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Smart Secrets to Media Pitching: Key Takeaways from PRSA International Conference Session with Michael Smart

By November 25, 2013 No Comments

While attending the 2013 PRSA International Conference in Philadelphia last month, I sat in on a session led by pitching expert Michael Smart.  During his session, “New Secrets of Media Relations Success,” Michael explored a variety of strategies that have helped PR practitioners land coverage on Good Morning America, The Today Show and CBS This Morning – all relatively difficult platforms to reach.

Of all the sessions I attended at the edtech conference, Michael’s left me most inspired. Pitching has, at one point or another in my career, left me feeling frustrated and defeated. But after Michael’s session, I felt re-invigorated. I was ready to come home and apply his methods and strategies to my own work. Most important, his session reminded me that pitching is a process. There is no science to media pitching, but there are secrets. Here are a few secrets and strategies from Michael’s session.

Facing Reality

Before diving into how he’s assisted with attaining top-tier consumer coverage, Michael addressed some issues facing PR folks today. Overall, it’s harder than ever to reach media influencers. With traditional media outlets under economic siege, reporters are wearing more hats, covering general topics rather than specific beats. In addition, reporters have easier access to sources through social media, which can leave PR practitioners out of the story gathering equation altogether.

Turning Mundane Facts into Memorable Pitches

Michael mentioned that while it may be difficult to reach media influencers, it’s not impossible. That’s why it’s important to create a newsworthy angle and follow up accordingly. He recommends using a variety of angles, such as tying to a media agenda, linking to a trend or exploiting pop culture. Working in public relations for the education industry, I was intrigued by the pop culture example Michael shared from the PR Director for Instructure Canvas. Instructure wanted to offer a massive open online course (MOOC) that would help maximize coverage and create visibility for its online platform, Canvas. From there, Instructure announced that it would be partnering with AMC, the cable channel, to create a MOOC that used apocalyptic scenarios from AMC’s hit show “The Walking Dead.” The company’s pitch highlighted this partnership, and how the course uses these scenarios “to teach a range of cross-disciplinary topics, including hierarchy of needs in a disaster, the physiology of stress in a crisis and population modeling to predict a species’ survival or extinction.” The result: by using a pop culture reference, Instructure garnered more than 1,000 original stories and coverage in outlets such as USA Today, Wall Street Journal and the Associated Press.

Best Day/Time to Pitch

Michael recommends pitching on Mondays between 10 a.m. and noon, local time. If pitching for television, find out when the production team will be having its story meeting for the day. In addition, PR practitioners have generally been discouraged from sending pitches on Fridays and holiday weeks, but Michael has seen this strategy work at times since there is less competition.

Other Pitching Advice

Michael also shared some important advice on gaining attention and following up. When trying to get noticed by a particular editor or reporter, he suggests referencing their earlier work in a specific and sincere manner. Follow-up should take place when 1) You know you are reaching the right person for the story, 2) You know you have a good story or, 3) The reporter/editor expressed interest. Michael suggests emailing an initial pitch, then sending a follow-up email. If you receive no response, pick up the phone and call the contact.

Overall, I’m eager to put into practice the secrets and strategies I learned from Michael Smart at PRSAIcon. I’ll also be on the lookout to see if Michael will be coming to the area any time soon. I would love to glean more insight from him through a workshop setting. For more information on Michael Smart, visit www.michaelsmartpr.com or follow him on Twitter: @michaelsmartpr.