What’s a good pitching success rate?


Sometimes the VPs who hire me to train their teams ask what success rate they should be expecting.

As you can imagine, there are so many variables in play here, this is virtually impossible to answer.

But to give you a number, my experience is that good teams who are pitching a lot and who stretch themselves as far as the outlets they target, land coverage on about 15 percent of their pitches.

What’s important about looking at this number is to acknowledge two things:

-Pitching is hard
-It’s not about what your rate is now, it’s about what direction that number is moving

At my last Pitching Boot Camp in New York, we had about 30 people there. As usual, I could tell by the end of the day which were the ones who were going to get major success. It didn’t matter what their topics were or even who they were targeting. All that mattered was their motivation to go out and actually implement what they were learning. They were more focused on improvement than being frustrated about where they were at.

In fact, one of the guys actually introduced himself to a WSJ writer the night after the first day of the workshop and told me about it the next day!

And Giovana Edid came all the way from Mexico City and worked very hard through the workshop. Her topic is esoteric – she works at an art investment fund – and she had a language barrier to deal with. But I could tell she was committed, and sure enough, a few months later I got this email from her reporting her NYT placement:

I wanted to start this year by giving you a well-deserved THANK YOU. Not only because all that I had learned at your seminar has been so useful, but also meeting you has been a life-changing catalyst for my professional career.

I had found it very difficult to make close contact with the international media. But after applying the strategies that you presented at your NYC seminar, I can proudly present you the New York Times interview with my boss. Furthermore, I’ve created a closer relationship with this reporter, and he accepted to receive the editorial analysis we usually send in our newsletter. I think that this will reinforce the relationship with the journalist and help us become a trustworthy reference in the future. Thank you once more for everything! 

Pitching is hard, that’s a fact. But success – at least as defined as hitting on 15 percent of your pitches – is a choice. You simply choose to get better. Then you find the techniques and systems that work. And then you apply them.

The “next Giovana” will be joining me at my next Pitching Boot Camp in two weeks in Atlanta.

If it’s too late for you to book that trip, you can start learning the same material five minutes from now via my online course, Crafting the Perfect Pitch.

The 2 burning questions in journalists’ minds


Before I started writing this I was video-chatting with a busy influencer who writes one of the top blogs in her industry. And she’s constantly pitched poorly by people she thinks should know better.

“It’s easy! I don’t want all your stats and lists of facts and paragraphs of details!”

When she – or pretty much any journalist/influencer you target – opens your email, they have two questions burning in the back of their minds:

     – What is this? They want to know what you have to offer. What it is, in a nutshell.
     – Why are you contacting ME about this? Why will my readers/viewers care? This is why the typical generic, mass-produced email pitch is so deadly. In a split-second, your target realizes, “Nothing immediately obvious in it for me, I’m out of here – delete.”

This seems pretty obvious when we stack it up like this. But most of the pitches I see, even from experienced pros, don’t answer these questions soon enough. When you’re too close to your subject matter for too long, you don’t even realize that you’ve lost the ability to get out of your own head.

The crazy thing is, the most common way people start off their pitches doesn’t come close to answering EITHER of these questions.

I expose this too-prevalent error and teach how to fix it, in the middle video on this resource page.

ICYMI, I’ve boiled down three key pitching skills into intensely practical short videos for you and your PR friends. Check them out at that link above, and I do appreciate you sharing them if you find them valuable.

And be sure your next pitch answers those two burning questions.

The 24 Hour Pitching Boost: Before hitting ‘send’ on your next pitch…


Check out these three short videos to boost your pitching results.

They include:

– 5 Tips for Dramatically Increasing The Chances Your
Email Pitch Gets Opened and Read
– 2 Mistakes That Kill A Journalist’s Interest, PLUS The Fix That’ll Prompt A Quick Response
– A Producer From TODAY Gives Away EXACTLY What She Wants You To Say When You Pitch Her

Click here to go to the videos

When personalization backfires


Yesterday an earnest, hardworking young PR pro asked me repeatedly during a phone consultation “what not to do.”

She already knows not to rely on generic pitches blasted to the same list. So I talked about how you can inadvertently take personalization too far.

When you’re crafting your pitch for your target journalist or blogger, you know it’s a best practice to prove in the first sentence that you’ve researched her and her audience. It’s usually best to keep this focused on her work. I say that because often you might see also something in her Twitter bio or an Instagram post that you could use to make more of a personal connection.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s great to make a personal connection. That’s the ultimate goal of great media relations. Just not so soon – so save that thought.

