Knowing I specialize in boosting pitching results, people sometimes ask me if I think content marketing is making pitching less relevant.

They’re wondering this because of the growth of “brand journalism,” where companies create their own sales-free content simply to attract eyeballs.

When CMOs go to conferences or watch Gary Vaynerchuk videos, they are being told: “Look at the industry publications and sites that your customers subscribe to, and then put those outlets out of business.”

So if brands are attracting customers directly to their own material, why bother to jump through the hoops of refining your ability to pitch it to anyone else?

It’s a fair question during the content marketing revolution.

But those anticipating the demise of pitching are NOT looking to the future. They’re also unknowingly constraining their own potential by limiting their view of what pitching really is.

The real future of brand journalism

Here’s the deal: yes, over the coming years, some brand journalism sites WILL achieve significant influence in their industries. But those editors are going to be clamoring for ideas and experts and content just like traditional media sites do now. And that’s where you come in.

Actually, it’s already happening. I see coverage reports where PR pros are claiming placements on the OPEN Forum small business web site, which attracts more than a million unique visitors per month. Guess what – that’s entirely a “brand journalism” site run by American Express. But if you get your executive or thought leader is in front of an audience that’s important to you, who cares?

Pitching has never been limited to securing coverage from traditional media.

Pitching today and in the future is about 1) finding a third-party gatekeeper who has an audience you want to reach and 2) explaining to the gatekeeper how the content you’re proposing matches the needs of that audience.

Doesn’t matter if that gatekeeper works for USA Today or American Express.

Wandering eyes

There’s another reason that content marketing accentuates the need for skilled pitching pros. As the amount of content online skyrockets, consumers of it are more discriminating. The brand journalism sites that survive will be the ones that successfully earn mentions and links from other sites with heft and eyeballs.

The days of creating content and merely “putting it out there” are over. Content-driven brands will increasingly need pitching pros like you to promote their stuff to other gatekeepers to get it shared and watched. A web site owned by a traditional media company actually brought me in to train their journalists how to “pitch” their stories to journalists at other sites. If the “real media” needs to do it, then the “brand” media need to as well.

In short, here’s how you adapt:

Watch for the brand journalism sites that emerge in your industry. Study them and build relationships with their editors, just like you would with the staffers at a “traditional media outlet.” They’ll likely have different needs and operate under different philosophies, but once you figure those out you’ll see how you can help them.

And your placements will keep rolling in.

PRSA members, a special free offer for you

As a fellow member of our field’s professional society, I’m happy to share my very best pitching tips with you. Click here for immediate access to three 2-minute videos with tips you can implement in less than a day to boost the results of your next pitch.

If brands are attracting customers directly to their own material, why bother with refining your ability to pitch it to anyone else? Here’s what you need to know about the real future of brand journalism.

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People, not programs

Whenever possible, pitches should be about people. Not products or programs.

Readers and viewers are people. And that’s who your target journalist needs to attract and please to keep their job.

I recently reviewed a group of pitches and saw the power of this principle highlighted by two good examples and one that needed some help.

Pitch #1

The client is a large city’s bid for Amazon’s second headquarters. But the PR pro had wisely found a new and different angle, one that’s different from all the other cities clamoring for the honor. How? His pitch was a profile of an up-and-coming minority woman leader who happened to be in charge of the bid. Her backstory is intriguing, and a profile of her will inevitably reflect positively on the city’s bid. Smart approach.

Pitch #2

This was the classic tech pitch – writing to “introduce” a technological tool that gauges public sentiment on issues and purports to use AI to deliver new and different insights. The pitch listed all the claims about the technology, complete with buzzwords and jargon. And at the very end it mentioned some politicians whose campaigns had used the tool to get elected. I recommended flipping the pitch around to focus on those users and leave the buzzwords on the cutting room floor.

Pitch #3

This pitch came from a company that provides a software platform for business leaders to mentor young people remotely (typically while the mentor is at work and the mentees are at school). I loved the pitch because the PR pro had written it around a specific cross-section of mentors. She focused on female business leaders who want to mentor girls and young women, but are stretched too thin by the demands of their jobs and their own families to be able to regularly travel to do so. Best thing about this niche? It likely describes many of the journalists she would be pitching. We talked about ways she could further personalize the pitch, using the word “you” instead of “many female business leaders.”

By focusing the pitch on the mentors, not on the platform, she brought the service to life and offered her targets interesting characters to explore. My one additional suggestion was that she take the “people, not programs” principle even further and also develop some sources among another group: the students being mentored.

Where do you go to regularly learn from the way other pros are crafting successful pitches-in-the-making, and to get advice on improving yours? Do you have such a resource?

