Every public relations pro has stories about that esteem-building activity known as pitching reporters.
Consider Jeannie Clary. During a time of teacher layoffs, the president of J. Clary Public Relations once pitched a story about a global recruitment agency that sends American teachers overseas.
"I got companies like NBC Nightly News [interested], and thought, 'Clearly I've got a story angle here,'" says the Florida PR practitioner. "Then I emailed a local paper in one of the smaller markets, and they told me to take my advertising elsewhere."
Such mixed responses may forever be part of the job, but leave it to this social media-focused, crowdsourcing age—and Clary herself—to come up with a better approach.
Clary and fellow communicator Danielle Spears have founded Pitching Notes, a database of information that enables PR pros to share information about reporters. In turn, reporters, bloggers, and other media types can share notes on their interests and how they prefer to be approached.
Both founders have extensive PR experience. Clary formerly worked for Weber Shandwick and has handled clients such as American Airlines, eBay, and ExxonMobil. Spears works for Anson-Stoner, where she oversees public relations and social media strategies for the Florida Department of Health.
What if PR pros could share notes?
The two asked themselves, "What if there was a place where we can go and share our notes and share our experiences and help elevate the industry at the same time?" Clary says.
In creating Pitching Notes, Spears and Clary found help close at hand. They drew on the skills of their husbands: David Spears, an information technology manager in Orlando, and Scott Clary, a commercial pilot. The four have yet to decide on how they will monetize the site.
Unlike Help a Reporter Out, Pitching Notes is not a source-finder. Pitching Notes also differs from traditional subscription media lists in that it's social and crowdsourced. The free site affords an opportunity for someone who, say, deals with a particular region's media to share expertise there—or find tips on approaching media elsewhere.
Pitching Notes' 1,300 members (and counting) simply log on and create a profile. PR users can describe experiences with reporters. (Some 255 reporters are now listed.)
'How would you like to be pitched?'
Reporters who sign on are told that one of the goals of the site is to create more targeted pitches, making their jobs easier. They fill out a brief form about their outlet and beat, and answer the two-part question, "How would you like to be pitched, and what will most likely get you to respond to a pitch?"
Comments about reporters range from helpful to anodyne to biting. A reviewer calls a Wall Street Journal reporter "rude, plain and simple. She will not listen, even if you are brief and pitching technology—her beat."
But a California reporter is described as "a tough sell on a pitch ... but when she does like the story she is very professional." You're warned not to phone her.
Reporters who feel a review is unfair may click a button to get it removed. But maybe, given the social nature of the site, they won't always need to do so. Three reviewers clicked thumbs-down for the slam on the Journal reporter. Only one found it helpful.
A PR pro who is a former reporter for the Chicago Tribune had mixed reactions to Pitching Notes.
"Directing a pitch to the right person is half of the battle," he writes. "Any competent PR practitioner knows to do 30 minutes of research on a newsroom before picking up the phone and making a pitch. This website could be another resource to check."
That said, he adds, reporters are very distrustful of two things: databases with information about people, and PR people.
A perfect storm?
"This website is basically a perfect storm of things reporters dislike and so I would be very leery about signing my name to a review of a journalist I work with," he says.
This reaction doesn't surprise Clary. From the start, she and Spears discussed whether PR folks might fear a backlash by journalists. Users can post anonymous reviews.
The site can help reporters, too, by improving on "the ever-bothersome 'bad pitch,'" she says. "There are also several reporters with whom we've spoken who have been enthusiastic about the possibilities."
Will the industry benefit from Pitching Notes? Violeta-Loredana Pascal of EverythingPR praises the idea, but adds, "It is indeed a delicate situation, as many people fail to share good experiences, but immediately complain about negative aspects."
PR pros using the site are urged to be generous with their knowledge. But will they? Or will they raid other's ideas and hoard their best secrets?
Clary, however, sees a greater value in sharing knowledge. "Just because you know the right way to pitch a reporter doesn't guarantee coverage," she says. "You still have to have that creative edge and come up with your own ideas and build your own relationships."
It only works if sufficient numbers of people pitch in. If they do, PR pros could save themselves a world of embarrassment.
Says Clary: "I cringe at being one of those people who send out pitches that a reporter gets and says, 'Oh, God, please.'"