Lead off with the professional reference, e.g.:

I’ve noticed your posts connecting millennials’ job-hunting preferences and big-company recruiting tactics tend to get shared most frequently on social . . .

And then get right into your pitch that propels that connection forward.

There’s been an evolution in the last few years among the influencers I interview for my Inner Circle (Today producer, WaPo editor, writers for USAT and WSJ). When I show them pitches, they still register appreciation for personalization at the top, but now they get anxious and even frustrated if that personalization “drags on” into a second point of reference. They say, “I want to know what he’s offering here.”

So to recap – first professional personalization, then pitch, then call to action. But what about that great personal tidbit you saw that could open the door to a great connection?

Save it for your P.S.

That’s where you note that you’ve visited her alma mater to see your best friend from high school who also went there – beautiful campus. Or your quick take on this season of the Netflix show she tweeted about binge watching. Or whatever.

Just make sure it’s:

– sincere – because relationships only work when founded authentically
– specific – because even if you really do LOVE that show she won’t believe you unless you prove it with some detail
– not stalker-ish – no explanation necessary

These influencers are so strained by all the pressures of their job (not to mention being called “enemies of the American people”) that they deserve every effort on our part to make our outreach relevant and accessible on their terms. Helping them do their jobs is what helps us.

Buckets full of influencers



The media landscape has fragmented so much, I’ve found it helpful to segment the various types of third-party influencers into 8 buckets.  I bet you’re not working with all 8 (reply and tell me about it if I’m wrong).

Each group needs to be handled differently – some of them you even pay (gasp) to collaborate with. The common thread is that each bucket contains third-parties your audiences trust.

1. Traditional media – duh, I know, but it would be confusing if I left them off. For definition’s sake – outlets with an offline component, like a dead-tree newspaper or TV feed, as well as their online version.

2. Digital-only media – Outlets with multiple staffers and advertisers that exist only online. BuzzFeed, Business Insider, Quartz, Refinery29. For now I’m putting podcasts here, although there’s an argument for #5 as well.

3. Trade media – industry-specific, online or offline.

4. Bloggers – single-author blogs have a ton of pull with their core audiences, even if content is paid. Tim Ferriss or Ree Drummond at the top end, or your fav less-huge style or food blogger at the other end. If they have multiple authors (occasional guest poster excluded, then they’re #2).

5. Power social influencers – somebody otherwise not famous with a meaningful following on Instagram, YouTube, Snapchat, or whatever platform and TRUSTED by those followers.

6. Celebrities – not just entertainers who are household names – could be anyone from a mayor to a speaker/author/thought leader who has a channel that reaches your people.

7. Other organizations’ content marketing – they have an audience and they need to keep serving them fresh, useful content. Who cares if they’re another business or non-profit? Establish a personal relationship with the content team and work out a way to share each other’s stuff. Start by looking at your: customers, suppliers, vendors, and industry groups.

8. Aggregators – this is where I’m putting theSkimm, even though it’s functionally more like #2, because it’s a great example of the power of this overlooked bucket. Another daily email that aggregates news with outside influence is the Aspen Institute’s Best Ideas of the Day. Trade associations and industry groups usually have well-read aggregators. Those editors welcome well-targeted, highly relevant suggestions just like anyone.

Each one requires different research, is measured by different metrics and tools, and responds to different forms and styles of outreach. I covered all that on this week’s special training for my Inner Circle members, with emphasis on Buckets 4-8. We examined case studies from big brands as well as success stories from current members like you.

To find out how to get access to that training and others like it every month, register here for a free Preview Pass.


Glad to set you straight


Every Thursday I send an email to a list of subscribers. Every Thursday people hit reply and write back to me.

One said this:


I didn’t add the all-caps. That’s how he wrote it.

The message gave me pause. Not because it’s a little weird someone that successful would feel the need to tell me that. Not because he wasn’t interested in my emails – that’s fine, people unsubscribe every week. Thousands keep reading.

It gave me pause because I personally can’t relate to his attitude – I’m way too curious about life.

Am I the weird one? I just think there’s always something more to learn. I’ve been really blessed the last ten years to grow and advance in life more than I thought possible. And that just makes me want to grow more.

One of my favorite things about my job is that I seem to attract people who have a similar attitude about personal development. One of my longtime Inner Circle members lands 10+ NYT hits a year, and she’s still participating in this monthly training program. I recently had a Senior VP of corporate communications not only attend the pitching boot camp I did for her team but actively participate in the activities and brainstorming. Just like the SVP for Global Comms at GM did when I worked with his team last year.

