By Brian Feinblum, Senior Vice President and Marketing Officer
Sometimes we get into a slump when it comes to pitching, or maybe we just hit a bad streak with the media. Perhaps you feel overloaded. Maybe our busy outside lives have clouded our minds from doing our best job in the office. Whatever the reason, you just find you want to perform at a higher level, so what can you do?
Ideally, here’s what you want in a successful pitch:
1. Something great to pitch – the perfect product, person, company, book, or idea.
2. Believe in what you are promoting – find some way to relate to it, to like it, to own it. The enthusiasm will show in your voice, in your efforts, and in your creative juices.
3. Brainstorm with others, and then by yourself, on crafting all possible angles upon which to connect what you have to what the media wants. Be creative, free-think – just jot down what comes to mind without any deep analysis or filtering. Just let it flow, associate words, images, events, etc. to your book until you have created a pitch that not only fully sells and represents the book, but something that exceeds it. Don’t misrepresent or lie, but stretch out the message to bridge the gaps.
4. Do not make assumptions that lead to dismissing you from trying a given media outlet on the mistaken belief that “they won’t be interested.” Try everything and everyone, you have zero to lose, it’s a numbers game. This is a contact sport – make contact!
5. Be persistent. But instead of just shooting for getting an answer, look for a way to get a yes. And if it’s a no, confirm why to learn for next time. Every contact you make with a journalist is a progression in your career. Make the most of everything. Take good notes.
6. The military attacks by land, sea, and air, although they have four branches, right? Army, Air Force, Marines, Navy – and Austin Powers. Okay, well, you have the phone, the fax, email, messenger, Fed Ex, mail – try everything. If you can’t reach a journalist at work, try another means, including: meeting them at a conference or event, getting it to someone who knows that journalist, etc. Don’t just leave a message and think you’ve done your job.
7. Remember, you are a matchmaker: you are trying to get in touch with the media. Your job is to seek relationships, to try and strike up a connection. Find something in common, be a friend, or at least friendly. Try humor or comment on something on which they just reported.
8. Think like a journalist: know their demographics, their pressures, their schedules, their personal lives – create a dossier on everyone.
9. Be brief, focused, and to the point. No one wants a long pitch. Get to the point, and have a few ideas to go with it. Be ready for anticipated responses and questions. A knowledgeable publicist is a confident, resourceful one.
10. Get your lists together and updated. Every second a new publication is being published, a radio station is going under, a television show is being reformatted, a newspaper editor is being relocated, and an Internet site is changing. Good pitching requires good lists. And when a journalist says no, find out who he or she recommends you contact at that publication. Ask them for a cross-media reference: does a radio contact know of a TV person who’d like you as a guest? Call the operator or secretary, and ask who else covers a given topic that you are pitching. Ask them about freelancers and how to reach people who normally are not in their offices. Just ask them, point blank, to reveal any information that can help a damsel in distress.
11. The pitch needs to use words like “new” or “surprising.” You are creating a story, and thus they need to feel that there is something worth looking into. Be careful with promising exclusives, but this could be a useful tool.
12. When you follow-up your pitch by sending materials make sure it’s clear what took place in your conversation, what you are seeking to do, give a time deadline of some kind, or promise to check back within a few days, week, whatever, and send something that is memorable so you can easily refer to it.
13. Develop an image of yourself as a publicist. You become a character, a super hero, you are no longer Joe Blow, human being. You are now Super Publicist. What are your strengths? How do you want to come across or be perceived? Reinvent who you are and become who you want to be. It’s a role that you play. Have fun with it.
14. Be assertive, aggressive, and tenacious. But don’t be a jerk. Remember, it’s all about relationships. You are a salesperson in this situation, and you want a customer for life.
15. Clear your head when making outreach to the media. Forget about what you are doing tonight, what you ate for lunch, what argument you had with a friend, or what your boss said. Forget everything. The only thing you can and should be doing when you pitch is thinking and acting on that pitch. You can’t correct the past or live the future at the present. You can’t let other lives of yours collide in the office. Just close the doors in your head, and surround yourself with only the pitch at hand. By freeing up your mind, you will function at a higher level.
16. If you are in a rut, don’t give up. We all get into mental slumps. If you need a break, take it and come back strong.
17. If you feel pressure to produce – and who doesn’t – do a reverse. Say to yourself, “Let’s make believe I wasn’t in today. Let’s say I had a meeting, a conference, or was out sick, and just didn’t get to do anything today. Nothing bad would happen, and the job would wait another day.” So, now, you feel like whateveryou do make happen today is icing on the cake. Instead of expecting or demanding several bookings today, you eliminate all pressure and start saying whatever you get today is a bonus. Suddenly, you get a booking and it steamrolls.
18. If you need help, test your pitch on others. Whatever you are doing, if it isn’t working, just change something.
19. Try small media outlets to practice and perfect the pitch, and to build momentum with some “gimme” bookings.
20. Get a big hit early and buy some time for yourself. Then parlay or leverage that hit to get other media.
21. Attach your pitch to what’s in the news. Look for the positive, even if you are warning about something negative – always find something good or useful to report. For instance, if you are pitching something, like a book that says there will be a depression next year, turn it around to say the author will talk about how you can prepare and insulate yourself against it, and what things will thrive in hard times, as opposed to saying, “We have a guy who tells us the world’s about to end.”
22. Change your voice and tone from call to call, and even within a call. People respond to inflection, pitch of voice, and changes in sounds. Avoid the monotone sound. If you’re too chipper, they think you are a telemarketer, but if you are down and boring they are not too excited to listen.
23. Don’t use speaker phone to pitch. No one likes it.
24. When making calls be aware of the editorial calendar, and the day-to-day deadline of a media outlet. Learn your time zones, and remain sensitive to whether or not the reporter is free to talk or tied up with something.
25. Err on the side of effort. You can’t go wrong in reaching out to as many people as possible. It isn’t how many “no’s” you amass that everyone cares about, it’s how many “yes’s.” We don’t count failure rates – only the total number of placements. There’s no penalty for trying, or for being rejected.
26. Meditate. Be at one with your booking. Be the Buddha of books.
27. There’s a sale going on with every contact you make. Either you sell the reporter on booking what you have, or they sell you a “no.” Are you ready for your next sale?