Pitching the old and new ways (at the same time)
Baseball is one of my real passions. So, I took an interest when manager Joe Maddon jumped to the Chicago Cubs this off-season, after years with the Tampa Bay Rays.
Maddon is famous for his use of data-driven computer analytics to help him make in-game decisions -- definitely a newish trait.
But, he also tries to keep his team loose by injecting fun into the day-to-day baseball routine, approaches that would have worked 15 years ago (theme road trips like “wear your favorite soccer jersey”, for example).
No wonder Maddon was described by the Chicago Tribune as someone who “blended old school with new age ideas.”
Old school in a new age. To me, that sounds a lot like the challenges I face -- many of us face -- as media relations professionals. Yes, our jobs are changing, but not in a bad way. Like Joe Maddon, we are at the intersection of new age AND old school.
The good news: Real rewards await those who balance some modern methods with some oldie but goodie practices.
A recent media placement reminded me of this balance. It was a television pitch that I targeted to a producer with whom I hadn’t previously worked, but who I was following on Twitter (and got him to follow me, simply by congratulating him on a new job).
Here is how I negotiated the story using newer techniques, then some old school practices that were employed in the very same project.
My pitch actually began on Twitter before shifting to e-mail. The tweet was simple and direct: “Hi Dan, I am emailing you about some college bound seniors with an amazing backstory.” But, it got his attention in a way that I might not have gotten if my email was just one of hundreds in his inbox at that moment. Twitter, right now, is the communications tool of choice for a growing group of journalists. So be where they are - you’ll get noticed. Moreover, my tweets were conversational. I was tweeting “to” him, not “at” him, so I hit the “what’s in it for you” element quickly.
I had digital assets ready to enhance the story. I had met the college bound students a couple of weeks prior -- and asked them to bring acceptance letters so we could photograph them. I had forgotten about these photos when we shot the story, but I realized, about two hours until air, that I had them. I gave the reporter a heads up and emailed a link over. A few of these photos made the story that aired (how’s that for a win?). Could this have happened a decade ago? Maybe not.
Digital promotion. One thing that matters to any journalist is "will anyone see my story?" Now, you can impact viewership by aggressively sharing story links to stakeholders on social media. When you promote a story, the click increase is noted. The reporter truly appreciates this (mainly because his bosses are counting clicks, too). Does a good story count increase chances that the journalist would work with you again -- especially if you have been working on social media to share the story? Well, it sure doesn’t hurt.
Old school examples - from the same story pitch:
A targeted approach still beats an email blast. In the case of the story of the college bound seniors, I was able to pitch my idea to one producer and one producer only. Why such an individualized approach? Because I knew, from being a viewer of this station, that the story was right for the outlet. Know thy target -- today, tomorrow and probably 50 years from now.
Deadlines matter. If a reporter wants to shoot a story you have pitched to them, you have to be prepared to deliver. A TV station may have a crew today, ready to shoot your story. This may not be the case tomorrow. In the cases where you have to be ready NOW, you need to hop to it, pronto. A second chance may never materialize.
Thinking like the reporter still wins the day. If you are an experienced PR pro, you know being able to suggest an interesting tidbit or two to a journalist before an interview can be useful to your client AND the reporter. If you have valuable assets -- another spokesperson, photos, a useful statistic -- you can make a story stronger by speaking up. One final thing that is always in style: being available after the interview. Hand out your cell number. Be available when you are needed (sometimes, for me, that has meant helping a reporter in the parking lot outside my daughters’ school).
To be sure, there are some old school methods that are indeed as outdated as sending press releases in the snail mail. Still, a modern approach can be successful when you also include a bit of the old school. It is a winning combo -- for Joe Maddon in the Cubs dugout or for you in the media pitching arena.