If not, you should check out my Inner Circle group mentoring program. Those three pitches were among those I reviewed during our August “Ask Michael Anything” virtual meeting. I got on the phone with the individual authors of those pitches and worked through improvements with them. Other members of the Inner Circle listened and learned in the background.

You could be joining us for the September AMA – check out the details and apply to join the Inner Circle here.

Whenever possible, pitches should be about people. Not products or programs. Readers and viewers are people. And that’s who your target journalist needs to attract and please to keep their job.

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I’ve been encouraging newsmakers to subject themselves to media interviews for the past 20 years. But when the tables turned and the media “spotlight” was on me, everything I used to say to tell clients seemed less important.

I remember many of them balking and hesitating to participate. Either out of modesty – real or feigned. Or fear. Or mistrust. Often, I’d catch myself getting impatient with them, thinking, “This isn’t that big of a deal.”

And then last month, a reporter wanted to do a story about ME and something that’s close to me. And now I understand way better where those reluctant folks were coming from.

This time, I broke all the so-called “rules” about not trying to influence coverage. I’ll explain why, and what I learned that will make me approach future newsmakers differently.

What was this story about? It’s not related to my PR training business – I’ve been fortunate to have been covered by trade publications through the years, and that has never been sensitive for me. Part of the job.

Nope, this was a Salt Lake City newspaper wanting to do a piece on . . . the elementary school flag football team I coached. They wanted to embed some of the fun videos we had made, and were intrigued that we found a way to have fun, help every player score, and also win games.

But when I got that call, all of a sudden, I’m hearing myself think all those “crazy” concerns that those reluctant spokespeople would spout to me in the past:

“Jim down the street is going to think I’m full of myself and that I called the paper to brag.”

“The other coaches are going to be out to get me because they’ll think I’m trying to get the spotlight.”

“What if the reporter is inadvertently insensitive to some of the kids who aren’t athletic and they end up feeling left out or looking bad?”

I know. It’s elementary school youth sports, for crying out loud. It’s not a big deal.

But that’s exactly my point – it’s not a big deal to other people, but it was to me. There didn’t seem to be anything to lose to an outside observer. But to me and the players I felt responsible for, there was. That feeling brought with it emotions I had to manage.

The reporter and his editor were cool. I just told them straight up that I appreciated their interest and would love to work with them, but I had to be assured that none of the kids would be portrayed in the slightest negative light, even accidentally. And that to ensure this, we would fact-check the piece together before it went live. I knew they might get kind of offended and back off doing the story, but was willing to accept that.

They agreed. Later, when the reporter emailed me to set up the fact-checking call, I did what I had told sources many times over the years “you can’t do.” I asked him to email me the draft before it went live. I insisted that I wouldn’t try to edit it, just fact-check it.

The reporter patiently explained that’s against their policy, but he would be happy to go over it with me on the phone. We did, and caught a couple misunderstandings.

Then I did something else I would have never let a source do in the past – I straight-up asked him to include the names of my assistant coaches. They had been left out, and although the reader wouldn’t miss them, it would have been unfair to all the hours these men had sacrificed. The reporter agreed.

And in the end, none of my concerns came to fruition. A few people in the neighborhood got a kick out of it and barely anyone else noticed. My rational mind probably knew this is what would happen all along. But that didn’t change the emotions I felt once my personal life was the subject of a news article.

My biggest takeaway is that I’ll be much more attentive to those kind of concerns from newsmakers going forward, especially if the line of questioning veers into their personal life.

And in cases like this, when the reporter has come to me, or needs my client as much or more than they need his story, I won’t hesitate.  I’ll suggest or request anything that would help with accuracy and that might allay personal concerns my clients might have.

I know some media trainers who might cringe at this, but times are changing. Journalists can always say no, but it doesn’t hurt to ask. And if we aren’t comfortable with their approach, we can always decide not to participate and write a blog post instead 🙂

Some things are easier said than done. I learned this lesson again when instead of coaching the spokesperson I became THE spokesperson. Suddenly, those “crazy” concerns didn’t seem so crazy.

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This guy was HUNGRY

I remember Jay Srinivasan clearly because he sat right in the middle, right in the front, and asked a ton of questions. It was obvious that he was committed to learning and improving his skills and his results.

That was at my media pitching workshop in DC four summers ago.

The next summer he was there again. And the next. And again this past June. It’s the same workshop, and he has attended it the last four years in a row.

[The next one is in NYC next month and it’s almost sold out].

I’m around a lot of PR people, and many of them complain about being stuck and unappreciated at work. Not as many of them are willing to invest the time to actually DO something to change their circumstance.

