The PR Pitch

Over breakfast downtown, I recently caught up with an old friend who heads the New York office of one of the hot, digitally savvy PR boutiques that’s flourishing in this, the second coming of the startup revolution. We talked about the state of the business and the single biggest challenge she faces right now: how to make her youthful staff better at pitching (I mean engaging) journalists.

Huh? Was she telling me that her agency — known for delivering cutting edge PR work — puts its stock-in-trade in good old fashioned media relations? What about conversation mining, groundswelling, “owned” content, virality, sizzle reels, re-tweets, likes and shares, Reddit, Pinterest and Instagram, etc.?

“Oh sure. We do some of that,” she said. “But it’s media placement that continues to be the dominant measure by which our clients gauge and pay for our success.” And that’s OK.

In the new media ecosystem, there is no single solution for gaining mindshare for a client’s product, service or POV.  Some self-anointed PR/marketing consultants have built businesses by simply mining their Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn contacts for their paying clients. 

These self-styled “Gladwellian connectors,” as I like to call them, dash off an email, FB message or Twitter DM to make connections to advance their client’s business interests, i.e., biz dev, a speaking slot or a Tweet from someone with Klout. No media positioning, messaging, targeting, engaging or training required.

Yet editorial coverage continues to drive conversations, and those who’ve been doing it a while no doubt recognize that it’s gotten much harder to gain traction. Sure the 3:1 ratio of PRs to reporters doesn’t help. But to my friend’s point, an increasing number of those charged with engaging today’s beleaguered journalists simply do not have the right skill sets or training for doing so.

BI’s Shontell 

I was thus happy to re-tweet a post today from Alyson Shontell, the “popular” startup reporter for The Business Insider. It’s title:

“Dear PR Lady: Here’s Why I Didn’t Open Any Of Your 3 Email Pitches (Although I Wish I Had)”

Working the startup beat in New York City where startups abound, Alyson has seen more than her fair share of PR pitches – like 200+ a day, I bet.

Here’s what she advises the sender of three separate emails – each with different subject lines:

“Due to an absurd amount of startup pitches that infiltrate my inbox, I’ve learned to manage emails by scanning for three things: 

  • The sender 
  • The subject title 
  •  The first sentence 

I use Gmail, so those are the three things I can see without clicking to open the message. The three emails I received…were titled: 

  • The Trouble with Pebble: Kickstarter competitor Sheds Some Light 
  • Embargoed News: secures unique round of funding from superstar investors 
  • Social fundraising platform raises $7.9 million in Series A funding online 

Here’s why I didn’t open them: 

  • I had never met or heard of the people sending me the news, and it was clear they didn’t know me either 
  • I had never heard of, so using the startup’s name in the subject title wasn’t alluring
  • “Embargoed news” isn’t particularly compelling either. No reporter wants news every other publication will be receiving. They want exclusives! 

The most interesting part of the news, the investors (which help give unknown startups credibility) were never mentioned up front.”

Alyson, thanks for the schooling.


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