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Perfect Pitching

Open With A Clincher: Phrases That Spark the Media's Attention

By Bulldog Reporter

Originally Posted

We thank Bulldog Reporter for their permission to reprint this excellent article.
Ten seconds -- that's all the time you have to deliver your pitch without boring or alienating your target. It's also your window to hook the reporter with an intriguing, attention-grabbing opener. Here, journalists from a top news syndicate and a major daily reveal the clinchers that captivate the media's interest when PR pros call -- as well as the "deal breakers" reporters hate to hear. Keep these in mind the next time you pick up the phone and you'll increase the likelihood that your idea receives the attention -- and ink -- it deserves. Four Clinchers

  • "I've got an exclusive for you." According to Lee Canaan, Entertainment News Syndicate's editor-in-chief, "Every one of us is thinking, 'What's in it for me?' when we pick up the phone. We want to know this story is tailored for us. If the first thing we hear is 'exclusive,' we're going to sit up and listen. If the story isn't a perfect fit, we're more likely to refer you to the right reporter here, if it doesn't seem like you've sent your idea out to a competitor."

  • "Is now a good time?" Reporters are always on deadline, stresses Canaan. Unfortunately, many PR pros compensate for this by practicing what he calls the "speed" pitch: "When people sense we're in a hurry, they respond by rushing the pitch. Nothing is gained -- except mutual frustration. The PR rep garbles his message and the reporter hangs up, confused." Canaan's advice? "Before you say anything else, ask your target if now is a good time to talk. This shows you respect and value his time." Tammy Joyner, small business and workplace editor with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, agrees: "Asking if we have the time to talk is a great ice-breaker," she says. "But even better is to call when you know we're available. Mornings from 9:00 a.m.-10:00 a.m. are bad because we're still getting situated. Afternoons from 3:00 p.m.-6:00 p.m. are worse because that's when we're on deadline. Your best bet is between 10:00 a.m. and noon."

  • "Can I summarize this in an email?" Canaan warns that most reporters don't like to answer the phone at all. "We prefer to be the ones making the calls," he explains. "When we pick up the phone, our favorite thing to hear is a dial tone. We have little time to field telephone pitches. If you get through, we're going to ask you to email us so we can free up the line." His advice: "Limit your time on the phone by asking if we'd prefer a fax or email. If not, bow out graciously. Don't continue to push the story on us." Similarly, Joyner says it's magic to her ears when a PR pro asks, "Can I summarize this in an email for you?" "We get so many people calling that our minds go blank," she explains. "Phoned pitches tend to blend and become white noise after a while. Because reporters are visual-oriented pack rats, we like to see things on our screens."

  • "Thinking of you." There's nothing a reporter values more than a PR pro willing to share ideas outside a specific company or client's interests, according to Joyner. "I will always call a PR person back who says, 'This has nothing to do with my client, but I thought you could use it.' Those people go straight into my 'Gold Rolodex,'" she says. Her advice: "Open the occasional call by talking to a reporter about her beat and what you've heard on the street. That will go a long way toward ensuring your next call is returned."

Five Deal Breakers

  • "We've been covered in X, Y, and Z." Most reporters are looking for exclusives, confirms Canaan. "We don't want to hear who else covered your story," he says. "In fact, that's a deal breaker. It's something we typically hear from entry-level people or interns with no newsroom exposure. Their thought is that third-party verification will sell us on the story. It won't."

  • "Name, rank, and serial number." Reporters are adept at sniffing out scripted pitches, warns Canaan. "As soon as we hear, 'My name is X, and I represent Y,' we know we're talking to a novice," he says. "We immediately know this person isn't qualified to answer our questions and that we'll probably get passed along the chain of command before we get the details we need." His advice: "Don't open with extended introductions explaining who you're with. Instead, we want the angle and story line within the first 30 seconds. If we're interested, we'll ask for name, rank, and serial number logistics later."

  • "I've got a press kit for you." Canaan advises against sending press kits cold. "Most journalists don't like getting anything longer than one to two pages," he explains. "So, don't bombard us with materials." Canaan blames the onslaught of kits he receives each day on the tendency among many entry-level staff to focus on quantity over quality. "I've got boxes of kits lying around. They are all one to three inches think -- because PR people are hoping something sticks. We don't have the time to weed through this stuff to unearth exciting angles. A press release is a better vehicle for conveying good stories than a glossy folder full of useless facts."

  • "I'm calling to update our directory." Joyner says she often fields calls requesting contact info, name spellings and beat assignments. While these requests typically don't segue directly into pitches, "they do waste our time," she warns. "As soon as we hear the words 'update' and 'directory' or 'media list,' we know the call isn't going to end with a great story. The next time we get a message from that particular outlet, we might think twice before calling back." Her advice: "Ask front desks to help you update your directories -- not reporters. Or check media Web sites and print directories."

  • "I'm already doing that story." This isn't something a PR pro would typically say, "but it does point to what they SHOULD say," Joyner asserts. "Reporters hate to hear that another staff member is working on the same story they've just been pitched," she explains. "I can understand why PR people might think double pitching is a good idea -- but it's not. It pisses us off." Her advice: "Never, ever, double-pitch the same newsroom. It's your responsibility to let us know immediately when you call if you have already talked to someone else here about your idea."

© 2002, Infocom Group. All rights reserved.

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