Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Frustrating pitches

One of the most frustrating aspects of practicing public relations is knowing you have a great story to pitch the news media...and not a single reporter or editor bites.

This creates some self doubt.

The second most frustrating moment comes a few weeks later when you see these same news organizations run a truly silly story.  You are befuddled, asking yourself: "They choose to run this story and not mine!?!"

This creates anger.

The third most frustrating moment comes when you then turn to one of your trusted PR industry trade publications and there is some guy offering his or her tips on the perfect pitch. "For a few hundred dollars, I will share my secrets..."

Now we're contemplating some heavy drinking, and we can't repeat out loud what we're thinking about the featured "media expert."

The cycle is vicious because it seems to crop up a few times a year. 

Yeah, it recently happened to me.

I had a great story for a client who builds affordable housing.  Their latest project was for senior citizens, with about half of the rooms set aside for homeless seniors.  We found a resident who had been homeless for more than 20 years, and was a former heroin addict.  He created a Facebook page that was discovered by his long lost family, which promptly flew him to another state for what I'm sure would be an amazing reunion and the first look at his grandchildren. He also is now volunteering at a local homeless shelter. Everyone calls him "pops."  He was  very glib.  A great story. A great interview.

As many in the PR profession realize today, I had to package this story with as much detail and background as possible to "hand" this ready-made story for consideration. (Don't get me started on lazy journalism.)  The pitch was full of helpful statistics, how this situation represented a major trend, etc. 

No, in Los Angeles, we'd rather tell you about the latest lipstick craze, weight loss tips, or whether some teen singer (his name begins with Justin) is in another bar fight.   Mix in a car chase, something that passes for "breaking news" and a corrupt politician and, viola, this is our evening news.

That was one month ago. 

Today, I open my local paper to a story about a homeless man who.....wait for it... created a Facebook be a comedian.  Apparently, this guy writes very funny things on cardboard. 

Arrgh!!  This homeless person was more exciting than my homeless person?!!

As a former journalist, I can say with authority that judging what is news will vary on a daily basis.  Reporters and editors will posture that each story is reviewed on its merits and must meet their standards.  But we all know there are may variables at work in newsrooms, such as:
  • A "heavy" news day that pushes your feature out is easily understood, and is readily accepted by your bosses and clients.
However, a veteran journalist once told me in college that journalists are human, too. A pitch made when an editor has a bad day stands less of a chance of being properly considered than if this same editor had a great breakfast, laughed in his car while listening to the radio on his way to work and was looking forward to taking his wife to a concert this weekend.  (I've "brought back" stories for consideration after I realized I was dealing with an editor in a foul mood.)

Relationships are critical - we all know that.  The best in our business will get a reporter to pick up a phone or return a call or email...based on the relationship.  

There also are countless times I (and I suspect you, too) have pitched the same story to the same reporter or editor with a slight change. Or, simply go down the list and find a reporter willing to listen. What may not sound like a news story to one, may find receptive ears with another.

It's like a game of chance.
Of course, our work, expertise and experience are critical.  In spite of the many nuances we must deal with in gaining the news media's attention, the process of selling stories is laborious and requires special training and a certain touch.  What clients rarely see is the incredible amount of research and "compiling" we do to add enough information and layers to a story to make it "newsworthy."  Or adding the video, or creating a social media buzz ahead of the pitch or.....

So, we trudge along, read the latest industry story about the perfect pitch and then pray to the newspaper gods that we'll soon be feeding a reporter more details from our "accepted" pitch.

Only to see our story held for..... (well, let's just say it's another entertainer falling on hard times).