20 seconds to pitch perfection

Here’s how to cut through the preamble and quickly get to what reporters really want to hear.

Say you have a fantastic press release, blog or feature that could really help drive awareness of your client and build strong relationships with key journalists. There is just one problem: To stand a chance of success, your pitch needs to stand out and compete with the countless other PR professionals targeting the same title or journalist with their own stories.

If we lived in an ideal world, there would be loads of time to discuss the ins and outs of a story with journalists at length, but unfortunately, there isn’t. Unless you can deliver the essence of a story and its relevance in less than 20 seconds, it is unlikely that a journalist will be interested.

My first job in PR was with a big London agency, which was certainly a baptism of fire as far as learning the media relations ropes goes. I was fortunate enough to work with an ex-national journalist who gave me some good advice that sums up how journalists want to be pitched to:

“Imagine you have to run into a pub and grab everyone’s attention as quickly as possible. How would you summarize the most important and pertinent points into just one or two sentences?”

A great starting point, but here are a few top preparation tips to help get you there:

  • Don’t get bogged down by introducing yourself exhaustively. Just say your calling with a story that might be of interest.

  • What is the story? The first paragraph of a press release or feature should summarize the overall focus by way of introduction. Verbalize this without simply reading it out and don’t forget to briefly reference who the client is.

  • Keep it simple. No matter how complex the story, do not use jargon or highly technical terms. Many journalists don’t have time to wade through insider terms to get to the story.

  • Be prepared for questions. Don’t get caught out by the reporters that have specific questions. Ensure you have a concrete overview of the entire story.

  • Don’t worry about getting flustered, but try to remain calm. Journalists receive countless calls from PR pros every day, so it isn’t the end of the world if you stumble on occasion. Just make sure you recover and make the call count in the process.

If this was an easy process, then everyone would be doing it and it wouldn’t feel quite as special when results are generated.

The fact that you work in the PR industry means you have an ability to sell ideas and insights, whether this is directly to the media or to clients or potential new clients. Few feelings beat the buzz of generating good coverage and knowing you’ve played a part in securing it, so don’t be put off by the competition. Embrace it.

Tim Priestman is a media consultant at Smarts PR.

Topics: PR

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