The Best Ways to Pitch Media People
by Tolly Moseley
Oh, ye olde phone pitch. What a tricky animal you are. How many times have you had this phone-pitch conversation?
YOU: Hi! My name is ____, and I’m calling about ____. I—
YOU: Eh, em . . . pardon me?
MEDIA: I mean, can you email me?
YOU: Well, yes, I just wanted to let you know about a story idea I—
MEDIA: Great. Email it to me. Thanks!
YOU: Wait! What’s your email? Hello? Hello?
DIALTONE . . .
We’ve all been there. It’s not just you.
When I first got into PR, phone pitching was very common. In fact, at one firm, we had to log a certain number of phone pitches per week.
But that’s changing. A lot.
Phone pitching still works for me—sometimes. In fact, with TV, it’s often quite effective.
Radio is a toss-up.
And bloggers? I wouldn’t dream of calling a blogger. Why? Because so many of them are hobbyists. What if I happen to catch a blogger’s phone number, and call when the blogger isn’t on the computer—but is, say, in a work meeting? Or picking up a kid from daycare? Awkward.
“But nobody checks their email anymore!” you may well argue. “How can I possibly get anyone’s attention with email alone?”
A valid point. The solution, however, is still not phone-stalking.
So—when is it okay to phone pitch? Should we give up phone pitching entirely? I’ve been asking around, of both media people and fellow publicists, and the consensus on those two questions seems to be: It’s all about your current relationship with a particular media contact.
And really, this isn’t surprising. Publicity has always been about relationships. So here are five general rules about phone pitching in our era of email, Twitter, texting, and Facebook wall posting.
TV people mind phone pitching the least. Especially when you have breaking news. TV newsrooms are very physical places—producers are not sitting at computers all day. Instead, they’re helping prep shoots, working on location with anchors, or otherwise up and doing. Phone calls are a little more expected here. And producers seem to check their voicemail regularly.
Just remember this: Pair your phone pitch with an email, whether you email first and then follow up with a phone call, or vice-versa. This guideline can apply to all media contacts, but especially contacts in TV, where they run around all day.
Print media people mind phone pitching the most. Think about it. You’re in the middle of writing an awesome press release, so timely and yet so eloquent, when all of a sudden . . . BRRRRING!!! “Hello?” “Hi! I’d like to offer your company a brand new cable-phone-Internet bundling package!” So annoying.
I hate to think this is what we sound like to print media people, but unfortunately, guys, I think we do. Writing is cerebral. Writing takes concentration. When you’re in the zone, there’s nothing more disruptive then a phone call, out of nowhere, demanding that you drop everything and chit chat.
Note: This rule may not apply when you already have a relationship with a print contact. Still, choose your phone pitches to these people wisely, and do not bird-dog a print contact who isn’t responding to your phone pitches.
With radio, think local and small market. In general, people in radio are relatively responsive to phone pitching, especially when you’ve got a local event and/or hook to offer. You can see why this makes sense: The news cycle is less competitive and noisy in small-town Missouri than it is in New York.
But what about national radio? I think email still wins. The last three times I booked national or large-market radio, it was with email, once when I already had a relationship with the person, twice when I didn’t. And the few times I’ve booked NPR? Again, through email.
So—no hard-and-fast rules here, since radio shows and studios have incredibly diverse operations. But it does always come back to relationships: You’ll be more successful when you invest time and energy in a handful of great producers whose broadcast interests match your books.
Ask questions. I have better luck with phone pitching when I’m straight-up about my intentions and I follow fast with a question. “Hi, I want to pitch a puppy care expert. Who at your studio books lifestyle guests?” No need to be coy. Everybody knows I called to pitch.
This approach works because it gets a dialogue started. Instead of you jumping in, guns blazing, to offer a GREAT! GUEST! OPPORTUNITY! to the person on the other end of the phone, you provide an opening for, “Oh, that would be so-and-so, but I kinda help out booking those guests also. Whatcha got?”
This was the exact response I got from a CBS affiliate in Florida a few weeks ago when I led my phone pitch with a question. So I told her about my author, then followed up with an email, and then—she booked.
The classic “Hello, I’ve got a guest opportunity for your program” still works sometimes, but it also has a slight ring of telemarketer. And when you talk too long without pausing, the other person’s ears turn off.
Look for new ways to build relationships. Are you on Twitter? Mention a reporter you love in a Tweet. Is the reporter following you back? Send a thank-you via DM, and mention a great story the reporter wrote.
Send a reporter a compliment via email on a recent article, one that was not about one of your authors.
Leave comments on blogs you’d really love to book.
These are all low-pressure ways to build rapport during your off-pitching times, so that your first phone call (if you do have to call one day) will be a little more natural—and fruitful.
Tolly Moseley is a publicist with PR By the Book, LLC (prbythebook.com). She has worked in media and publicity for more than 10 years, and she reports that she enjoys helping publishers and authors plan events, no matter how wacky.