THE BOOZE BIN
By Cassandra Bianco (@cnbianco)
Media relations is a lot like dating. During early conversations of romance, too much contact simmers the sizzle. So why would you reach out to someone, then slam them with a pitch? Which, in fact, is not reaching out, at all. It comes off unnatural, insensitive and forced. When you think about it, cold pitches are basically one-night stands.
I chatted with a few food and beverage buds, who were more than happy to set the record straight. The key pitching takeaways were (1) don’t ever call—pretty much, ever. And (2) don’t “pitch” per se, just include useful information and tips without a gimmicky story idea. Exclusives have a much better response rate than spam. It’s important to be respectful, resourceful and genuine.
Here is a collection of tips from writers Lauren Bloomberg, Angel Antin, and Amy Cao, and from editors Jenny Miller (Grub Street/New York Magazine,) Maggie Hoffman (Serious Eats), Andrea Bartz (Whole Living), and Jacqueline Wasilczyk (Zagat.com).
MEDIA RELATIONS DO’S
- Do understand what types of stories each media outlet is looking for, and what an editor’s needs are. You will immediately lose the writer’s trust if you don’t tailor your pitch.
- Do send products along, if the publication doesn’t have a policy against accepting gifts. Staff will happily bust open those samples, and if they really like them, the product will score a placement.
- Do meet up with media. I spoke to an editor once who told me he never responded to pitches, unless he knew the PR person. I prefer to take an organic approach and attend as many industry events as possible. Make sure to be networking, not “working.” I’ve heard of PR folks getting blacklisted from gatherings because they were always “on.” Remember, you need to prove that you are a resource to journalists. This is earned, not granted.
- Do offer exclusives that reflect the publication’s need.
- Do email instead of call. It is never a good time to listen to a pitch over the phone. But, do feel free to call a publication’s main number to find out who your best contact might be.
- Do keep emails brief. And writers love it when you mention how you came across their article, whether that’s through a friend or via Twitter. Demonstrating that you’re genuinely interested and sharing at least one authentic reason for working together will go a long way.
- Do go through connections if you have them—you will get a better response rate.
- Do include the date on every single document you create. Nothing is more frustrating than reading about the rollout of a new product, only to find it happened eight months ago.
- Do let a writer know if you’re pitching his or her editor. If your pitch catches the writer’s attention, and they turn it in to their editor—who heard about it from you two weeks ago and told you no—then you have just turned a potential contact into a seriously unhappy camper.
- Do consider the types of sources the outlet requires. Never assume a news outlet accepts PR pros as spokespeople.
- Do understand a journalist’s obsession with accurate reporting, especially in wine world. Angel Antin elaborated further on this:
Misspellings of crème brûlée keep me awake at night. I write a great deal about the wine industry, and thus have to deal with all those pesky accents on imported wines. I’m indebted to a PR pro who conveys a wine’s correct spelling (with accents), vintage and suggested retail price to me faster than I can spell Gewürztraminer. And I can spell it really, really fast.
MEDIA RELATIONS DON’TS
- Don’t make the pitch TOO specific.
- Don’t send images unless they’re asked for.
- Don’t send packages without checking in first—addresses change and editorial calendars change, too.
- Don’t contact media via Twitter. It makes the message receiver feel like they’re being attacked from all sides. Follow-up emails, however, are encouraged. That shows that you are persistent and shows that you’re not just the recipient of a mass email. Do, however, use Twitter as a relationship building tool.
- Don’t include large attachments, period. Top-tier media receive 500(!) emails per day, most of which are pitches.
- Don’t suggest a quick meeting before giving info—most journalists are too busy and would prefer all the information up front.
- Don’t be afraid to email and ask a quick question such as, “what types of stories do you look for?”
- Don’t pitch made up holidays like “hamburger week.” Your press release will be forwarded to colleagues, and you will be mocked.
- Don’t target the same person more than about three times. If they don’t respond, they’re probably not interested. When you don’t hear back, it’s time to move on to a different editor.
- Don’t show up at the writer’s house with a pitch. (True story.)
If you adhere to these tips, you will be a champion.