When responding to media and blogger inquiries from services like HARO, ProfNet and SourceBottle, marketers and their PR teams have the opportunity to nail the perfect pitch to secure ink for their companies. But what constitutes a "good" or, for that matter, a "bad" pitch? After three years of owning and operating SourceBottle, a media inquiry service in Australia, the UK and the US, I’ve seen tens of thousands of reporter/blogger queries and probably twice as many response pitches from marketers and PR pros. And of these responses, I’ve seen the full gamut in terms of quality: from the good to great, to the bad and seriously ugly.
So how do I make a classification call like that? Or what makes one pitch hit a bull’s-eye while the other misses the target entirely? Well, let me share with you a couple of types of responses I’ve seen that pretty much sum up the range of responses that would have been better left unsent.
1. The “I’m not quite the right fit for your story, but I’m close” response -- This type of response can really get up a journalist or blogger’s nose. Nine times out of ten the journalist or blogger has had to be very specific about what they want and this pitch says that while you meet some or most of their criteria, you just fall short. Sure, I can understand it can be frustrating getting so close to being the perfect source that you think it warrants a response to the inquiry, just in case. But the truth is, the journalist or blogger is asking for said criteria because they need all of this criteria to be met. And just as you’re either pregnant or you’re not, you either satisfy the criteria or you don’t and any other response is just wasting everyone’s time.
2. The “Here’s a press release that might interest you” response -- This is the sort of lazy response that reflects poorly on you and your company. Sometimes this type of pitch includes a weak introductory paragraph in an attempt to create some kind of nexus with both the inquiry and the press release. Sometimes it’s just a cut and paste job. Either way, it says to the journalist or blogger, “Here’s something I prepared earlier that’s not tailored to your inquiry but I thought I’d throw my hat in the ring anyway.”
3. The “I’m doing you a favor” response -- This type of response smacks with attitude as it generally criticizes the person who posted the inquiry for leaving out details about the publication or when it’s likely to run. These types of responses aims to barter with the journalist or blogger by indicating they will only offer up their pitch in exchange for the requisite information and even then, only if it measures up as being worthy of a response. I’ve always felt this type of response is neither a good tactical move nor one that will help foster relationships with journalists and bloggers generally. When it doesn’t take much to proffer up a good pitch that can still stipulate the terms on which you’d be happy to be included in the story, it scores a big fail on many fronts.
4. The “How much will you pay me for my story?” response -- I’ve saved the best for last in the stinker category, as this type of pitch is a sure-fired winner. And while this approach may work for super models who won’t get out of bed unless the required sum’s on offer, the majority of us aren’t able to command payment for being an expert source in a story. Rather than receive payment for a response, this type of pitch is almost certain to get the journalist or blogger offside and you or your company booted from the service.
Dealing a killer pitch
The best way to demonstrate how to deliver a killer pitch is to look at the components of one that really works, like this one below that responds to an inquiry seeking information for an article in a major business publication about entrepreneurs that aren’t interested in going public anymore.
Per your media inquiry, “entrepreneurs don't want to go public anymore” I’d like to introduce you to Todd Vernon. He co-founded Raindance Communications in 1997 and he took it public in 2000 (NASDAQ: RNDC) with annual revenues in excess of $80M. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raindance_Communications
He is the founder of Lijit Networks which he just sold last October in what is considered one of the most significant M&A technology transactions in the state Colorado over the past decade: http://allthingsd.com/20111004/federated-media-buys-lijit-networks/
He opted for an M&A with Lijit for various reasons rather than an IPO as an exit strategy. He'd be delighted to speak with you to talk you through his experience of going public with his first company and why he decided to sell his second company.
Please let me know if it's of interest. My cell phone is XXX-XXX-9007 to get in touch with me at your convenience.
So why is this response so good? And what sets it apart from the sea of responses the journalist would have received? The answer’s simple. It’s a winner because it’s specific, succinct and answers the journalist’s inquiry directly. It provides background information and the right amount of experience that is totally relevant to the inquiry. I think it’s safe to assume that if this sort of response came through to the journalist within the first hour of it being received by the source, then this journalist’s search would be over, regardless of any stipulated deadline. So, what’s the formula for the perfect pitch? Here are my top five tips:
1. The best responses need to:
- include a brief introduction and demonstrate how you (or the prospective source) satisfy their requirements or have the necessary credentials.
- respond to the inquiry (in summary), so the journalist or blogger knows the position you would take as a source.
- include your contact details (or those of the prospective source) – name, email, phone number
2. Respond immediately or within the first hour (regardless of the stipulated deadline). We know you’re busy but if you really want to take advantage of media and blogger inquiry services they have to be monitored within the hour they come into your inbox.
3. Keep it brief -- If you’re responding to an inquiry it must mean that you have the perfect background knowledge and/or expertise which means you could probably go on and on about the subject matter. Restrain yourself and keep it brief - no more than a few short paragraphs with your contact information and relevant links to more information.
4. Don’t send attachments, unless requested -- If you’re tempted to send an attachment think again. Reporters and bloggers don’t appreciate the large files clogging their inbox nor do they, or should they, trust attachments. Consider sending hyper links to images, websites and background information. If they request an attachment (which I’ve seen happen very rarely), make sure to keep it small.
5. Proof-read! Read your response twice, maybe three times, before you send it off to ensure it’s not littered with spelling mistakes. Spelling and grammar errors are the first indication that you are either not professional or you rushed through the response so fast that you’re not really interested in the opportunity.
There’s no magic formula when responding to media and blogger inquiries using these types of services but hopefully these best practices will guide you to writing a great pitch that scores major ink. Just remember that it takes a little restraint to avoid responding to queries that you don’t qualify for and delivering a solid pitch when the opportunity presents itself. The last tip I can leave for you is to put yourself in the shoes of the journalist or blogger that is trying to find an expert. Consider what kind of information you would like to receive if you were working on producing a quality article or broadcast piece and put your best pitch forward!