I asked Jay why he keeps coming and said he learns new things every time. It’s obvious Jay is committed to continuous improvement and it has paid off for him.

Here’s what Jay wrote me about the impact of attending my workshop:

“My boss (originally) said if I produce one media placement a month, he would be happy .  . . Last year I was able to place 60 articles, including in The Washington Post, Business Insider, USA Today and Fast Company Design. This was my first time generating national media, and I owe a lot of it to your teachings.”

Armed with that track record of success, during this year’s annual review Jay requested to work from home two days a week, even though that is rare in his company. His boss approved. Now, Jay writes:

“I am now able to avoid three hours of commute time for those two days, drop my daughters off to school, pick them up and take them to swimming and taekwondo classes. It has also reduced some of the load on my wife, who was doing everything while working a high-pressure job.”

Would that be nice? To decrease your commute? Improve your work/life balance? Get more respect from your boss and coworkers?

Do something about it, like Jay did.

Claim one of the remaining seats at this workshop.

It’s almost full – now that I’m writing this final post, it could sell out at any time. Propel your skills and apply what you learn. Improve results and a better life will follow.

And watch out for Jay :).

I remember Jay Srinivasan clearly because he sat right in the middle, right in the front, and asked a ton of questions. It was obvious that he was committed to learning and improving his skills and his results.

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A common lament I hear from even the best PR pros goes like this:

“I bust my tail to book the interview, and then our spokesperson blew it by [insert interviewing fail here].”

But Teri Bond just enjoyed the opposite experience. The Art Center in Pasadena where she does PR appointed a new second-in-command. Teri used her skill, considerable experience and relationships to secure an interview for the new leader with the LA Times. This feat was tremendous in any age, but even more so now when the Times newsroom is a shadow of its former self.

Teri and her spokesperson were so well prepared and gave the reporter such good information and quotes, that the paper ended up running the piece as a Q&A laden with their key messages. The administrator’s vision of “creative activism” (a great tagline for an art school) even made it into the headline!

Teri is a longtime member of my Inner Circle mentoring group. This month’s exclusive training for Inner Circle members focused on preparing spokespeople so they deliver when you put them in front of the camera or on the phone.

My guest expert was Mark Bernheimer, former CNN national correspondent and media trainer of thousands of athletes, celebrities, politicians, executives, doctors and everyone else.

Mark helped restore our confidence that media interviews can still be a win-win, even in the age of Trump. We don’t have space to cover all the golden nuggets he taught, but here were two that especially resonated with the members:

Does your overly confident spokesperson think they’re already great at media interviews and resist media training? Mark says don’t call it “media training.” Call it a “message development session,” to ensure that everyone is on the same page about what you intend to accomplish with the media interactions.

Does your spokesperson ramble? Or simply struggle to speak in sound bites?  When Mark assumes the role of a reporter during a media training practice session, he says, “One of us is going to edit you. It can be me, as the journalist, or it can be you, by you focusing your words on what you really want to say. It’s up to you.”

And the war stories he told! The Hollywood diva brought her mom to the media training? The famous golfer who ignored Mark’s advice until the first question during the first interview proved Mark right? Those and the detailed training tips he taught are available only to members of the Inner Circle –  join now and you can be reviewing it later today.

Mark’s newsletter is one of the few I open as soon as it hits my inbox. Check out “Media’s Masters and Disasters” and sign up for it on the right side of this page, halfway down.

If you like it as much as I do, hit reply and tell him you want him to write more often 🙂 Together maybe we can squeeze even more great advice out of him.

I often hear from hard working PR pros about working to land an interview and then having it blown by the interviewee. I want to help. Here’s a recent positive example from one of my Inner Circle members and a two tips from one of the best media trainers around to get you started.

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Coming on too strong

One of my Inner Circle members recently posted the following question to our members forum: “I’ve heard Michael say that pitching a reporter is a lot like dating. How can I get a reporter to remain interested in me without coming on too strong?”

I do often draw parallels between dating and pitching, mostly to make the point that in both cases it needs to be a good fit. But there are some important distinctions in the dynamic between potential daters and journalists and PR pros. Namely, in PR there’s no such thing as coming on too strong. You can come off annoying. You can come off misguided. You can come off as ignorant, sloppy, or lazy. But if your pitch is properly targeted and carefully crafted, there is no too strong. Please remember those italicized words as you read the rest of this email.

Let’s say you email someone you want to date and they don’t respond. Then you text them something cool that made you think of them and they don’t respond. Then you DM them congratulating them on some success they posted on social, with no response. At this point, I’d recommend you move on. And move on quick before things get any creepier. Maybe you already went too far – I don’t know. And you definitely aren’t reading this to take dating advice from someone who has been married for 21 years.

