Do ‘The Hustle’ to Succeed at Pitching

Ever since I was in D.C. the other week, I can’t stop humming The Hustle, and it has nothing to do with the upcoming election, and everything to do with Michael Smart’s presentation on pitching the media.

Michael is an independent communications trainer who helps PR pros improve their pitching success rate and enhance their PR writing. He is regularly among the highest-rated speakers at the industry’s largest conferences. Last month he gave an outstanding presentation and then later, I spoke with him in further detail about some of his points, including how important it is for media and PR practitioners to hustle. “You have to know your boundaries and constraints within which you are going to go all out,” he said.Michael Smart

It’s important to not settle. That means don’t just send an email to the faculty expert you are trying to connect with a reporter. If you don’t hear back, call the person, go by their office, check with the department chair. If the story is that important, you want to connect your expert with the reporter and that means going the extra mile “for a journalist who is of a certain caliber.”

Part of being successful at The Hustle is setting boundaries. Those boundaries enable you to have room for the high-caliber journalists. Michael recommended PR pros spend 80 percent of their time pitching the top 20 percent of their media list.

He said it also is important to develop a service mindset that is useful to reporters. “Don’t send reporters things that won’t help them,” Michael said.

No matter how good you are at The Hustle, it may not be good enough for your boss. Michael stressed that a boss has their institution’s best interest in mind. “Respect their judgment and authority,” he said. “Don’t let it affect your professionalism.”

Sometimes you have to switch up your moves. Today, Michael says, PR practitioners can use online metrics as assets when they pitch. If an online story already has 50,000 views overnight or has been shared thousands of times on Facebook, a digital journalist may be interested in the story. It’s also a great way to convince administrators that digital placement is as valuable as print.

He also noted that traditional news hooks no longer work. “It’s important to brainstorm compelling angles beyond what you are given to work with,” Michael said. In other words, “creativity always trumps budget.”

However, some steps never go out of style. Many PR people thought that when Twitter became so popular it would be the way to pitch a story. Many of the reporters speaking at the College Media Conference where Michael spoke said they still prefer good pitches by email.

“Don’t just chase the new, shiny technological tool,” Michael said. “Don’t wholesale abandon something that is working.”

If you want to learn more tips from Michael you can sign up for his weekly email tips. Visit michaelsmartpr.com/articles and you can see the recent tips and opt-in to receive them by email.

5 Tips for Pitching the Media

If you’re pitching a story that you wouldn’t read, don’t bother pitching it. That was the advice from a panel of reporters speaking to an audience of PR practitioners.

The panelists shared their tips for pitching them. Their advice was spot on, and, at times discouraging. Today, there are fewer reporters so it’s more challenging as PR practitioners to get our stories covered. But that doesn’t mean it can’t happen. Here are five tips to help you.  

A panel of reporters share tips on how to successfully pitch them. (Photo by Cynthia Price)

1. Perfect the pitch.Reporters are busy, too. “If I can’t read your pitch and understand it in 60 seconds, I’m deleting it,” said Dena Potter, news editor with The  Associated Press in Richmond, Va.

2. Don’t bury the news. Potter has a related piece of advice. “Don’t bury the news under a bunch of prose just to show me how well you can write.”

3. Know what’s going on. In other words, don’t pitch your feature story in the middle of a hurricane or election night coverage.

4. Use Email. Greg Gilligan, business editor of the Richmond Times-Dispatch, advocated for a strong subject line that “gets to the point.” He also said to paste the release or pitch in the body of the email. If he’s reading a release on his mobile, it takes too long to download and he’s likely to give up.

5. Identify contacts and spokespersons. Lara Malbon McDuffie, assignment manager of WWBT-NBC12 in Richmond, cautioned having a backup spokesperson if the primary spokesperson is unavailable. She also likes easy-to-find contacts on the website and – even better – after hour phone numbers.

What successes have you had in pitching the media?