“Sales” shouldn’t be a dirty word to PR pros

“Where’d you learn to write pitches like that?”

I was talking one-on-one with a member of the Fortune 500 PR team I was training. His email pitches stood out to me because they were excellent, yet written in a distinctly different style than the rest of his team.

His reply surprised me:

“Oh, I just write them like I wrote my sales emails in my previous job.”

I was like, what? Turns out he had been doing PR for less than two years after coming over from a different part of the company where his job was, yes, sales!

“Sales” is a dirty word to many PR pros, especially among former journalists. Not all, of course, but most believe it’s important “to not come off like you’re selling something.”

But it’s more useful to recognize that only bad salespeople come off like they’re selling something. Effective salespeople – like this newly minted PR guy at my training – do the following:

  • Make a personal connection with their prospect
  • Seek to understand what pain points or needs they have
  • Tie their product or service in to those pain points

When a good salesperson does this right, you don’t even feel like you’re getting “sold.”

Our “reformed” sales guy’s pitches were conversational and very focused on the journalist. Much less so on his company and products. Over time, the email dialogue gave him openings to suggest the events and resources he was pitching, and the journalists covered them.

Re-reading those preceding paragraphs, this seems obvious. Yet most PR people – even many former journalists – don’t pitch this way.

That’s because their college education and PR training give them a “mass communications” mindset, rather than the one-to-one mindset salespeople are forced to adopt.

When you find yourself “writing a pitch” instead of “connecting with a journalist,” that’s when you know you lapsed back into the content-production mode you learned in school or from your first PR boss.

Instead, look up your target journalist on LinkedIn, look at their photo, and think about how you can best – yes, I’m going to say it – “sell” them on your organization.

Because now you understand why “sales” – the effective kind – is exactly what good PR pros do 😊.

This article was originally published on February 15, 2024

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