Beyond the Classroom: Media Pitching 101
By: Ivan Hernandez, UCF
A goal of PR is and always has been to work with the media. Unfortunately, I have found that textbooks and even professors seem to promote separation between the two. They perpetuate the idea that talking to journalists is like walking on eggshells; that the wrong comment can lead to disaster. These teachings leave students feeling uneasy and nervous about approaching the media, making their primary goal considerably more difficult to achieve.
We’re also taught that most of this tension stems from bad practices in media pitching. We’re told to not make pitches too long, and to not send multiple emails, but for the most part, it’s a list of don’ts rather than do’s.
In July, FPRA and PRSA hosted the Central Florida Media Roundtable 2013 (CFMR13) at the Doubletree Hilton Hotel. An event that serves as a fundamental learning tool for those in the PR profession, CFMR13 is a safe space for journalists, bloggers and public relations professionals to gather and have the blunt conversation about the practices in media pitching. It not only helps professionals build relationships with the local media, but it also give students, like me, a handful of tips that can help mend the notorious tension between journalists and PR pros. CFRM13 allows students to learn from the people they’re pitching while simultaneously learning alongside the professionals they are hoping to work with one day.
The Media Roundtable:
As students, we don’t have clients. At most, you might get to pitch during an internship, however it doesn’t mean that students have nothing to gain from speaking with journalists. Meeting face-to-face with journalists and bloggers gives students the advantage of learning about pitching right from the people they’d be pitching to in the real world.
After talking to representatives from publications like the Orlando Sentinel and the Orlando Business Journal, I managed to compile a list of helpful tips that students can take with them into their professional careers.
1. Know the audience of the publication. Journalists don’t want to spend their time reading a pitch that doesn’t cater to their readers’ interests. If there’s a story that matters to their audience, tell them what it is. Don’t simply provide a stream of information.
2. Catch the attention, and keep it short. For the most part, when pitching through email, the subject line should read a potential headline for the article. It’ll prompt the journalist to read it. Once they’ve opened it, don’t scare them away with a six-or-more paragraph pitch.
3. Follow up, but don’t harass. If the journalist is interested, he or she will make further contact. It’s okay to follow up with them, but be weary of sending too many emails or making inappropriate phone calls. Be considerate, or you might end up blacklisted.
Social Media Panel:
After the media roundtable sessions, a panel of journalists and PR pros took the stage and shared their experience with building relationships through social media. This combination of traditional and new media techniques is one of the more important aspects of this event. It’s one thing to know about Twitter and hashtags, but it’s another thing to know how to use them to your advantage.
It was such a pleasure to hear what panelists Jennifer Cook, John Cutter, Kim Matlock and Jennifer Wakefield had to say about social media and its role in the industry. I learned that social media should be used more for building a relationship. Research the journalists and get to know their interests. Once you’ve done that, a friendly tweet to them can lead to a solid conversation and then a potential pitch, if appropriate.
The bottom line is that the world is changing and this year’s CFMR13 showcased the new techniques that are being implemented. We students should be integrating these practices into our learning and eventually into our careers. So forget the tension, and embrace the relationship because it may be what gets the journalist to read your pitch.