What should people e-mail TV bookers and print journalists, and how do you ensure they actually reply to your e-mails?
A good pitch is interesting, catchy, concise and polite. It should also be well researched. Know who you’re pitching and if your pitch will make sense for the recipient. I put in a lot of hours online digging for the right writers and producers for my clients and their services or products. I look at their titles and the past work. When pitching, I often reference some of their past work so they know that I’ve done my due diligence and I’m reaching out to them for a specific reason. If the pitch is great and it’s a good fit for what the journalists cover – and it’s the right time for it; a very important piece of the puzzle – you should receive a reply. I’ve pitched The New York Times several times, thinking that the journalists wouldn’t respond because they’re too busy or my pitch wasn’t strong enough. In two instances, however, the journalists have replied that my pitch was on point, and they wanted to pursue the story. That was definitely a confidence booster, and it let me know that my pitch is relevant.
How often should you change your pitch?
Personally, I change my pitch to each recipient every time I have something new to introduce. I send the initial pitch and follow up a week later. If I don’t hear from them after a couple weeks, I start with a new pitch. You have to keep it fresh. I give some time in between though. I don’t want to bombard the inboxes of contacts I’m trying to establish. That’ll just annoy them. If editors are reading the same ol’ spiel over and over again, they’ll become even less interested than they were before.
Is it best to contact a top editor, the writers or the second tier editors?
When I’m targeting a consumer publication, I research the masthead and browse the magazine to find specific writers who are covering what I have to pitch. For instance, for my beauty client, I go directly to associate beauty editors or market editors. I never pitch the editor-in-chief, and I rarely pitch the senior editor of a section of a consumer magazine. I will, however, pitch the editor-in-chief of smaller regional publications since their teams aren’t as large; many times they’re the ones making the editorial decisions.
What can you do so no one steals your ideas and uses them with more famous sources?
Certainly, I worry that my pitches are being ignored or not even received when I don’t hear anything, and there’s also a fear that my pitches are being used in-house to generate ideas among the staff. I don’t think that happens often – it’s beyond unethical, and most people don’t work like that – but I’m sure in the history of pitching clients, somebody somewhere has ripped the idea from the flack and pitched it as their own in an editorial meeting. Alas, there’s really nothing I can do about that since I don’t have a mole on the inside and I don’t the time to police the editorial content of every publication I pitch, so I try not to worry about it.
What is an unlikely route to good publicity that worked for your clients?
I use whatever means necessary to find the best places for my clients. HARO, Twitter, in-person networking at parties, Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook and sending products to celebrities. Twitter works especially well when I can’t find the e-mail address of a journalist I want to contact. I generally receive a reply with that method. Giveaways also have given my clients more exposure than they expected, so I’m always looking for a good opportunity to partner with a well-read outlet to offer their readers fun swag.
Let’s say I have a new product out and own my own company.
How do I begin so I can be that guy who is always invited on morning talk shows, MSNBC and so on for news commentary? Like most people reading this article, in this example, I have no reel whatsoever to show any TV bookers and feel uncomfortable making a shoddy, homemade “reel” for YouTube. I’m a serious businessman, not a teenager playing with a camera.
I would suggest sending an e-mail or picking up the phone. Simple as that. If the product is dynamic, and it’s at the right place at the right time, chances are there will be interest from editors or producers. Many of my clients are small businesses who are coming straight out of the gate. My pitch is the first that anybody has heard of it, but I’ve managed to land their products on national TV and in national consumer magazines. As I mentioned before, you have to savvy about to whom you’re pitching. Make sure it’s the best person for your product. It also doesn’t hurt to make sure you have an incredible product. Everybody thinks they do, but nine times out of 10, they’re wrong. I choose my clients wisely because even I can’t sell something that nobody wants.
Finding yourself is important. You need to know who you are to sell yourself. But that’s easier said than done. What is your advice for people so they know exactly how to sell themselves to journalists and bookers?
