Public relations professionals caution clients, and have in their DNA, that when attracting attention from top-tier media, every company’s circumstances are unique. Indeed, it is uniqueness, combined with comprehensive situational awareness and skilled relationship management, that determine what you read and see.
Journalist time is a scarce and finite resource. A cardinal sin is wasting it. Bad impressions have lasting and potentially far-reaching impact. This is why every pitch must be tailored to the needs of each media type (on-air versus online, for example) and journalist/producer and not solely to client desires.
The reasons are that there can be a huge difference between what a client believes is news and what a journalist treats as being newsworthy. Those who do not understand this and abuse the privilege of getting access pay dearly.
It is all about building relationships and trust
Trust building between PR and tier 1 media must be bi-directional and a win/win. Reaching out just when you “need” coverage can be counter-productive. However, engaging the media when there is no sense of urgency can be very beneficial. Offer them ideas/ guests/ contacts, even industry gossip when appropriate, and other useful tips and information. Information and insights that help them be more informed are greatly appreciated. It makes their job easier. Plus, non-urgent interactions can lead to an interview or feedback you can relay to your client.
For example, when I managed Lukoil’s international media relations program, I spoke with Erin Burnett’s producer at CNBC about a segment on Russia. As an inducement for coverage, I connected them with other Russian CEOs who were not clients. End result: Lukoil’s deputy VP was featured in a segment from Red Square in Moscow.
Never lie when building relationships. Trust, once broken, is almost impossible to regain. Word to the wise: a producer told me they will not work with agencies who are caught misrepresenting their clients on more than one occasion.
In addition, we hopefully learn from our missteps. Early in my career I secured a Bloomberg Radio interview with a client’s CEO but substituted the CFO because of availability. I asked the client if the CFO’s English was radio-friendly. I was told yes. However, I did not confirm. The three-minute interview lasted under a minute. A scathing email followed. Lesson learned! It took a year to get another client on this show.
Remember, you live and die by your reputation as a journalist and a PR person. This means accuracy, fair representation and clear communication all matter.
The media is the messenger
Here are a few lessons learned from my relationships with tier 1 media reporters/producers.
There are two phases in pitching. In Phase 1, if you cannot get attention that leads to engagement in the first 30 seconds or less, Phase 2 is unlikely. Fortunately, or unfortunately, real-time interactions on initial outreach are literally and figuratively almost extinct. This puts a premium on effective Phase 1 non-real-time interactions.
Win with a crisp pitch. Know your audience and their needs. The first paragraph in a text or oral pitch is key. Highlight the client’s expertise and distinctive insights. Back it up with succinct info as validation. It is also useful because it generates lines of inquiry and can be informative as filler.
Market focused TV shows need “experts.”Daily they need access to CEOs, particularly those readily available and quotable. In fact, it is a great way for private companies to get tier 1 coverage. An example is our Bob Smith, Sage Advisory, interview on Bloomberg TV.
Strike while the iron is hot. CEO experts in popular, highly visible innovation sectors like artificial intelligence (AI), augmented reality (AR), robotics, smart cars, and cybersecurity today are in high demand. This is true regardless of whether companies are startups, public or private. It is about how compelling the narrative is and the expert’s perceived authenticity. An example is this interview of Alex Terry, CEO of Conversica, on CNBC.
Give your pitch a boost. Provide any recent published opinion piece or commentary. It makes a TV producer’s internal pitch for airtime easier.
How do you get print to say ‘yes to that press’?
Pitching print/online media, as with broadcast media, must be concise and decisive. In other words, let them know:
- Your CEO can provide unique, leading-edge insights and information. Our Martin Migoya, CEO of Globant, piece in Reuters exemplifies this.
- There is a possibility for an exclusive.
- You tie it back to what they write about and to related recent sector news, such as we did with Helpshift CEO Linda Crawford’s coverage on CNBC.com.
- As Mark Smith, CEO of Symbiont.io explained to the Financial Times, demonstrate how the company meets unfilled user needs today and will in the future.
- How whatever is being pitched pushes the envelope in thought or market leadership.
- Specifics about time-to-market, cost/price, and geographic and channel availability.
Remember, influential journalists got their reputation by being reliable and trusted sources of verifiable information. They are judged on page views and things like ratings and Q tests. It is why the premium on uniqueness and being factual is so important.
The proof is in the experience
A good example of situational awareness is my work with Prana Biotechnology. It focused on their development of a treatment for Alzheimer’s. It was a small-cap company that typically would not get TV time. However, they are in a space of intense public interest.
The client CEO broke news to me of their clinical trial success. The objective was immediate maximized coverage where the impact would be significant. I pitched Mike Huckman, healthcare reporter for CNBC, at the time. I was upfront and concise: “Small-cap biotech company releases Phase 2 of AD trial with success… beating the Goliaths of the world.”
I told him I knew CNBC’s policy on small-cap company coverage but elaborated on the story’s significance. My Blackberry blew up. And, while CNBC did not interview my client, they covered the story. Huckman then blogged about me (without using my name). He explained CNBC’s reticence in talking up small public companies (due to the perception of hyping the stock) but how the company’s PR representative showed him the impact of this trial story. My Phase 1 had worked!
Knowledge is power
Whether pitching tier 1s on behalf of a small or large company, be they public or private, preparation and rehearsal by all responsible internal parties is mission-critical. In short, knowing as much as possible about your target influencer and their unique situation and having a well-thought-out and easily executable plan greatly increases the odds of meaningful coverage.
Remember, this takes care and nurturing over time. Information plus relationships are the real game-changers. When each party to a pitch is respectful of the other’s needs, good things can and usually happen.
This article first appeared in MarTech Advisor.