But you could have that exact same experience with a reporter, and not only is it not creepy, it’s exactly what you should be doing.

A friend of mine received this message from a reporter she was working with, “Thanks for hounding me . . . and no, I am not kidding 🙂 I tell people all the time to keep harassing me until they hear from me.”

The world of dating has trained us to look for and decode subtle signs, nuanced silences, and unspoken intentions. Luckily, the PR world is easier to navigate. Journalists are almost always direct. For one, they don’t have time to play games. And two, even though they are wonderful people, they feel absolutely no social obligation to spare your feelings. If they’re not interested, they’ll tell you. Simple as that.

So if they haven’t told you no, assume they just haven’t seen what you have to offer. Again, if your pitch is properly targeted and carefully crafted, reach out again with some new element to your pitch. Give them a call and let them know you’ve got something you think they’ll love.  Follow up as often as you need until you hear back from them or you come against a deadline. And if they do come back with a no, don’t take it personally. Just means your piece doesn’t fit into their schedule or agenda at the moment. Doesn’t mean you can’t reach out again in the future when you’ve got something their audience wants.

And one more thing that works well in PR but not so much with dating: if your original journalist isn’t interested, ask if they have a friend who might be!

One of my Inner Circle members recently posted the following question to our members forum: “I’ve heard Michael say that pitching a reporter is a lot like dating. How can I get a reporter to remain interested in me without coming on too strong?” Here’s my thought on this analogy.

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One of our common frustrations as PR people is getting client/boss approvals on writing projects.

You know – when you send the attachment or Google Doc link and what you get back has more red “track changes” than black original.

There are lots of political and personality dynamics at play, so what I’m about to share won’t automatically cure all your approval woes. But it will definitely help.

The key is to divide the approval process into TWO HALVES.

First half – BEFORE you start writing, email your approver(s) and tell them your intent to write a release, case study, whatever. Tell them you’d like their agreement on three things:

1. Business purpose of the document – the bottom-line business goals you aim to support by producing it. Bosses and clients LOVE this, and once they see that you’re prioritizing what’s most important to them, they are more likely to get on board.

2. Main message – the point you want to get across to readers/visitors that will lead them to the business goal.

3. News hook or content marketing “angle” – this is where your expertise as a communicator comes in. You propose the creative way to make your main message interesting or useful to your key audiences. You’ve essentially said to your approvers: “I know what you want. Now here’s where you give me license to achieve it.”

They will often appreciate your strategic approach and sign off right away. If they don’t, you’ve saved yourself lots of writing time by catching and accommodating their concerns early in the process. Then you write your doc, and you’re ready for . . .

The second half – You send the final copy with a preface that says, “Since we’ve already agreed on the primary purpose and approach, all that’s left is for you to check for any factual errors or vital legal/proprietary concerns. If I don’t hear back from you by (date), then I’ll know all is well and we’ll proceed.”

If you want to get really cagey, you cut and paste the release into the email, so the reviewers are less likely to use “track changes” or Google Doc’s comment feature to weigh in on every comma and synonym.

Divide your approval process in half and enjoy faster approvals and less unnecessary meddling.

With an approved asset in less time, you’ve opened time for yourself to sharpen your pitching approach, and I can help with that. See below for three result-boosting tips you can implement in a day or less.

PRSA members, a special free offer for you

As a fellow member of our field’s professional society, I’m happy to share my very best pitching tips with you. Click here for immediate access to three 2-minute videos with tips you can implement in less than a day to boost the results of your next pitch.

Nobody enjoys getting a document back from a boss or client only to find that it’s covered in red “track changes” edits. Here’s how to make the review process less painful.

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A skilled PR pro from Baltimore is applying a new approach and getting an immediate pay-off.

Adam Yosim is practicing what I call “Read and React.” I’m sure you can guess what it entails.

He wrote me to share:

I just wanted to send a note of appreciation for your tips on Reading and Reacting. Sure, I learned it last year at your workshop, but I never got around to carving out time each week for the practice.

I started this week, and it’s paid off great dividends. I’m hearing back from reporters and editors that I previously pitched without success.

After just one week, Adam got through to a managing editor at CNBC, which has since led to an interview with his client. And another reporter with Money magazine accepted input from a client for a web story she was working on.

All in all, I wish I started reading and reacting on a regular basis last year, but better late than never.

Amen to that, Adam. All of us have things we’ve been meaning to get around to doing. Good for you for actually taking action.

