Dear Flack (Volume 1)

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Dear Flack,
I am just starting out in PR and need a few tips for phone pitching. Can you help out?
From,
Phone Home
Dear Phone Home,
There are a lot of differing opinions on telephone pitching these days. Some PR pros are for it, and some treat the device like a disgusting carton of sour milk. Whatever side of fence you’re on, chances are you will need to pick up that phone and pitch every now and again.
With that being said, here are a few pointers to get you started:
·         Relax, get to it.  As a rookie phone pitcher, it’s perfectly acceptable to feel a bit nervous on your first calls out. In addition to the phone call itself, you might also hesitate because you think a co-worker or boss is listening in on your conversations. This is nothing to be ashamed about—most of us have been in your shoes at one time or another.  Try asking your boss if there’s an empty office that you might be able to use. If that doesn’t work, just try to focus on the task at hand and tune out your surroundings. Also remember that if your boss is eavesdropping, that he/she may just be trying to help you out.
·         Think before you pitch.  It is imperative that you know your pitch inside and out. You do not want to get caught on the phone with a media outlet without your facts straight. If you lack the confidence in your spiel, the journalist or producer will sense it right away. I suggest writing out key points and facts ahead of time and keeping them by your side. Just beware of sounding like you are reading from a script—keep a natural and conversational tone.
·         Pitch to the right person. You are now relaxed, confident in your pitch—but do you know who you are calling? Make sure you are contacting the right person that would cover your story. If you are publicizing a new digital camera, don’t call food editor. Cover your bases and search for the latest stories the reporter has written. This will at least ensure that your pitch has a chance of scoring some interest.  Additionally, sometimes there are multiple people covering a beat or no one specifically at an outlet.  It’s simple enough to ask – “I’m not one hundred percent that this should be on your desk so I’m hoping you can point me in the right direction.”  Works great – seeking advice makes people feel knowledgeable and most people want to be helpful, acknowledging that you may be wrong makes them realize you’re human, and it’s often more time effective to pick the close person (not banking–>food but at least in the right ballpark) and ask than to spend hours researching only to discover the right person is on maternity leave and the beat is being handled by a general assignment writer for the next few months anyway.
·         Ask permission.  It’s no secret that time is precious commodity in the newsroom. If you get someone on the phone, introduce yourself, and then ask if it’s a good time to talk. This person could be on deadline or in a meeting.
·         Ready, set, pitch. So you have their attention, maybe for a minute. You need to make your case fast. Be succinct, clear, and conversational if time permits. Anticipate questions the press might ask you in advance, and have your answers ready to go. If you get a question that you absolutely do not know, be honest and say that you’ll get back to him/her.
·         Phone pitching is like dating. Sometimes they say yes and want to keep seeing you; other times they don’t want anything you got. Don’t get upset if the journalist is rude or uninterested in your pitch. It happens to the best of us. Brush it off, pick up the phone and keep plugging away. It’s the unfortunate truth that rejection is part of the public relations field, so don’t get discouraged. If you are getting nowhere with your pitch, take a step back, and see if anything needs tweaking.
However if you did score a “date” and the reporter is interested in your pitch, follow up. Don’t wait five days to circle back around with him/her. Get the individual the information, interviews, hi-res images—all the materials requested—in a timely and reliable fashion.
____________________________________
Do you have a question for Dear Flack? If there’s something you’ve always wondered about, or wanted to ask about public relations and social media world, e-mail dearflack@gmail.com . We take privacy very seriously and all names, companies and locations will remain confidential.
Dear Flack is written by Marie V-B, a seasoned public relations professional. Advice is based on both personal experience and input from members of PR Breakfast Club and outside expert sources.

[Editor’s Note: Got a PR question you’ve been dying to ask, but don’t have the right person in your rolodex?  Keep reading…]

Dear Flack,

I am just starting out in PR and need a few tips for phone pitching. Can you help out?

From,

Phone Home

Dear Phone Home,

There are a lot of differing opinions on telephone pitching these days. Some PR pros are for it, and some treat the device like a disgusting carton of sour milk. Whatever side of fence you’re on, chances are you will need to pick up that phone and pitch every now and again.

