4 effective strategies for more successful pitching
Conducting Research on Trends
According to the Communications Strategy Group, the first step in gaining coverage is understanding what is being talked about in the media. What are the buzzwords reporters are talking about? For example: IoT (internet of things), prior authorization, AI&ML, low-code applications, etc. One way to learn the current trends is to read different publications and writers to learn not just what they are writing about, but how they are writing about it. Is the term or trend being talked about in a negative or positive light? Is it appearing in listicles or re-written press releases? Are bigger publications, like The Wall Street Journal or Forbes, writing feature stories centered around the term you are researching? It will take longer to understand the ongoing trends this way, but it will allow you to soak in the information like a sponge and predict where the conversation is heading next more accurately. The key to this too is reading the publications your client wants to be featured in. What types of stories does that publication write about and which authors seem like a fit to cover their news?
Another research strategy is to use tools like SpyFu, Muck Rack, or Quid, which have databases of statistics for these terms. Each tool can be used for different purposes. Spy Fu will tell you how popular a word or phrase is on Google. Muck Rack has a searchable database of reporters and articles online that makes it easy to see which reporters and publications are writing about the trend you are interested in most. Quid will give you more advanced statistics on a term you are interested in, like if it is being talked about in a positive or negative light.
Without doing the proper research, you will not be able to understand where your client’s conversation fits into the media landscape.
Understanding How Your Story Fits a Reporter’s Needs
The last step in developing truly thorough research is understanding how your client’s story will mesh with the types of stories a reporter writes about, as noted by the Digital Third Coast blog. Writers are not robots. They are each unique human beings with distinctive styles, different interests, and diverse ways of telling stories. Some writers take months to write lengthy feature stories, filled with interviews and interesting insights that take loads of time to gather. Others consistently re-write press releases. Some only write listicles. A big piece of this too comes from the publication. If you want a publication to re-write your client’s press release, then you should not offer it to the New York Times because you would know from research that they do not do that. You may, however, find a reporter from a smaller publication that covers your industry and has even re-written press releases for one of your clients’ competitors in the past- this is a perfect person to target.
By understanding ahead of time which writers or publications are more or less likely to even be interested in the story you offer them, you can start to manifest the next strategy.
Building a Relationship With Writers
Like I mentioned before, writers are just human beings at the end of the day. And the truth about human nature is you are much more likely to work, as Forbes notes, with someone you trust and feel comfortable with than a total stranger. So why would that be any different in PR? If two people pitch a writer their client’s story about the same topic in the same industry, but one of them has worked with the writer before and chats with them regularly, which one do you believe the reporter will go with? I would bet that most of the time, a reporter will go with someone they know already.
Since most pitching happens over email, forming a familiarity with a writer can be difficult. But just think about it like making a new friend. Did the reporter go to the same school as you? Are they from the same hometown? Find ways to make common ground. If you have done your research, then you know you have a story that will be worthwhile for them and fits their style. So do not be afraid to offer it because, as the Business Wire Blog states, you are giving them value. Once you break that ice and establish a baseline of trust, reach out to them in between stories just to say hi, or tell them you enjoyed a story they wrote recently (only if you really mean it, of course). Even when they aren’t available for your client’s story, they might tell you what they’re thinking of writing next. Now you can be aware of how your client may fit into future discussions. Writers talk to each other and change jobs too. So, the greater your “friendly” network, the more chance you have of eventually branching into other publications down the line.
At the end of the day, nothing will matter more than timing, according to Rudi David on the Publicize Blog. You could have done thorough research, established great relationships with a reporter, written the greatest pitch your own two eyes have ever seen, but suddenly, the story you offered is already old news to them- so it’s a bust. This is why you do everything mentioned prior; so, you put yourself in the best position to stay ahead of the curve. It is not about joining the ongoing conversation, but being able to telegraph the next big one. If you’ve done all your homework, you should be ahead of the game. Of course, there are times that are just notoriously hard to predict around. Like the holiday season. For example, the best time to pitch a story regarding insights gathered from the previous year may be difficult to predict. Some publications like to have those stories in mind by mid-October, while others will pick that topic up around November. And with so many different organizations trying to get their insights into the news during that same period, the timing is naturally tough as is.
The best way to stay on top of timing is to prepare in-depth research and gather insights from reporters and writers you speak to. After some experience and paying close attention to how trend conversations shift over time, you can better understand how to time a new pitch perfectly to maximize who picks it up.