Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Ed Zitron, the founder of EZPR, an east coast USA media relations firm focusing on consumer tech startups. He has been published by Forbes, The Wall Street Journal, Eurogamer, PC Gamer and PC Zone. His book, This Is How You Pitch: How To Kick Ass In Your First Years In PR, will be released in late Spring 2013.
PR is not a crazy methodological nightmare. There is no artistry. There is no grand secrecy. There is no black magic. It is not a complex mystery that needs unravelling. It is predominantly common sense mixed with knowledge, and an absence of one or both of these things has made our entire industry rather despised.
The truth is that it’s not that difficult to be good at the job. It just requires the smallest bit of dedication and interest. Oh, and common sense.
1. Talk like a human being in your pitches.
Leverage. Tech-savvy. Curating. Phenomenon. These are a few randomly-picked words that will make someone’s brain stop mid-sentence. In fact, just read a pitch and imagine you’re talking to a 12-year-old who might care a little about what you’re doing but owes you nothing. That’s about the attention span you can expect from a blogger or reporter who is getting 300-500 emails a day.
You get one shot if you’re lucky enough to even get your email opened, and if they’re reading your stuff and it comes out as a mangled car-crash of buzzwords, they’ll delete it. And then you are gone. That’s the best case scenario. The worst is that they now hate you. Which they might if you’ve sent 8 paragraphs about crowdsourcing.
Just say what your thing does. Is it a global on-demand crowd testing solution for small businesses to categorize potential customers’ engagement? Say it’s a way for small businesses to find out how interested their customers are.
2. Nothing You Have Is Amazing – Relish It
It’s one thing to be passionate about what you’re working on, it’s another thing to describe it in messianic terms and claim it’s amazing, revolutionary, magical or anything else that Jonny Ive would say. In fact, most likely it isn’t even that impressive. And that’s fine! Reporters will hate you for needless hyperbole, and will appreciate it if you’re matter-of-fact with what makes your product special.
Most likely your ad-based-analytics-for-marketers-with-funny-hair isn’t going to be making Walt Mossberg hot under the collar, but hey, maybe there’s a burgeoning industry there that’s worth talking about. Perhaps said analytics found something interesting. Or perhaps you’re truly the first to do it. If you can make a case in plain English, maybe you’ll stand a chance.
3. 175 words or less.
The horrible truth of your beautifully-crafted email is that it’s destined to be ignored. If you’re read, you probably have 10-30 seconds at best – so you need to keep it really, REALLY short. Make it so that if they skim-read it, they’ll get the just of what you’re doing without having to dig. You want comprehension. You do not need to tell the life story of the client. The client may think their life story is very interesting, but most likely the reporter does not.
Communicate the essentials – “It’s a thing that does X. It’s interesting because Y. It is live on Z. Need anything else?” That’s it.
Oh and never, ever, ever copy-paste the entire press release afterwards.
4. Read a lot more than you already do.
A lot of reporters’ casual advice is to read what they write before you pitch them. That’s great but a generalization. To really do this job properly and make them not hate you, you should read them. I mean all the time. I mean make it your job to go through the archives a bit. Even if you’re skimming what they’ve done, at least know what their history is. Know them. Read their Twitter. I’m not saying to stalk them, but know more than the first page of what you get when you click their name.
Here’s a really basic one: The Next Web has people all over the US, and all over the world. Your basic PR read-one-page-and-pitch might end up sending Matt Brian an invite to an amazing event… in New York, when he’s based near London. Not to say Matt wouldn’t be kind enough to send it over to Harrison Weber, who is based in New York, but there’s also a chance that Matt would get your pitch at 4pm EST, which is 9pm in London. Perhaps Matt has already left for the day. Your email will now be pushed down the ethereal trail of his emails into the darkness of obscurity, doomed to possibly not be read.
And as an aside, if a reporter writes a big fat piece on an overall subject, like payments processors or crowd-funding or venture-backed companies in France or what-have-you, don’t immediately pitch them your product. They took their time to research that and they most likely won’t be returning to it any time soon.
5. Don’t call them unless you’re asked to.
I know Cision has however many hundreds of thousands of phone numbers of reporters, but don’t call any of them. Don’t call them ever. Don’t call them unless they say “call me” and then give you a number. No, I know you sent them an email. No, I know you didn’t get a response to it. No, I know they didn’t respond to your follow-up. Don’t call them. No, I know your boss said to call them, don’t do it. Don’t.
99% of the time they will wish your telephone would break forever. In the same way you do not want a telemarketer calling you and talking to you about a timeshare, they do not want to hear about your social mobile what-have-you in a somehow more-annoying way than an email.
You may read some of these and say “huh, that’s so obvious,” and then smirk knowingly. If these are all things that you abide by, congratulations! There’re many, many hundreds of “PR Pros” who don’t, judging by what reporters have told me. And I’ll occasionally get sent a 5-paragraph giga-flop of text, resplendent with meaningless buzz and a 6-line HTML signature.
In the end, self-education is the key. To be better we must be inquisitive, thoughtful and knowledgable before anything else.
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