How to Pitch Challenging Brands

You know why the internet is great? You have access to information on anything. I realized this recently when I was browsing though PRSA’s website and realized that as a member I have access to hundreds of free webinars from industry experts on everything from account management to media relations.

I found a webinar entitled, “How to Pitch Challenging Brands” and as this is an issue we face often working in tech PR, I thought it might be worthwhile. Here’s a recap and my key takeaways from the webinar:

Speakers included Brian Agnes, President of Family Features, Ellen LaNicca, SVP of Consumer Practice at PadillaCRT, and Susanne Vielhaurer, Director of Sales at Family Features[AR1] . While the speakers were more consumer than B2B oriented like most of our clients, they still gave some good insights and ideas for pitching strategy.

We started off by identifying a few key areas that make outreach difficult:

  • Snooze news (aka no news)
  • Socially awkward topics  – For instance, something that’s generally not talked about like a bladder control medicine
  • Social or legal woes – Who wants to talk about something their client has done wrong?
  • Existing consumer perceptions – Especially, ones you’d really like to change

Sound familiar? Of course it does, I don’t know one PR person who hasn’t had to pitch with at least one of these factors. 

Brian went on to discuss the state of the media and what life is like as an editor, pointing out that sometimes PR people forget that editors have it rough too. With a rise in competition due to the influx of blogging [AR3] and a 30 percent decline in newsroom staff, reporters have it rough. They are getting more pitches than they can handle and have one too many stories on their plate. The 24/7 news cycle in tandem with the fierce competition to be the most factual and entertaining source of news has had a dramatic impact on the way editors approach their jobs. 

All of the stress on their end is ultimately what leads to the tension between PR pros and editors and lets face it, we’ll never successfully pitch a challenging story if we’re already on an editor’s black list. Brian pointed out a few things we can do to get on an editors good side:   

Make their job easier–consider what they have to do, think like an editor. Pitch them well thought out ideas that they can easily run with.

Keep it short—Yes you do want to give them a thought out idea, but keep it as short and sweet as possible. Editors have no desire to dig through paragraphs to find your point. 

Don’t sell to them–they’re not buying. While you live and die with your client’s latest product release, they don’t. The marketing lingo won’t get you very far in a pitch; in fact it’ll probably get your pitch thrown in the trash.

Brian also pointed out the easiest way to turn off an editor and that is stalking. Some PR pros think it’s a great idea to send five follow up emails AND call twice. Just don’t do it.  

Towards the end of the webinar, each of the speakers shared some of the tools and tactics that lead to some of their most successful pitches:

Add research

Research is incredibly valuable for pitching. Media has come to rely on research to validate stories, and when you can present a trend based on research, editors are far more likely to be more interested

Find a partner

Brian presented a case study about Sutter Home, and how they wanted to get into publications that banned the promotion of alcohol. They created a campaign called “Build your own Burger” that made it easy for the brand to partner with other brands. Sharing the cost of the campaign along with the recognition of multiple brands dramatically increased the results and interest from editors.

Align with key issues

Aligning with a cause or story that reporters already want to write about will exponentially increase their interest in the brand you’re trying to pitch. Ellen discussed a time when she needed to pitch a company that manufactured kitchen counters. To get coverage she aligned the brand with sustainability. They hitched their wagon to a leader in the industry and enlisted him as an ambassador for the brand. His credibility in tandem with the hot topic of sustainability got a lot of placements in top tier media.

Be fun and timely

Is there a holiday coming up? Capitalize on it. Is there a current event that relates? Link to it. Is there a trend going on? Have fun with it. Susanne shared a case study on how a hardware brand used the zombie trend to get millennials interested and engaged in a hardware store. They built a campaign around “preparing for the zombie apocalypse” and incorporated both traditional and social media. The campaign was incredibly successful, showing us all that you can even make hardware interesting by being tying it to something fun and timely.

Capitalize on Opportunity

PR is hugely opportunistic. Every day there are things that happen that give you an opportunity to put your brand in the right place, at the right time. Ellen gave an example about how Peter Shankman tweeted “Hey @Mortons can you meet me at the Newark airport with a porterhouse when I land in two hours. K, thanks” Morton’s said, “challenge accepted” and met him at his gate with a steak two hours later. By moving quickly and identifying that Peter Shankman is a social media giant, then gambling that they might get a positive social response from him to his 22,000+ followers, Morton’s capitalized on the opportunity flawlessly, resulting in a ton of free media for the restaurant.

Overall the webinar had some great insights and anecdotes from the industry, and I look forward to watching more in the future! If you’re a PRSA member I encourage you to check out: https://www.prsa.org/Learning/ for webinars and training information.