I was in a meeting this week and a guy started making a point I disagreed with.
It quickly became clear that he relished playing a contrarian role. He does this often. At first it bugged me, but after a while I realized some benefits to being contrarian, especially in media relations.
Back to this guy – usually I welcome differing viewpoints. But this guy did it in a negative way, that diminished abilities of the people who were holding to the mainstream opinion on the issue. I realize now that I let his violation of social norms distract me from the intellectual or logical merits of his argument.
And that reminded me of a few of the “contrarian” tactics that I’ve seen be successful in media relations. Many PR people initially bristle at them because these approaches can seem “out of touch.” But if you can set aside your initial hesitation and do some experimenting, then you will likely see some improved results. Here are a few:
– Use the phone more. Yes, a huge majority of journalists dislike getting cold pitches. So don’t use the phone for that. But the further an online/email conversation gets, the more open they can be to an actual chat. No, not all of them. But some of them actually prefer the phone. One top-tier journalist told me this month: “I get 700 emails a day – if you want to stand out to me, pick up the phone.” One tip – this is more likely to apply to journalists about 45 and older, because they had to rely on the phone early in their careers. When I started reporting there was only one computer in the whole newsroom where you could check your email! You can often calculate their general age based on their college graduation year on LinkedIn.
– Pitch on Friday afternoons, before holidays, or other unorthodox times. Simple math – nobody does this, so you have less competition. A very successful pitching pro told me a few weeks ago that she always avoided pitching in late August during the congressional recess because the D.C.-based reporters she works with tend to follow this annual rhythm. But this year she tried it, and enjoyed even better success than usual!
– Seize contrarian viewpoints for thought leadership. Obviously, it’s much easier to stand out with this. And you don’t always have to be annoying or offensive. Best example EVER of this is REI’s “#OptOutside” backlash to Black Friday consumerism. When they first did it, it was kind of rebellious, yet now they’re viewed as leaders of a popular movement.
If you’re a pitching veteran and you feel like you know the rules, break a few. See what happens. Write some new ones.
P.S. What are some contrarian approaches you have success with?
This article was originally published on September 18, 2019
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