|How to Become a Five-Tool Pitcher in PR
By: Shawn Paul Wood
It's the baseball playoffs right now and while my beloved Rangers are in shorts, I got to thinking about an article I did about three months ago on pitching. PR pitching is no more a science than Home Economics. It's an art, and one that has to be practiced over and over again. I hear so much about these all-star Howitzers on the mound hurling four or five pitches that would fool any hitter, but can you say that about yourself?
Do you have five pitches in your arsenal that work for reporters? Sure, you will get the Heisman on occassion, but once the rollout has begun, will you get someone to pick up the phone? I'm no rockstar, but I've fronted many concerts in my time, if you know what I'm saying. If you are interested in becoming that "five-tool pitcher" in PR, perhaps you could try these tips. After all, what else do you have to do?
1. Do Your Research. All great pitchers do their homework before they take the mound. They study the hitters they will face. They learn what pitches they like, and the ones they use to just stand there Sound like someone you know? Your pitch for that reporter will be merited on three things immediately: How well you know the client, the subject and the reporter. Consider how many flacks are out there in this scary world. Now, think how many you have met that blow at this job. And those are the people who don't know the aforementioned. This is why you need to know your stuff all the more. It's like fishing: All hooks look the same. It's the kind of bait you use to make the fish bite.
2. Timeliness is Next to Godliness. You have a client — someone B2B — who promotes some obscure product. Then, your big break; there's a pressing need for your client's widget because of some need you saw on the nightly news. Of course, you're not watching TV that night because you are burning the midnight oil. Your client isn't savvy enough to understand the pressing nature of being timely, so his mani-pedi appointment takes precedence. You don't hear about the news story for a week later, and by that time, your client has missed the night cycle and you get the pink slip. Don't get a pink slip and watch TV more often.
3. K.I.S.S. You know I'm not talking about Gene Simmons and his jacked-up pompadour. No, "Keep It Simple, Stupid" is an acronym we have all known. However, did you know simplicity usually translates into being succinct as well? Sure, you write at an 8th-grade reading level, but if it's 10 paragraphs in 10-point font, no one will care. Industry statistics have shown the average reporter gets 2,000 communications daily (e.g., meetings, phone calls, emails, letters). Where do you merit among all those? Odds are, not that high. So, here's a hint: You are not going to convince that reporter with numerous graphs and fancy, diagrammed sentences. If you can't do the job in three or four simple graphs, get another job...or, at least, another pitch.
4. A Cold Pitch Will Freeze You Out. Enough said. If you were trained that a blanket pitch BCC to everyone on your database is the way to go, you were trained by someone who is now the fry guy at Mickey D's. When someone calls you, how do you feel when that person gets your name wrong? What about when you talk and that person is in a drive-thru ordering some tacos, only to say, "Sorry. You were saying?" Reporters are no different. They enjoy being part of your conversation, not an innocent voyeur that you happen to slam with an e-blast. Personalize that pitch. Know your reporter. And for the love of all that is fit-for-print, proofread.
5. If You Don't Have Anything Nice to Say... Your mama taught you the rest, but how often have your abided by that sage counsel? Odds are, not that often. So, say it with me: Reporters are people too. I have many I consider friends, and the only reason they answer my emails and tweets is not because of my whimsical nature. It's because I don't send them crap and I respect their schedule. If they don't get back to me within 48 hours, I'm not on speed dial asking why. They have deadlines. They have editors. They have stress. And, they are not there just to wait on you. Remember that next time.
Well, spring training is over. And, among the several things we all need to write on our handbook is this:
If you do that, you are already a five-tool pitcher. If you have been told you do that, you have reporters you call friends. If you do that, pass along that wisdom, because there are several among us who do not.
Our job is to make their job easier, faster, and better.
Shawn Paul Wood
is a hack-turned-flack with more than 20 years of collective journalism, copywriting and marketing communications experience. Shawn Paul is founder of Woodworks Communications in Dallas, Texas. If you need him, ping him here
or follow him on Twitter @ShawnPaulWood