It’s often not WHAT you pitch

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This week somebody forwarded me a blogger’s lengthy takedown of a PR firm’s efforts to publicize a hollow startup.

The blogger portrayed the pitch as comically superficial. (I’m not going to link to the post because I don’t like boosting ad revenue for crass blogs that bully people.)

And the material actually WAS superficial. It went against every principle of clear writing that I talk about in these posts. All things being equal, the firm should have pushed back on the client to get more concrete facts about what the startup does and why it’s credible.

But that wasn’t the main problem, and it didn’t even stop them from ultimately succeeding elsewhere (more on that in a minute).

The biggest problem is where their material ended up. Granted, this is a blog that’s well read among the startup’s target market – millennials. But the blog is also known for snarky opposition to PR outreach.  It was like putting red meat in front of a gaunt stray dog.

The firm fell victim to the same type of thinking that I used to struggle with and that still distracts many of my clients. When I’m asked to review pitches, anxious PR pros generally start by asking about their subject line, their opening sentence, or their call to action. But there’s a factor that has way more impact on their likelihood of success than the language and phrasing of their actual pitch.

That factor is what I call “Message-to-Influencer Match.”

And that’s why the first thing I ask when looking at any pitch is: who is the target, and why?

When you’ve done your research and you know you have the right journalist or blogger, the pitch almost writes itself. You don’t need to stress as much about the precise phrasing you use because your target is going to find the information useful regardless.

I’m not simply talking about identifying the topics a reporter or blogger will likely cover. When choosing targets, media relations masters think through the style and tone of the piece they want. They ask: is the outcome awareness, or persuasion, or branding? That’s why you consider the overall Message of the piece you’re suggesting and weigh whether it’s a likely Match to the Influencer you’re pitching.

Remember that startup that was mocked as comically superficial by a popular millennial blog? It also landed a positive placement on the site of a respected business magazine.

WHAT you pitch is secondary to WHO you pitch. Add this to the hundred other reasons not to rely on blasting the same email to everyone in your database. Instead, spend 80 percent of your outreach time on the top 20 percent of your media list. That allows you to hone your Message-to-Influencer Match and land the coverage you deserve.

This article was originally published on Apr 28, 2016.