Wednesday, February 13, 2008

My class gets an Extreme Media Relations Makeover

Yesterday Kevin Dugan gave an extremely informative virtual guest lecture on media relations to my WOM class students, and he gave me permission to share his slides and notes from his talk. Follow his advice, and you'll never end up on the Bad Pitch Blog!

Kevin defines a pitch as "any form of communication with the media that's designed to get media coverage." He pointed out that, with newsroom budgets getting smaller, reporters can use good pitches to help them identify stories and sources. From a PR perspective, media channels are increasing and media are fragmenting, so there are new places to get your message out but at the same time we have to figure out how to compete. He also showed a great slide depicting how the news cycle is expanding, with blogs, Twitter and other social media often breaking news, followed by mainstream media coverage, followed by follow-up niche discussion (including discussion of MSM performance) on blogs and other social media.

The dirty little secret, Kevin explained, is that PRs have the same amount of time (or less) to do their work, while the number of media outlets is expanding -- so they often therefore rely on technology to get the news out; but technology can't take the place of groundwork and relationship building that should be the key to media (and blogger) relations. The ugly truth, he said, is that young kids new to the PR profession are the ones doing the pitching, yet they are the least prepared to do it. Ask for the big picture, he urged my students, and don't just call and ask if they got your news release -- add something new to the follow-up call.

Although the pitch should always be customized, he offered some general rules for pitching:
  1. Be a know-it-all: know yourself and develop your own style; know the news and link your story to current events when appropriate; know your story and how it fits with the larger context of the company or industry; and know the media that you're targeting.
  2. Before the pitch: for a big campaign, prepare a pitch planner with key points, targets, and what makes this story newsworthy.
  3. During the pitch: Use their preferred method of contact; when a reporter responds your work is just beginning. Find out their story angle and deadline; find out the general direction of their questions so the interviewee can start formulating their thoughts.
  4. After the pitch/the interview: prepare a briefing document including the reporter's recent or related articles; and, when necessary, conduct media training. The PR person should sit in on the interview to make sure it stays on topic.
I can't recount the entire hour of discussion, but here are some of Kevin's other pointers:
  1. The news release is background information; the pitch tells why it's important to the readers, viewers, listeners.
  2. E-mail: use more links, don't use attachments, consider the pitch the appetizer (not the buffet) -- don't make the reader scroll.
  3. Boil it down to 3 paragraphs or even 3 sentences: what's the unique element of this story; prove it with research; call to action -- what are the next steps? And don' t forget to hold one thing back for the follow-up phone call.
  4. Send the e-mail to yourself to see what it looks like before you send it to anyone else.
  5. Redefine content: creativity is your only limit. (Kevin's Connect video makes this point beautifully.)
  6. Make shorter pitches to fewer outlets... customization is the key.

In the Q&A discussion following his presentation, I mentioned a quote from Brian Solis, "Build relationships, not lists," an approach Kevin fully endorsed.

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