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TUNING IN

A blog dedicated to the world of broadcast and public relations

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

TRADITIONAL MEDIA RELATIONS FINESSE: The power of the phone pitch in the age of “click to open”

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Okay, so this is more than excerpts, but here is the PR Tactics article….

The public relations industry is increasingly making creative and productive use of the latest Web 2.0 media tools. From Facebook to RSS, blogs to wikis, our industry in undoubtedly on the cutting edge when it comes to using technology to benefit our clients. But, in the business of media relations – the art of relating to and understanding the media and knowing how to best get a message out – the use of “whiz bang” technology can sometimes take us in the wrong direction, away from relating to the media and closer to alienating the very resources that make our work possible.

We know that in radio, media relations is about relationships we foster over time, not overnight. And it is about the content we pitch – how we package it, the context in which we pitch it, and our ability to make it relevant. All of this requires the traditional media finesse that cannot be replaced by new technology. With the advent of new technologies, PR practitioners can be tempted by techniques that might get messages out more quickly and with less work, but unless these tools are used wisely, they fail to make those human connections crucial to successful media relations. While new technologies can be used to enhance the established relationship, they cannot replace the building blocks of that relationship, that one on one contact that makes the difference between a pitch that soars and one that crashes and burns.

Pitching a story over the phone is a crucial element in establishing a relationship with a reporter, so we can learn what works and what doesn’t and what that reporter is looking for in a pitch. That’s not to say that e-mails and other forms of electronic communication do not have their place in media relations, but several radio reporters have told us that the last thing they consider are pitches sent to them only by e-mail. They simply do not have the time, and increasingly stations do not have the personnel, to deal with all of the electronic material they receive. At the same time, a phone pitch, if presented incorrectly, can also have an adverse effect.

Reporter Alice Rios of KRLD-AM in Dallas, a CBS radio station, says it’s the approach that makes all the difference. She prefers a laid back approach that sticks to the business at hand. According to Rios, reporters have no time for small talk and “fakiness.”

Building Media Relationships

A well-pitched story over the phone is short, concise and can be presented in a way that creates the least amount of work for the station. Our goal in media relations is to provide the station with resources to put a story together, and provide a bridge between the station and the spokesperson. So, the lesson is to learn a station’s needs and provide them the pitch in their preferred format. The personal touch of actually speaking with someone still makes a difference, at least in terms of the initial contact. Rios also says that once the relationship is established, e-mail pitches can be just as effective and often times preferred. But you have to make the phone connection first.

For Richard Curtis of USA Radio Network, it really depends on the time of day, but he stresses that even if he receives a good pitch through e-mail, he still expects a follow-up call. So it’s incumbent upon the person pitching to follow through to get the story placed, not the reporter to get back to us.

Similarly, reporter Steve Walsh of the Missouri State Networks says he will take e-mail and phone pitches, but he definitely feels overloaded by electronic messages.

The best relationships are built through phone calls, and then developed over
several years. I would never disregard an e-mail, but if I do not already
know the source, I am far less likely to follow-up. With a phone call I
can tell the person, ‘Hey, this is what I need to make this story work.’
If I receive e-mail pitches from people I have worked with over the phone and
have grown to trust then I am more likely to accept the pitch.

Knowing what reporters cover is crucial to successfully pitching stories in radio. For instance, during the presidential campaign season, many stations employ a dedicated political reporter. Knowing who this reporter is and how to get in touch with him/her is the easiest way to ensure your political story gets on the air. Conversely, pitching a political story to an entertainment reporter will get you little more than the ire of the reporter and perhaps, a quick dial tone. Herein lies the central problem with relying solely on e-mail pitching. Can you control where your email message lands, and more importantly, will a reporter see an unfamiliar name and discard your message with the rest of the spam?

Getting to know reporters, their beats, and more specifically their preferences, makes media relations work for both the reporter and the PR practitioner. Relationships start with phone calls, and after trust is established, e-mails can find their place in the pitching equation. Recognizing that reporters do not have a lot of time to listen to phone chatter or read e-mails will only help in creating pitches that are most effective and respectful of a reporter’s time. If you absolutely must pitch solely through e-mail, make sure you target your pitch. An e-mail that has clearly been mass distributed will likely not receive much attention. And lastly, know the reporter’s name and how to spell it correctly. Nothing says “I don’t know you, and you don’t know me” like misspelling someone’s name.

It takes time, in some cases, years, to build the best relationships. But a good relationship can withstand even the high turnover rate some stations experience. Your relationship is with the reporter, but in a larger sense it is also with the station. You become a trusted source of good quality information and content, and you create a quality relationship that is mutually beneficial.

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