Over the past few years, I’ve come full circle. First a journalist, now a PR rep. In this time, I’ve become fascinated with the pitching process – the gentle art of getting to know a writer and essentially identifying unique angles that will hopefully interest the journalist. Some consider it a dark, subversive art, but others, like my good friend and reporter Chris Abraham, realize its part of the process, and embrace it.
Chris writes for AdAge’s Digital Next, SocialMedia.biz, and a multitude of smaller blogs and guest-posts. He has more than 10,000 Twitter Followers, and insists that I don’t annoy him with multiple emails in the span of an hour.
So, allow us to take you once again into the mad world that is a journalist’s head, and see what his solutions are for the newspaper industry, PR as a whole and, of course, Tiger Sharks.
What do you most want out of a pitch? How do you like to be pitched?
I need any pitch to be as simple as possible for me to respond to. If you don’t have my in 3 minutes the most you’ll get from me is a tweet. Too many people have crap gifts or they don’t have any gift at all — or any activation request: why do I care? Even if I know you — I recently blogged for a friend — I will become very frustrated if your pitch requires me to download PDF files, JPG files, sort out EMBED code, find quotable text, and everything else. Things work well if you collect all of that content — premasticated, if you will — into an online Social Media Release (for example).
So, if you’ll notice, you have EVERYTHING available there for the taking — no ZIP files, no PSDs or PNGs — everything is “stealable” from the site — copy and images and videos and so forth – because we’re painfully aware that if you don’t have someone in a couple minutes, you lost them to “never” or “later.”
Also, I’m a sucker for getting a book or a galley in the mail — if someone sends me a book, I always read it and try to blog it — I don’t respond well to PDF downloads or telling me about a book and expecting me to blog about it — I will be more devoted if it comes via FedEx or UPS and even more points for a signature and an author business card — but that’s just me.
What makes a good PR professional?
You in particular do a great job because you treat me like royalty and you also pester me, which I don’t consider pestering because you basically act as my personal assistant until the call is scheduled, the interview is conducted, and then you ping me with great follow-through until my post is posted — and you never criticize me for writing whatever I want — you’re always grateful — also, you have high-caste clients and I always want to get onto a call with someone cool.
What grinds your gears about how PR pros treat you?
I think WORD or RTF or ZIPPED attachments are terrible. Pitches that have a “no reply” email address suck. Pitchers that don’t reply right away when I reply to their pitch suck. Stingy or guarded PR reps suck. PR professionals who use CC or BCC and don’t have their outreach sorted out to a professional level suck. PR professionals who don’t ASK me for anything won’t get anything. This isn’t flirting. I can’t read minds. Also, when a pitch is obviously a cut-and-paste — the “real” written part and the pasted “stock copy” — generally different fonts, different sized — usually a serif personalized paragraph followed by the stock email — send to everyone — that is in Verdana. You know what I am talking about — it is hypocritical — they’re pretending to be authentic but they’re really just popping a small message and a really long, annoying, “why should I care” pitch in there.
What can PR pros learn from writers, journalists, etc. about how to do their jobs better?
PR pros need to learn one thing: bloggers are not below the line. Bloggers need to be treated with as much attention and grace and follow-through as any journalist at the FT — no matter what their “caste” or their “compete.com” stats — you can’t treat a Power150 dude good and then a mommy blog bad — they all need to be treated with respect and with as much courtesy as anyone else.
Also, the initial email should only ever be a “so, here’s what I am doing, are you interested” and not complete pitch. Get to the point.
What’s your absolute, downright worst journalist-PR experience?
Well, I have been pretty lucky because I have a thick skin and because I spend more time learning from bad pitches than I do getting angry or frustrated.
How can the flacks of the world endear themselves to you, and build a gods-honest relationship with you?
I don’t know — how have you been able to make me take an hour of my time off to answer some silly questions? Probably by appealing to my ego (33%) and to my curiosity (33%) and to my interests (33%).
Do you think that social media really is that key to the ‘future of journalism’?
I think community and conversation is the future of journalism. I am platform agnostic. What journalism did wrong is this: journalists, reporters, and papers have started to let their contempt for their readers to show. They fancy us a bunch of dumbasses who don’t care any more about civics and duty and politics and so they have therefore holed themselves up with the Academy and have tried to write and teach for the readers they wished they had rather than the readers they are losing every day. After a while of inviting your priest and your teacher to your backyard BBQ, you get tired of them telling you how you shouldn’t be drinking beer or eating pork so you stop inviting them to the party — journalism and print media don’t give people the gift they want, they try to give us the gift they think we should have — and with social media the company store is no longer the monopoly that it once was. That’s the basic tenet of market capitalism: give the market what it needs, right? Well, the “stewards” of “our culture” are realizing that they cannot “maintain the culture” for us and also make a profit from advertising and profit.
What’s annoying or encouraging you about journalism and writing in general?
I am reading some really awesome books, all telling the end of advertising as we know it: “Making News in the Digital Era” by David E. Henderson; “The Chaos Scenario” by Bob Garfield; “Twitterville” by Shel Israel; and “No Size Fits All” by Tom Hayes & Michael S. Malone — some very amazing insights into what’s going on right now and what’s coming up in the short-term future — it isn’t really the future, per se, but just a clear look into the tip of the wedge of the present.
How would you save newspapers?
I would turn every newspaper into its very own “AOL” — and I would make news an important PART of the new virtual online community, but I would basically convert the paper into something that news papers have always served as, along with churches and the lodge, which is the hub around which a city spins — and this community would mean that journalists would become only 50% of the equation — the rest would be “citizen” hosts and guides and also paid online facilitators, path-finders, and moderators — experts in their city. There is a market for this and a lot of the opportunity had been stolen by Yelp and other highly-targeted and highly-relevant national sites — because newspapers were too busy being holier than thou and not becoming an answer to what was, indeed, needed by that community that the paper publicly professed as being important to them.
What’s your favorite movie?
My favorite movie of all time is Being There, starring Peter Sellers.
You have to fight an animal over 150lbs – which one do you choose, and why?
I would choose a Tiger Shark because I think I could take it and even if I couldn’t take it, I think being eaten by a shark is a noble way to go.