With that being said, here are a few pointers to get you started:

  • Relax, get to it. As a rookie phone pitcher, it’s perfectly acceptable to feel a bit nervous on your first calls out. In addition to the phone call itself, you might also hesitate because you think a co-worker or boss is listening in on your conversations. This is nothing to be ashamed about—most of us have been in your shoes at one time or another.  Try asking your boss if there’s an empty office that you might be able to use. If that doesn’t work, just try to focus on the task at hand and tune out your surroundings. Also remember that if your boss is eavesdropping, that he/she may just be trying to help you out.
  • Think before you pitch. It is imperative that you know your pitch inside and out. You do not want to get caught on the phone with a media outlet without your facts straight. If you lack the confidence in your spiel, the journalist or producer will sense it right away. I suggest writing out key points and facts ahead of time and keeping them by your side. Just beware of sounding like you are reading from a script—keep a natural and conversational tone.
  • Pitch to the right person. You are now relaxed, confident in your pitch—but do you know who you are calling? Make sure you are contacting the right person that would cover your story. If you are publicizing a new digital camera, don’t call food editor. Cover your bases and search for the latest stories the reporter has written. This will at least ensure that your pitch has a chance of scoring some interest.  Additionally, sometimes there are multiple people covering a beat or no one specifically at an outlet.  It’s simple enough to ask – “I’m not one hundred percent that this should be on your desk so I’m hoping you can point me in the right direction.”  Works great – seeking advice makes people feel knowledgeable and most people want to be helpful, acknowledging that you may be wrong makes them realize you’re human, and it’s often more time effective to pick the close person (not banking–>food but at least in the right ballpark) and ask than to spend hours researching only to discover the right person is on maternity leave and the beat is being handled by a general assignment writer for the next few months anyway.
  • Ask permission. It’s no secret that time is precious commodity in the newsroom. If you get someone on the phone, introduce yourself, and then ask if it’s a good time to talk. This person could be on deadline or in a meeting.
  • Ready, set, pitch. So you have their attention, maybe for a minute. You need to make your case fast. Be succinct, clear, and conversational if time permits. Anticipate questions the press might ask you in advance, and have your answers ready to go. If you get a question that you absolutely do not know, be honest and say that you’ll get back to him/her.
  • Phone pitching is like dating. Sometimes they say yes and want to keep seeing you; other times they don’t want anything you got. Don’t get upset if the journalist is rude or uninterested in your pitch. It happens to the best of us. Brush it off, pick up the phone and keep plugging away. It’s the unfortunate truth that rejection is part of the public relations field, so don’t get discouraged. If you are getting nowhere with your pitch, take a step back, and see if anything needs tweaking.

However if you did score a “date” and the reporter is interested in your pitch, follow up. Don’t wait five days to circle back around with him/her. Get the individual the information, interviews, hi-res images—all the materials requested—in a timely and reliable fashion.

____________________________________

Do you have a question for Dear Flack? If there’s something you’ve always wondered about, or wanted to ask about public relations and social media world, e-mail dearflack@gmail.com . We take privacy very seriously and all names, companies and locations will remain confidential.

Dear Flack is written by Marie V-B, a seasoned public relations professional. Advice is based on both personal experience and input from members of PR Breakfast Club and outside expert sources.

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  • http://lynettecornell.com/ Lynette Cornell

    As a journalist, I just want to add: Make sure you can provide a solid reason why they should listen, and give that reason up front. Journalists are incredibly busy and receive pitches for things all the time.

    Make the value of your pitch clear from the very beginning. The reporter is thinking, “Why should I care?” You need to answer that question with how your pitch is going to be valuable for them.

    Also, I’d like to reiterate the idea mentioned in the article about talking naturally. If you call up, get someone on the phone, and then spew out information for 2 minutes solid, they’re going to be hearing a click and then the line going dead. Give a chance for the reporter to reply first.

    Do not flatter or patronize. Nothing would bother me more than hearing “As a well-respected media outlet, you know the importance of….” or “You’ve probably heard that we are the best…”

  • http://lynettecornell.com/ Lynette Cornell

    As a journalist, I just want to add: Make sure you can provide a solid reason why they should listen, and give that reason up front. Journalists are incredibly busy and receive pitches for things all the time.

    Make the value of your pitch clear from the very beginning. The reporter is thinking, “Why should I care?” You need to answer that question with how your pitch is going to be valuable for them.

    Also, I’d like to reiterate the idea mentioned in the article about talking naturally. If you call up, get someone on the phone, and then spew out information for 2 minutes solid, they’re going to be hearing a click and then the line going dead. Give a chance for the reporter to reply first.