Be confident and genuine. There’s one phrase in my pitches that endears many journalists to me that I won’t reveal here, and even though I know that phrase is somewhat charming, it’s also completely honest. I know that this phrase works because when I receive replies to my pitches, the journalists often call that portion out and congratulate me on getting their attention. I also write my pitches in a way that speaks specifically to the recipient. I let them know right off the bat that I have time for them, that I took the time to do my research and that I’d like just a few minutes of the attention in return. This all came with trial and error, of course. When I first started, I was sending out generic pitches so I could be more efficient. It didn’t work. I slowed myself down and started concentrating on building relationships opposed to chasing placements, and the whole business changed overnight.
What do you know are journalists’ pet peeves so people won’t anger anyone? With me, I hate getting people sending unrelated pitches.
For a fictional example, assume I might be looking for an elderly actor to talk about his experiences with black advancement in the field for an article, and people reply to my ads, “I’m a white guy in college and don’t fit what you need, but I have a pest control business! I am an inspirational entrepreneur.” It’s disrespectful.
Eh. I don’t think it’s disrespectful – it’s hard out there, so people are trying to get whatever they can – but they won’t get very far with that approach. You’re right though, the number one pet peeve is a lack of research. I’m not afraid to admit that I’ve been guilty of it in the past, and the recipients of those pitches have been quick to chide me for it. I’m thankful for that. It sucks to be told you’re an idiot, but ultimately it has helped me be more conscious of what I’m doing and how I’m doing it so I can improve myself and build a better business.
How is seeking TV publicity different than radio? What about print versus online media?
TV and radio is sort of obvious – it’s visual opposed to audible. If I have a client whose products need to be seen to be appreciated, I’m not targeting radio. It’s a waste of time. Print and online media are sort of in the same territory for me. In theory, you can get more visits to the client’s website with a placement online (which can turn into a purchase), but that’s not always the case, especially considering how much media is put out everyday; often it gets overlooked. Print, however, is targeted. Those magazines are going to a specific demographic that is eager to devour the latest issue since in most cases it’s monthly. The only downside is that you have to convert that print reader into an online buyer which is an extra step that most readers won’t take. They both have their strengths and weaknesses.
How much rejection does someone face before getting a press mention?
I don’t experience a whole lot of outright rejection – most people don’t even respond – which means that there’s just a whole lot of silence. If that’s happening, you have to sit back and ask yourself, what’s wrong on your end? Is it the contents of the pitch? Is it the product? Are you sending the pitch to the right people? Once you nail those aspects of it, you’ll generally start to hear something. Not everyone will be interested, mind you, which means more silence but you’ll know when you have the winning combination. When The New York Times responds, you’re doing something right.
If someone is ready to hire a publicist, and he or she decided doing it themselves isn’t worth it, what do they do so they know they aren’t being ripped off by the new PR team?
My approach to PR is pay-per-placement, meaning that my clients don’t pay for anything they don’t get. There are no retainers, no hidden fees, no gimmicks. My service is based purely on results, and I have a rate card that breaks down fees based on the type of media: online, national print, national TV, etc. I use this model because PR is relatively new to me. I didn’t go to school for it, and I didn’t have any in-house training when I worked for agencies in the past. I was approached by a client about handling their PR about two years ago, and I decided to take it on. But because it was new to me, I didn’t feel that it was fair to charge an outright retainer for something I didn’t know how to do. In the past two years, however, I’ve worked my butt off to build this part of the business, and now the PR side of my company maintains a dozen clients who have been featured in numerous consumer magazines like Every Day With Rachael Ray and Better Homes and Gardens, in major newspapers like The New York Times, online at The Wall Street Journal and on national TV shows like Good Morning America. I’m proud of that, but I’m even prouder that this business model attracts a lot of small businesses that can’t necessarily afford agency PR and the high retainer fees that come along with it. I enjoy working with these new companies to help build their businesses while providing them an affordable service. It certainly lets me sleep better at night knowing that I’m running a business rooted in ethics and principle.