If you haven’t attended the workshop Adam is referencing, it’s called Secrets of Media Relations Masters. The next one is in New York next month.

You and I get into a room with some other PR people and review not just principles like Read and React, but the nitty-gritty real world nuances that get results. I’ve seen two different people apply the same principle in media outreach, and one person gets an annoyed response and the other gets the coverage. The difference is in the details, and that’s why you attend a two-day workshop.

Would you like to be getting an immediate boost to your media outreach next month? Or wait a year?

These workshops usually sell out, and this one is already on its way to filling up.

Register today to secure your spot – hope to see you there!

 

P.S. Last year Adam had just left the TV news business. He was being hard on himself as he transitioned into PR and “wasn’t quite getting it at first.” A colleague recommended the workshop, and here’s what Adam said happened next:

It was a very eye-opening experience. A lot of the lessons I learned, I was able to use them right away and get immediate results. It was like a paradigm shift, and after the workshop, everything I was doing became fun. I could still do storytelling and be creative, which are the reasons I got into news in the first place.

 

A skilled PR pro from Baltimore is applying a new approach and getting an immediate pay-off. It’s nothing revolutionary, but it does take action.

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I recently concluded my busy spring speaking season (this year it extended into summer). And I noticed one principle that resonated from coast to coast.

In Times Square, it hit home with consumer product PR reps the same as it did in a lakeside hotel in Anchorage with oil & gas pros.

In a leafy Georgetown neighborhood in DC, policy wonks took note the same as stretched-thin social justice PR people in Indianapolis.

[My next public workshop is Secrets of Media Relations Masters in NYC in September].

Here are some examples of this principle in action:

– A consumer tech company reaches out to the US Postal Service and gets a nice third-party video on the USPS web site to drive traffic to

– An oil & gas company connects with a trade organization to land an item in its well-read daily email

– A stationery company provides a high-traffic article to the blog of a hobby training company

This isn’t a requirement to apply the overarching principle, but in each of the above cases, the placement resulted from reaching out to a fellow PR professional!

The principle is:

Expand the definition of “media” in “media relations” to include any third-party that is trusted by an audience you need to reach.

This pushes your media list past traditional media, past trade media, past digital-only or blogs, and into the content marketing or brand journalism of other organizations. And before you know it, you’re “pitching” folks with the title of “Brand Content Director” instead of “Reporter.”

Pitching traditional media still works, in the right cases when done properly. But your audiences’ eyeballs are spread further over an ever-increasing number of information sources. To stay relevant, you’ve got to follow those eyeballs elsewhere.

What are the companies or non-profits in your space that need new material each day to keep their successful content marketing machines going?

With PR pros from coast to coast and in industries as varied as oil and gas to consumer products and social justice PR, there was one thing I spoke about that all these pros agreed on. there was one principle I hit on that rose above the rest.

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People often ask me for tips on writing subject lines for pitch emails.

What’s the sole purpose of the subject line?

To get the recipient to open the email. Therefore, the absolute best, all-purpose subject line is:

I have your daughter.

Just kidding.

I’ve found some formulas that work and have shared some of them previously via these emails. But what I really want to tell people when they ask that question is something different.

You know what’s even more important to a journalist or blogger than the subject line of your pitch email?

It’s what is in the “from” column.

You want the journalist to see the email is from you and think,

Oh, [name] knows what I cover and only writes me with relevant, concise ideas. So even though I’m super-busy, I’m gonna open this email over the other 30 that came in since I checked last.

How do you get to that point? Try to lay the groundwork of your relationship BEFORE you have a story to pitch. Write to your key target journalists to let them know what you think of their work. Share useful info from third-parties. Tell how you’re sharing their work more widely.

When you do this correctly, they write back, and you have a nice little dialogue. And then, a little while later, when you actually have something to pitch, you really do have the absolute best subject line ever:

The “re: . . .” subject line of a successful previous email conversation.

P.S. If your reaction to this post is, “Yeah, sounds great, but I don’t have time to ‘lay the groundwork,’” I understand. I’ve been there. Work your best subject line magic for your cold email, but then really think about tweaking your workflow and processes so you can reach out to these key influencers BEFORE the next time you really need something from them.

P.P.S. Of course, there’s more you need than just a subject line to engage journalists and influencers successfully. I’d like to help you learn those field-tested skills. See below.

PRSA members, a special free offer for you

As a fellow member of our field’s professional society, I want to share with you my very best pitching tips. Click here for immediate access to three 2-minute videos with tips you can implement in less than a day to boost the results of your next pitch.

It’s great to tweak and refine the subject line of your pitch email, but there’s something else that’s even more important to the journalist or blogger you’re pitching.

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