    Do not flatter or patronize. Nothing would bother me more than hearing “As a well-respected media outlet, you know the importance of….” or “You’ve probably heard that we are the best…”

  • http://www.whatsyour20inc.com/ Sherri Haymond

    Marie,

    Thanks for this great, informational post. As someone with no formal PR training who’s doing PR for my own new small biz, this advice is invaluable. I’ve yet to do a phone pitch, and of course I’m jittery about it – but I’ll use your tips, make a list and make sure I get a “date!”

  • http://www.whatsyour20inc.com Sherri Haymond

    Marie,

    Thanks for this great, informational post. As someone with no formal PR training who’s doing PR for my own new small biz, this advice is invaluable. I’ve yet to do a phone pitch, and of course I’m jittery about it – but I’ll use your tips, make a list and make sure I get a “date!”

  • Mike Kelly

    Marie,

    Solid post….I think most PR pros can relate to the challenge/annoyance of phone pitching with your boss eavesdropping and critiquing after each call.

    The one rule I would question is whether to ask a journalist if they have time to speak with you. I would only recommend that if you have an existing relationship with the journalist.

    It’s most likely that they will be VERY busy, stressed out under deadline. By asking them if its a good time, you’re giving them an easy out.

    I’ve found it’s best to do a quick “how are you doing today” and then jump right into what resources you can provide to make their life easier. “I have a great resource to discuss this trend…”

    The most important pieces are to know who you are pitching and to remember they are a real person on the other end of the line, and not a simply a conquest to generate coverage for a client.

    Thanks, MK

  • http://http//www.twitter.com/Michael_Irie Mike Kelly

    Marie,

    Solid post….I think most PR pros can relate to the challenge/annoyance of phone pitching with your boss eavesdropping and critiquing after each call.

    The one rule I would question is whether to ask a journalist if they have time to speak with you. I would only recommend that if you have an existing relationship with the journalist.

    It’s most likely that they will be VERY busy, stressed out under deadline. By asking them if its a good time, you’re giving them an easy out.

    I’ve found it’s best to do a quick “how are you doing today” and then jump right into what resources you can provide to make their life easier. “I have a great resource to discuss this trend…”

    The most important pieces are to know who you are pitching and to remember they are a real person on the other end of the line, and not a simply a conquest to generate coverage for a client.

    Thanks, MK

  • Marie

    Thanks to everyone for their comments and insight.

    Lynette- It’s great to hear a journalist’s point of view. You brought up a lot of valid points. Thanks for sharing.

    Sherri- Good luck in your pitches! I’m glad you found the post helpful

    Mike – Thanks for your feedback! I have to say it can go either way by asking them if its a good time. I also think you bring up a great reminder that there is a real person on the other end!

  • Marie

    Thanks to everyone for their comments and insight.

    Lynette- It’s great to hear a journalist’s point of view. You brought up a lot of valid points. Thanks for sharing.

    Sherri- Good luck in your pitches! I’m glad you found the post helpful

    Mike – Thanks for your feedback! I have to say it can go either way by asking them if its a good time. I also think you bring up a great reminder that there is a real person on the other end!

  • http://www.cmgpr.com/ Latrivia Nelson

    If you’re just starting out, you also may want to try out your pitching techniques on someone in the office or even record yourself making a pitch. Once you’re on the phone, the first impression has been made. So, you want to work out the kinks out before it impacts your client.

    Good luck,

    Latrivia Nelson

  • http://www.cmgpr.com Latrivia Nelson

    If you’re just starting out, you also may want to try out your pitching techniques on someone in the office or even record yourself making a pitch. Once you’re on the phone, the first impression has been made. So, you want to work out the kinks out before it impacts your client.

    Good luck,

    Latrivia Nelson

  • PRFlipside

    When I phone pitch, I first test out my pitch with smaller insignificant outlets (no offense to smaller outlets, but they don't get pitched much so they are usually more receptive). Once I get the phone pitch down, I target the bigger ones. Hello New York Times… :-)

  • http://twitter.com/pugofwar Ef Rodriguez

    Finding an empty office to call from is crucial when you're just starting out. It can be excruciating otherwise, haha.

  • http://twitter.com/pugofwar Ef Rodriguez

    Finding an empty office to call from is crucial when you're just starting out. It can be excruciating otherwise, haha.