The desire for continuous learning and improvement likely contributed the MOST to those people’s success. And they are smart and humble enough not to change it now.

I certainly haven’t “achieved all I’ve ever wanted and then some.”

If you haven’t either, keep seeking. Keep learning and growing. If my stuff helps, great. If somebody else’s stuff helps, that’s great, too.

Just don’t shut the door early on your potential.

How Trump’s election changed PR forever


When I saw that electoral map on the night of Nov. 8th, I knew one thing:

There is no longer any such thing as the “national media.”

Every outlet serves (and is trusted by) only a segment of the population. It’s imperative that we make sure we’re targeting outlets that match up with our audiences’ worldviews, not merely those that we or our bosses’ consume.

“Trust” is the new “reach.”

No judgment here, just real talk.

This doesn’t relate merely to political ideology. A Gen Xer could glance at a lifestyle site targeted at Millennials and see nothing but celebrity gossip and idle chatter. But a regular consumer of the site looks at it and feels like, “they get me” and trusts the information. And she’ll trust the story the Gen Xer later pitches about his product or issue, after he studies the site enough to “get” it, too.

A couple weeks ago I assembled the latest list of the Top 40 Digital-Only News Sites – all have more than 10 million unique visitors a month – across various topics. I was only familiar with 25 of them. I polled my Inner Circle members and their average response was 22. I bet your boss has heard of even fewer than that.

You really have a choice. You can ignore the evolution of our profession and run the risk of getting “locked out,” or you can join the FIRST MOVERS who are already building relationships with these new channels.

Someone is going to do it, it may as well be you. And I see a tremendous “first mover advantage.”

I’ll be teaching how to take advantage of these dramatic shifts in my next live workshop on Building Media Relationships in Atlanta. I’ll cover:

     – Free online tools to determine the channels that matter most to your key audiences
     – A step-by-step, repeatable process to get noticed by journalists/influencers at those outlets
     – How social media can be used – and abused – in relationship building
     – How all this still works with the venerable outlets that your boss still insists you be in 🙂

When I last taught this workshop, two separate people heard back from cold contacts at The New York Times before the workshop was over.

The day after this workshop, I’ll also teach my Pitching Boot Camp – almost everybody comes to both.  

Registration is limited – sign up here.


“We’re committed to being one of the best corporate communications teams in the world, and Michael Smart’s workshop was a great resource for that pursuit. He was a wonderful addition to our meeting and his session hit just the right spot for us. I’ve received great feedback across the board.”

Tony Cervone, SVP Global Communications, General Motors

“On a scale of one to ten, this workshop was a 9.5. Great nuggets of information that I’ll find ways to implement in my career. Best advice: when to call, when not to call.”

 Will Zasadny, California Healthcare Institute

“Probably one of the best professional development experiences I’ve been to because Michael gives us time to implement what we are learning on the spot. He’s there to answer questions and walk us through areas that may have been difficult in past outreach experiences.”

 Kristina Rozenbergs, C. Blohm and Associates


A rude guy’s elbow


I’m writing this on a plane to Atlanta. The last time I was on a plane I was working intently on some stuff I needed to finish that day. For like three seconds, I took my hands off the keyboard and looked over my shoulder.

In that tiny window, the guy sitting to my right slid his entire elbow over the armrest between us!

The only way I could still use my right hand to operate the trackpad was to squish my whole right side and lean awkwardly. I wasn’t brazen enough to actually talk to him about it, but I wasn’t going to just take this kind of treatment.

So I kept subtly pushing my arm into his elbow to let him know I wanted my territory back. Felt weird, but hey, I had work to do. Take that, anonymous stranger next to me!

After about a minute of this contortion, I finally got up the nerve to turn to him to ask for a bit of space. And lo and behold, he was sound asleep. Then the craziest thing happened.

Where one second previous I had been mad and offended, all of a sudden I empathized with him. I know how hard it is to fall asleep on planes. And I was worried that if I picked his arm up and moved it back onto his lap, I would wake him up. So I decided to stick it out.

And guess what? Leaning the other way suddenly didn’t seem that bad. Now that my emotions were balanced around serving or helping someone else, I was way less bugged than when I’d been defensive. Eventually, he woke up and we joked about the movie he hadn’t been watching. No big deal at all.

I believe about 75 percent of our frustrations with the news media are just like this situation I experienced. We as PR people assume the worst, that they’re trying to stick it to us . . . or they’re lazy and careless . . . or they have a hidden agenda.

