me thinking. There’s a PR pitch dilemma going on in our industry and reporters and PR people created it.

In short, it boils down to this: Most journalists want to be pitched by email, but a good percentage of pitches are sold only after picking up the phone and calling. So what’s a PR pro to do?

Many reporters these days prefer to be pitched by email. That’s great. But email pitches present two problems. First, we need to know if reporters are interested in a pitch or not. Bosses are asking and clients are asking. Since journalists often don’t reply to most email pitches from PR people they haven’t worked with yet, you have to pick up the phone and ask. Either that or you assume they aren’t interested and report that. But then you look like an idiot if a story shows up two weeks later and the reason the reporter didn’t let you know he was interested is because he didn’t need any further info from you.

Second, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve called to follow up on an email pitch I didn’t get a response on and the reporter was interested AFTER we talked. “I didn’t see that email, can you send me more info?” Many of those calls turned into stories for my clients.

See the dilemma? So, I offer a hearty apology to journalists, but if you don’t respond to my initial email, I have to pick up the phone and call. But I promise to only send you emails and give you phone calls when I’ve got an angle I believe is truly newsworthy.

And that’s where PR people have contributed to the dilemma. I’ve heard from several of my media connections that they often don’t see and respond to good email pitches because they get lost in the sea of daily emails they receive, many of which are pitches that are completely irrelevant to their beats, their interests and their audiences. Hopefully, those with the good stuff have the wherewithal to pick up the phone.

Do you see the dilemma? How do you navigate it?

*Image by Dan McKay.

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7 responses to “The PR Pitch Dilemma

  1. David, it’s a problem everyone has now and it’s interesting trying to find the solution because, as you point out, even when someone says ’email me’ it’s not until the phone call or face-to-face meeting that it registers with them.

    On the one hand, journalists should pay more attention to their email, but that’s not an excuse that’s going to cut it with clients is it?

    If journalists would actually look through emails the way a lot of PRs wade through the journalist requests then things would be better, but they don’t.

    (and to be fair, a lot of journalists are great – though despite all their talk, I’ve yet to see one get in touch via Twitter)

  2. I totally agree with the email first and then follow up with a phone call answer. I do a lot of email ad sales for my ezine BUT the ones who I either call or who call me along WITH email ad enquiries not only are more apt to ORDER ads but are also more aware and understanding of my guidelines AND their chances for a response TO their ads.

  3. While I don’t disagree with you outright, I don’t see this as much of a ‘recent problem’ as you suggest. Things weren’t that much different before email and media wanted stuff faxed to them.

    What it all boils down to is the relationship build. Understanding who you are pitching and how they prefer to communicate. Sometimes doing that homework before actually pitching is the most important thing you can do.

    If I’m going to be pitching someone I’ve not worked with before I like to get to know who they are beforehand – get to know their style, initiate non-pitch related contact to get some of the info that will make things run smoother down the road… phone vs email, timing, deadlines, likes/dislikes, particular areas of interest, industry gossip, whatever.

    A lofty goal? Nobody has time for that? Maybe. But I’ve seen the dividends pay out time and time again.

    By and large, the media that I’ve spoken with – and those who I’ve brought in as guest speakers when I teach PR classes – all say the same thing. ‘If you pitch me – whether by phone or by email – I will get back to you only if I am interested’.

    We all know that isn’t really true. But I’d say that if you do the pre-pitch work then more often than not it IS true. Just don’t expect explanations. Sometimes you have to count yourself lucky with a response of “No thanks.” … as brutal as that is to explain to a client!

  4. As a former PR guy who’s currently a journalist and editor-in-chief of two magazine publications, I can tell you firsthand the BEST way to contact editorial is through email. Period.

    To answer point-by-point in the post:

    1.) You won’t know if a reporter is interested in a pitch or not if you don’t send the email, so send it. We can trash it or keep it, but it’s MUCH better than getting a cold call pitch on something we have no interest in. It’s a waste of both of our times. So a little bit of publication research before a pitch is always a good thing.

    Personally speaking, if I’m interested in the pitch, I’ll reply. If not, I won’t. But that’s the nature of email. Though I do think that if any publication is going to run something from a pitch and they don’t ask for more info, it should be common courtesy to alert the PR folks that something will run. That doesn’t always happen though.

    2.) You MAY have received positive responses from following up after the initial email pitch, but from my experience of receiving phone pitches it’s rare. And usually it’s about timing. Getting a follow-up phone call during deadline is never a good thing. Though, I’m not opposed to multiple emails, as long as it doesn’t get too spammy. (Once or twice a week is a good rate.)

    The worst phone pitches include a.) No knowledge of the publication, b.) Fake attempts to be friendly (i.e. too saccharine of a tone), c.) A fully transparent attempt to get editorial simply to shill a product/service that has no real newsworthiness factor or that would not appeal to the publication’s audience.

    And in response to Craig McGill’s comment, I’m one of the growing number of journalists who communicate via Twitter and actually communicate to other journalists using the service. We might be few, but we do exist. 🙂

  5. @PRJack – Non-pitch related calls are a GREAT way to build relationships with editorial. It doesn’t mean going out to lunch or coffee because usually we have no time for that. But a non-pitch phone call asking for more information on the publication and what we are looking for actually goes very far.

    Granted, again it’s about timing. But we LIKE to talk about our pubs and what we do. (Seriously, we do!)

    The PR folks I’ve developed relationships with that did not include a “and about our client…” line during our first conversation are the ones I deal with more often than others.

  6. @Craig – I’m seeing a few more journalists on twitter these days. Its been a great way to build relationships with those that are there. I actually worked with one of them this morning – a morning news producer – on a great story including one of my clients that will run tomorrow morning. Score!

    @PRJack – I wasn’t suggesting it’s a recent problem, though I wasn’t thinking about the same issues with fax/call that you brought up. Great point!

    I’d actually be happy with a “no thanks.” We wouldn’t need any more response than that from non-interested reporters to know where we stand on the pitch. I’ve heard/read the “if I don’t respond, I’m not interested” line before. Maybe I’d believe it if I hadn’t landed so many stories in my career after calling about an e-pitch I didn’t get a response to. 🙂

    @Joshua – Thanks for sharing your insights. You’ve got a unique perspective, especially since most who’ve practiced both started in journalism.

    Nice that you reply when not interested. That must save a lot of follow-up phone calls. And that’s my point. I need to know if you’re interested and I don’t want to assume it because you didn’t respond to an email.

    Not pitching on deadline is rule #1. I wish more PR people followed it. Made that mistake – by accident – a couple months into my first job and have never made it since. That was not a fun conversation. 🙂

    Thanks also for sharing the things you don’t like about a phone pitch. Always good info, whether hearing it for the first time or as a reminder.

  7. Calling journalists to follow up on a e-pitch almost seems pointless anyway; rarely does anyone pick up the phone. Perhaps they recognize my number and are avoiding me? (I doubt it; I don’t call THAT often)

    I too have found a warmer welcome and better results from phone calls when I just ask what projects the journalist is working on and offer myself up as a resource on a particular industry or topic.

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