Before your client asks what you can do for him, ask him what he can do for you.
“My computer crashed.”
“My password doesn’t work.”
“I can’t connect to the internet.”
In our Age of Gadgets, such complaints are inescapable. Yet the language we use to describe them is exasperatingly vague.
A flack who doesn’t pitch is like a gas station without a tire pump: Annoying and avoidable.
There are two types of PR people: Those who write op-eds, and those who pitch op-eds. Rare is the pro who excels at both.
Why the bifurcation? Let me be blunt: Pitching is a pain. You’re at the mercy of editors whom you’ve likely never met, whose inboxes are inundated, and who are famous for being unresponsive. Indeed, a successful pitch can take one email or a dozen; you never know.
And yet, I’d encourage every PR pro reading this to bite the bullet. If you can’t pitch, you can’t do PR.
Four tactics when your op-ed pitch elicits crickets.
For 15 years, I’ve been writing and pitching op-eds. Here are the most memorable and useful lessons I’ve learned over the years — the hard way:
Always have a conversation before you provide your price.
Recently, a prospective client emailed me. The subject line of her message said it all: “Need a Media Trainer.”
As someone who delivers media-training workshops, I was delighted. So we scheduled a call.
Ten minutes into the conversation, however, it turned out that she didn’t want a workshop on how to talk with reporters. She wanted a workshop on how to talk with an audience. In other words, she wanted a presentation trainer.
To her, the difference was a mere nuance. To me, these were two entirely different topics. Sure, they were related and there was some overlap, but only in the same way that Fiat and Ferrari are both cars.
Want to make your op-ed pitch-worthy? Then make sure you address these four essential elements.
As a ghostwriter, I’m often asked to draft op-eds. Yet contrary to what you might think, writing is the easy part; it’s the other stuff that’s hard.
Perhaps the hardest part is what happens even before I set pen to paper. For example, it’s one thing to have a great idea; it’s another to convey that passion with precision.
So the next time someone asks for help with an op-ed, take a step back and first address the following four issues. (If you’re feline-friendly, you can remember this formula as “CATS.”)
What PR agencies can learn from news organizations.
The hard drive of every PR pro is crammed full of them. The inbox of every reporter is groaning from them. Even as pundits predict their passing, the market for them in Google AdWords is competitive and costly.
What are they? News releases. Unloved but ubiquitous, the release dates back to the founding of our industry. Of course, that was in 1906, when you needed a full-length novel to capture the public’s attention. A few things have changed since then, yet the staple of our industry resists modernization. No wonder every year brings forth those declarations of death.
But the rumors are exaggerated. The news release may be dying, but like Charles Foster Kane’s Inquirer, it still has a lot of life left—especially if the SEC has any say in the matter.
In fact, we can resuscitate our old friend with a variety of tactical tweaks. The trick: we need to stop thinking like a flack and start thinking like a hack—specifically, like editors at today’s buzziest news outlets.
You just finished a killer blog post. Reliving the process: first you had to pitch the idea to your editor. Then you reworked the angle to satisfy his feedback. Then it was research time, wherein you bumped up against facts that challenged your hypothesis. Finally, you penned the piece, sweating over decisions as light as commas, as lofty as conclusions.
Now, the post has been published. And you, like a wide-eyed kitten mesmerized by a shiny new object, sit in thrall to the whimsies of the web—watching, waiting, wishing for the big payoff.
Slowly, the clicks come trickling in. But why settle for a trickle when these numbers could be a raging torrent? As soon as your article goes live, it behooves you to SHOUT IT from the rafters. You labored so long and hard on the writing, shouldn’t you reward your efforts with a little promotion?
Indeed you should. In fact, every hack must now be his own flack.
Chris Abraham recently published a case study on the “art of writing the perfect blogger pitch.” There’s a lot to like here. For one, the time and thought Chris and his team devote to this esoterica are rare. For another, spilling your trade secrets takes guts.
And yet, for a purportedly “perfect” pitch, the Abraham Harrison technique, approach, and diction leave much to be desired. Here’s why (in web-friendly fashion, via a list with headings).
Mention the phrase “blogger engagement” to today’s marketer, and you’re likely to get an eager response, followed by self-professed ignorance. “We’d love to do that—we just don’t know how.”
To some, this scenario spells new business. (In part, this explains why many agencies separate their “digital” practice from their traditional ones.) Yet an honest blogger whisperer will let you in on a secret: If you can pitch a reporter, producer, or booker, you can pitch a blogger. After all, bloggers are just people—susceptible to the same relationship-cultivating techniques that every PR pro performs every day.
Indeed, the best way to understand bloggers is to view them as members of the media. Think of blogger engagement as public relations, albeit a new kind. Neither straight reporter nor pure pundit, the blogger is a hybrid creature who observes his own rules.
Earlier this month, the Daily Beast broke the news that Facebook had hired a powerhouse PR agency to plant negative stories about Google in the press. The agency, Burson-Marstellar, deployed two of its big guns for the campaign: Former CNBC tech reporter Jim Goldman and former Hotline executive editor John Mercurio. In one e-mail, Mercurio offered to help write and place an op-ed if the recipient, blogger Chris Soghoian, would lend his name to it. The savvy Soghoian asked who was bankrolling the campaign, and when Mercurio declined to say, Soghoian made the e-mails public.
What makes this incident interesting is that on one hand, Mercurio did many things right. He used a descriptive subject line: “Op-Ed Opportunity: Google Quietly Launches Sweeping Violation of User Privacy.” His first sentence succinctly and directly summarized the ask. He provided a list of talking points, each supported by a link to an independent sources. And his offer was tantalizing: Who in Washington wouldn’t want a byline in the Washington Post?