When all along, they are just oblivious to the issue that has you concerned. They’ve got so much going on, and so much coming at them, they don’t have time to even think about you, let alone to think of ways to spite you.

And when you put yourself in their seat and think of times in your life you’ve felt overwhelmed or stretched too thin, suddenly your irritation dwindles, and you start to think of ways you can be helpful to them.

Want to know how to start? Pick a key influencer you haven’t heard back from. Write her an email that says nothing about you. Just observe what her life must be like, based on the work you’ve seen from her, and thank her for it. Click “send.”

Then preserve that feeling you have at that moment – whether she writes back or not. Keep that feeling when you pitch, or ask for a correction, or follow up. It will color all your outreach in such a way that will make her notice and appreciate you back.

Doesn’t guarantee coverage – you’ve gotta have news judgment and framing skills for that – but it helps, and it sure feels better than the alternative.

2017 and content saturation


There’s no silver bullet channel or platform that will persist long enough for you to make it your career. But there are two strategies that were effective yesterday and today that will also endure well past your retirement.

Here are some quick reminders of the new techniques that were supposed to “change everything” just during my short career:

2006 – “Bypass the media,” was the watch cry. You could optimize a news release, and Google News indexed it just the same as an article from a real newspaper! Your audiences would find it when they searched, so why bother with those pesky reporters? Google figured this out, and now they ignore or even penalize links from news releases.

2011 – Facebook follower numbers seemed to grow on their own. People were actively looking for Facebook pages to “like.” And Facebook actually showed them your posts! Young Mr. Zuckerberg and his friends kindly shared their platform with us and gave us a free way to take our message directly to our people. Then in 2012 they took the company public and revenue actually mattered. Now, unless you pay to boost, fewer than 10 percent of your own followers will even see your own posts.

I’m NOT saying that press release SEO or Facebook community management are bad. Great tools that contribute to great outcomes. Just remember this history when you’re tempted to go all in on one channel because it seems like it may be an easier road.

A PR “strategy” that relies on a particular channel or platform is not a strategy at all. It is a temporary tactic that will eventually become saturated and dominated by the biggest budgets. And the early-mover advantage has decreased from years to months.

Two strategies that will always endure are:

1. Produce content that’s 10X better than what your target audiences are used to seeing
2. Get your messages shared with your audiences by third-parties they already trust

That’s hard, you say? That’s the point. Your ability to execute these two strategies makes you rare and valuable in the content-saturated environment of 2017 and beyond.

Master them and you’ll be independent well before retirement.

When you really need to make stuff happen


He pushed the Fortune piece across the table to me, just a hint of a satisfied smile sneaking onto his face.

I was meeting with an Inner Circle member while I was in his city. He’s at a big agency, and he confided that he feels like a foreigner there much of the time.

He was working on a new account, and they hadn’t achieved the top tier placements they had listed on their Statement of Work. The initial engagement was coming to an end, the review with the client was coming up, but others on the team had resigned themselves to the situation.

“Everyone seemed okay with this,” he explained. “It’s the way things go, I guess. This is a smaller client that isn’t doing very remarkable stuff.”

But that didn’t sit well with this guy. Whether they were going to lose the business or not, he felt like they ought to exhaust all their efforts in doing what they said they were going to do.

And even at the biggest agencies, there are no secret methodologies to making top-tier placements materialize.

He just made a short list of the journalists who’d likely be most interested, and vowed to “send them each two emails and follow up with three phone calls and see what happens.”

If that level of follow-up freaks you out, that’s okay. You’re applying it to situations where you don’t have a deep-seated belief that you have something of value for the journalists you’re targeting.

This guy was beyond that. He had that belief, and now he had the resolve to power him through natural reticence and fear of rejection.

Before the final client review, he had landed the Fortune piece and had booked calls for the CEO with two other top-tier outlets.

Speaking as much to himself as to his collective PR peers, his voice rising a bit, he explained the lesson this experience had taught him:

“Stop looking in the mirror after every failed pitch and evaluating whether you belong in this business,” he said. “If you know you have a good story, keep calling until someone runs it.”

Couldn’t have said it better myself :).

To your success,


P.S. This is the level we work to achieve inside the Inner Circle. We start with the tactics and research that allow you to KNOW what your targets want and how to frame it so they immediately recognize your value. Then we build on top of that mindset shift you saw in this pro’s story. Register here to see how we do it.