Sunday, December 9, 2007

And You Wonder Why I’m Scared to Pitch?

I like challenges, and I like having to overcome obstacles to achieve goals. Pitching is certainly a challenge, but I'm not so sure it's one I like, especially with all the negative attention PR professionals have been getting because of it lately.

I remember the first time I had to pitch a story to a local newspaper when I was a lowly first-year intern. As I dialed the number, I rehearsed a script in my head, trying to ignore the beads of sweat gathering on my palms. I felt nervous pangs building up in my stomach, and waves of dread engulfed me when I heard a voice answer the line. Heart pounding, I forced a confident introduction and asked to speak to the journalist I was pitching, only to discover she would be out of town for the rest of the week.

Pitching is an important part of public relations, and I hoped my fears would subside with practice. I was feeling more confident talking to the media at my latest internships, but that was before I entered the blogosphere.

I've stumbled across several blogs that make me terrified to contact the media. PR people are addressed as flacks. We're black listed. We're being called names. I feel like the awkward girl in middle school who everyone makes fun for every miniscule thing she does. Okay—so that's pretty melodramatic, but let's get serious. Isn't this battle between journalists and PR practitioners getting a little ridiculous?

Because I used to be a journalism major who worked at a paper, I know the importance of press releases in the news room. They helped me come up with story ideas when I was suffering from writer's block several times. Some of the editors complained about the PR firms that sent out mass releases, but for the most part, the paper appreciated the efforts of PR professionals. The reason this relationship worked? Because it was just that—a relationship.

The deterioration of the journalist/PR relationship is the root of this battle of the professions. There are some blogs attacking PR that make valid claims. Chris Anderson was fed up with the spam-like nature of press releases he received. Nicholas Carlson received a release complete with drafting and editing marks. Maybe some PR people are getting lazy, and that's reflecting poorly on the industry as a whole, but what about the rest of us?

Throughout my PR education I've learned that pitching to the media should be based on a mutually beneficial relationship. This seems like common sense to me, but how can we form relationships when we're being silenced before we even get the chance to introduce ourselves?

Gene Weingarten's recent Washington Post article, "Don't Call Us, We'll Call You… Names" is what worries me the most. Here, a PR firm contacts Weingarten to get his opinion on the best ways to contact him. It seems like good-natured communication, but Weingarten rips the firm to shreds with sarcastic answers and a slew of insults. This is exactly why my blood pressure skyrockets every time I have to contact a journalist.

Pitching is about building relationships, but where do we PR professionals (especially students) begin making these connections? I would love to go out and grab coffee with as many journalists as possible-- and I have in the past-- but am I supposed to do this with every journalist I could potentially pitch?

I know there's no magic formula that will make me competent at pitching, but because it's such a valued skill in this industry, I'd like all the advice I can get. Students, professors, professionals, and journalists—I'll appreciate all the insight you can give me so that one of mistakes isn't floating around the blogosphere for everyone to mock.


Melanie Seasons said...

If you go into digital, you won't have to cold pitch a soul. My phone has collected cobwebs. The only downside is that every time it rings, it's usually bad news ;-)

Psst, I responded to your comment...

Melanie Seasons said...

Let me clarify as I just read that back. You'll have to cold pitch, but not cold call. I think that reads better. Sorry for any confusion!

tory with a T said...

I understand your dilemma, even though I’m not able to give advice. This is, in fact, one of the many reasons why I don’t enjoy media relations. Client relations, investor relations, internal relations… all this I know and love. Media relations, though? Not my cup of tea. Maybe once you learn, you can give me better advice!?!