Identifying your real value as a pitching pro


Identifying your real value as a pitching pro

The wealthy attorney was cursing while his BMW sputtered and jerked its way into the auto repair shop.

He was late for a client meeting and demanded the sole mechanic look at it immediately. The lawyer, clad in his Armani suit, fidgeted in frustration while the grizzled old guy lifted the hood and looked for a minute. Then he pulled a screwdriver from his coveralls, reached in and tightened a single screw.

“Try it now,” he said.

The attorney jumped behind the wheel and turned the key. The engine purred like a kitten.

He leaned out the window with a huge grin and asked, “How much?”

“Two hundred dollars,” came the deadpan reply.

“What?” cried the attorney, now scowling. “All you did was tighten one screw! It took you less than a minute!”

“Charge for tightening one screw is one dollar,” said the mechanic, loving every minute of it. “Knowing which screw to tighten costs $199.”

Pitching media can be similar.

Your final email, after all your strategizing and revisions, might not look very complicated.

For example, here’s the entire email that Inner Circle member Scott Willyerd sent to top-tier writers last month:

Hi (name),

Ahead of President Obama meeting with the Pope, I wanted to send you updated Papal and Presidential approval ratings from the Saint Leo University Polling Institute.  

Thanks for your time and consideration.

Many would have been tempted to include a whole press release and clutter the email with more detail. Scott’s minimalist approach landed strong mentions of his client in USA Today, NPR, two wire services with multiple pick-ups, and several political outlets.

So stand strong in keeping your pitch emails brutally brief. Anyone can paste a news release into an email and press “send.”

Your real value to your organization is knowing what to include, and often more importantly, what NOT to.

How Dwight Schrute helped me place a story in TIME


Here’s the short version of how to use ruthlessly brief pitches and pop culture angles to land placements such as this one on TIME’s web site, which was the second-most read story for several days when it first ran.

I was working with a business school professor who coauthored a study about the advantages and disadvantages of working with people she called “socially distinct newcomers.” That’s a perfect, precise description of what she studied, so it’s absolutely the best way to explain the concept in her academic journal article.

But it’s obviously not very familiar language that would be useful in a pitch email subject line or in the lead of a news release.

So I tried to think of a word or phrase that would convey that concept in the shortest amount of words. In my pitching workshops we talk about how finding a pop culture angle can boost your story’s chances of placement, so that was one way I approached this pitch. And then it hit me: the person who most embodies the phrase “socially distinct” is the character Dwight Schrute on NBC’s “The Office.” So I used him to deliver the most interesting finding of the study in brief, familiar language. Here was the subject line of my email:

Study: Embrace the Dwight Schrutes in your ‘office’ for better performance

There’s an obvious risk with this approach – that a target journalist won’t be familiar with Dwight. But it was a risk I chose to accept because of the added zing that this angle brought with it.

Local media loved the excuse to put a photo of Dwight on their sites. Now the HR and management trades are starting to pick it up.


1. Ruthlessly trim your pitches to make them as short as possible.

2. Among other possibilities, consider an image or concept made familiar through pop culture to make your pitch stand out.

Warning lights are flashing


Here’s a non-media related thought for you at year-end.

Last week all three of these things happened at once:
– a warning light came on in the dashboard of my car
– a warning light came on in the dashboard of our family car
– my primary care physician saw something he didn’t like and referred me to a surgeon for a more detailed exam

Dealing with all three problems was obviously a major distraction from my goals and year-end deadlines.

As I worked toward resolving each issue, I thought about how much easier and less stressful it is to take care of things proactively, before the “warning lights” go on and everything becomes urgent.

In 2014, let’s consider what’s most important and proactively address it now, before it becomes a crisis.

Struggling with a family relationship? Set aside your “busyness” and work on it.

Concerned about your health? Change your lifestyle before you get the ultimatum from your doctor.

Wondering about the direction of your career? Take that step you’ve been putting off.

As for my three minor crises, we worked through them one at a time: My car had a screw through a tire, the family car needed some new gaskets, and the surgeon said it was a false alarm. It’s way easier to take the call from the mechanic saying he needs $581 to fix your car when you just heard that you don’t need surgery.

I love sharing media relations advice with you, but I know it’s not the most important thing you deal with. Please accept my sincerest best wishes on succeeding where it matters most in the coming year.