Don Draper may have made many successful pitches to clients, but when he talked to the media, he lost all his charm. Ironically, he couldn’t conjure up the right thing to say. Perhaps Don could’ve learned a thing or two from Fred Iannotti.
As a freelance pitcher and writer, Fred works with agencies to get their clients’ stories in the national business and trade press. Although he pitches all types of outlets, including the major business targets, such as The Wall Street Journal, CNBC, and Bloomberg News, he frequently works with broadcast media. He was kind enough recently to share four of his secrets with us.
Secret #1: Know What’s News – and What’s Not
Producers and assignment editors are looking for stories that tie into current news. They also welcome broadcast-ready experts who are telegenic, quotable, and unafraid to offer pithy insights on controversial topics. It's also important that they be available and have easy access to the main studio or can get to an affiliate to do a remote.
National broadcast means you’re up against the Big Story. If you're not launching the next version of the iPhone (i.e., if your news isn't big enough to be a Big Story), it needs to fit into that flow of news — which means monitoring what's being reported. Regional and local TV and radio require that your story have a local angle.
Few clients have a story of national magnitude. Nevertheless, every business assumes the media is waiting with bated breath for their new product (or service) press release. Your job is to give the client a reality check and adjust expectations to fit that reality. Often your client's story isn't that new product or service. If you dig deep enough, you will likely find the real story — the buried lead. Almost every company has a story to tell. It's just that companies are too close to their business to recognize what the real news is.
Secret #2: Do Your Research
A savvy media pitcher with informed research skills is the client’s secret weapon. Fred says that because pitchers always put themselves in the reporter’s shoes, they often can secure coverage for the client from completely unexpected angles. You not only must know the journalist's beat, but understand how they like to report stories and what they're reporting on currently.
Most companies make the natural mistake of thinking that their news revolves around the latest and greatest features of their new product(s) and service(s). If you're stuck playing that hand, Fred offers the example of an automaker that has designed a car with six speeds.
“You have to look at it from the consumer’s point of view, which is how the reporter looks at it,” Fred says. “What’s the importance of that extra speed? What does it allow you to do? Go faster? Save the transmission? What about this makes it newsworthy?
Putting the client’s news into context is a must. While journalists know their industry beats, they may not know every widget and how it compares to other widgets. Your job is to make your widget relevant by explaining why it matters – that is, why the viewer should care. Context, context, context — it's probably the biggest oversight in pitching a story.
Secret #3: Customize Your Pitch to Each Outlet
To paraphrase an old saying, what’s boring to one media outlet is news gold to another. Iannotti points out that the press release is an archaic method. It’s a one-size-fits-all tool that doesn't fit our age of customization.
Worse, it insults the reporters you're trying to cultivate. Not only does it say you don't understand their specialized needs, but it indicates that to you, they're no more important than any other reporter. News releases have their place, but they're usually useless to a pitcher.
Think about it from the reporter’s viewpoint: He needs to produce a segment that tantalizes his audience. As the pitcher, you need to understand that audience and be able to communicate concisely what they need to know.
Customizing a pitch to your target media outlets is often a tough sell to a client because it is time-intensive. With a news release, you blanket the world in seconds and then waste your time following up, trying to pound a square peg into a round hole.
The most effective way to secure detailed coverage is to "shop the exclusive." With this approach, you select the media your client cares about the most and offer an exclusive to your top target. If unsuccessful with your top target, you move on to your #2 candidate. It takes time and patience, but the results are much, much better.
Secret #4: The Perfect Pitch is Personalized
In this age of personalization, a pitcher must be familiar with each journalist. Although this kind of information can be hard to come by, it's important to try to find out what's on a journalist's plate, how he likes to receive pitches (email? tweet? text?), and what his hot buttons are.
Fred notes that it's essential to read/watch/listen to what journalists report because you want to use that knowledge to engage them during your elevator pitch for your client. Services like TVEyes make it easy to pinpoint and view a particular reporter’s work. For example, a media pitcher can search TVEyes using relevant terms, enabling him to determine not only if a broadcast outlet covered a particular topic but also how specific journalists treated it. (Sign up for a free trial of TVEyes and see how it can make your next pitch stronger.)
And displaying to a journalist that you know what they've been reporting about demonstrates you've done your homework. It also strokes a reporter's ego, which is not a bad thing to do.
Once you’ve identified the appropriate outlets and the right journalists and producers at each, you’ll need to work your media list progressively, customizing each pitch.
In working with broadcast media, the producer — or booker — is your target. They're the ones who you have to "sell," and, if they buy what you're selling, they in turn will have to sell your story to their news editor and/or supervising producer.
An email pitch is usual and always includes a catchy subject line, an equally catchy lead, a few quick bullet points about the client’s news and how it relates to news of the day. The pitch also includes what the client (or expert) is available to comment on, where they are based geographically, relevant Youtube videos or podcasts, a bio brief, and a LinkedIn link.
Many networks prefer live interview segments, and because of the changing nature of what they air, they'll tend to make decisions at the last minute. Producers gravitate to spokespeople who can come to the studio or be available via remote quickly, often at moment’s notice.
It's no secret: Pitching TV is not easy
Pitchers have a tough job. They have to educate clients that earned media do not live in the same world as marketers. This is important because many pitchers report to marketing VPs, who are not always cognizant of the difference. In the earned media world, you don't get to make the rules — they do. This is a message that can take some clients a while to absorb. Some never get it.
The most effective media pitchers are the ones able to balance being the client's advocate while viewing the world from the journalist’s perspective.