In this piece by W. Tyler Allen of PitchZen, he provides a comprehensive set of suggests on how to simplify the process of pitching your music, and how you can streamline it to get to the meat of your message.
Guest Post by W. Tyler Allen on pitchzen.co
When I first started PitchZen, I didn’t want to call it “PitchZen”. As someone who sits in zazen meditation, and admires zen teachers such as Kodo Sawaki, Roshi Joan Halifax and Shunryu Suzuki, I felt like throwing the word zen into a marketing service was just … tacky. Especially since zen isn’t very… zen at all.
Often we see the word zen and we think peaceful, calm or serene – but in reality, zen means observation. It means awareness, to find the essential, and to cut out the rest.
Now that is a definition I can get behind.
Because quite often in business we want to do it all – right then, right there and right now. We become so entranced in climbing every hill, and taking on every possibility at once – that we overlook the marrow of our goal.
This is true in both pitching press and formulating our online presences, too. We get so caught up in what we think “success” or “efficiency” looks like, that we often forget about the basics and the opportunities that exist right in front of our eyes.
Here’s tips on simplifying the pitch process – and ensuring you’re getting to the “marrow” of your message.
— 01. Define Your “One Thing”.
In the book Essentialism by Greg McKeown – Greg discusses the educator, Charlie O. Simms (teacher of the great writer Nora Ephron) and the assignment he gave to his Journalism 101 students on their first day.
Like most teachers – Simms began his first class teaching students the ins and outs of a lead. He explained the who, what, when and why of a lead and how it covers the essential information.
He then gave his their first assignment: write a lead to the following story:
“Kenneth L. Peters, principal of Beverly Hills High School announced today that the entire high school faculty will be traveling to Sacramento next week for a conference in new teaching methods. Among the speakers will be anthropologist, Margaret Mead, college president, Dr. Robert Hutchins and California governor, Edmund Brown.”
The students began hammering away trying to pin down the lead:
“Margaret Mead, Robert Hutchins and Governor Brown will address the faculty…”
“Next Thursday, the high school faculty will travel…”
“The school faculty will be learning..”
“Principal Peters and staff will be meeting with..”
Simms reviewed each one and put them aside. He then informed the class that each and every lead they wrote.. was wrong.
The correct answer?
“There will be no school on Thursday.”
While this applies to journalism – it also applies to pitching journalists, too. Often we want to include every possible detail into our pitch. We want to throw in every piece of information that we often overwhelm and potentially turnoff the reporter altogether.
I recently ran a PR campaign with a company that launched a very innovative energy efficiency software. Their software could be implemented by large utility companies to reduce bills and help ratepayers save a lot of money. Furthermore, it helps improve energy efficiency efforts, and could potentially lower taxes, too. The lead here? There’s a software that can reduce bills and improve energy efficiency on a large scale.
As an aside – the software’s first state partner was New Hampshire. The software company was adamant that the press release discuss the ins and outs of the state of New Hampshire – the New Hampshire state programs it would benefit, the details of New Hampshire legislation – by the end of the release, the lead of “a new innovative product” sounded like this was an “innovative New Hampshire product”.
Was the state of New Hampshire important? Yes! The way New Hampshire would be using the software was key to understanding the product! However – the lead was buried with so much New Hampshire talk, that reporters immediately saw this as a “local” story or a “state” story – so, they pushed it aside.
Seeing our error – we sent out a new angle and lead: “Here’s what [Your State] can learn from New Hampshire’s new energy efficiency software.”
This version went over very well.
So, ask yourself: what is your “one thing”? What is your one message that you hope reporters gather? Sure – we live in a copy/paste the press release type of world, so (wisely) include the nuts and bolts in the release. But your media pitches should always be to-the-point and succinct – while also giving just enough mystery to garner a conversation.
“We become so entranced in climbing every hill, and taking on every possibility at once – that we overlook the marrow of our goal..”
— 02 Do you even need a press release?
Okay, first – press releases are great and do have their place. In fact, they’re an industry standard.
Releases assist in SEO – they are a good (if not the) reference point for writers, and it is possible to get an interview request after throwing your release through the newswires. However – the press release isn’t everything. What’s even more important is the pitch.
The pitch is what reels the reporter in and gives an overview – or the essence – of what your news is about. However, the press release has become so ingrained in people’s minds that sometimes, it’s used incorrectly or … used when it shouldn’t be.
For instance – a press release should always be paired with a pitch. Always.
The pitch should be the first thing the reporter sees – and should prime them for the bulk of the news. However, I see many companies just send a press release. No context, no pitch, just a press release.
On the flipside – I see a lot of artists, video game companies as well as cosmetic brands do the opposite. When seeking a simple review or a blog mention, they go all out with a press release when in reality, a simple and personal (keyword) pitch will do. This information overload can maybe bog down potential reviewers – or make you seem impersonal or robotic.
Which is never good when you want someone to take time out of their day – to review your product or service. They want to feel special.
Understand what’s necessary – a full on press release, or just a simple message complimenting a writer on a well-written piece and offering up your news to supplement it.
“The pitch is what reels the reporter in and gives an overview – or the essence – of what your news is about..”
— 03 You aren’t separating your lists.
One of the largest complaints my writer friends make – is that they end up on press lists for industries or products that they have no business being included in. For instance, an environmental reporter may get a press pitch for a cosmetic product, or an entertainment writer may get a political email. Sometimes they’ll politely forward the email to the correct person – but most of the time, you get an eye-roll and a move to the trash folder.
When making lists for clients with PitchZen we ensure that every list is segmented by category. For instance – your news may have somewhat of a mainstream appeal – so there will be a mainstream media list. However – you want the trades, too. So, for your new smart bluetooth refrigerator product – we would also want appliance trade lists, probably a bluetooth list and a general tech list, too.
Each of those categories deserves and expects a different voice.
Mainstream media will simply want to know that your refrigerator can now take phone calls.
The bluetooth crowd will be curious about the technical stats and data features – with an emphasis on the bluetooth, nothing else.
The appliance writers will want to know about costs and what this means for the appliance industry as a whole.
The general tech list will want to know about phase II plans – and just how the technology works.
Speak to different people in different ways. One stock message – won’t get you too far.
“Each category and writer deserves and expects a different voice…”
— 04 You aren’t following up.
Reporters – and most humans – become inundated with emails every hour. Sometimes an email gets flagged and forgotten – or sometimes it gets opened with a mental note to reply later.. but later never comes.
It’s essential to write a very polite follow up email (or two) after sending an initial press email. Not only is it a gentle reminder – but the subject line “Trying you again..” or “Trying you before tomorrow..” is always a good attention grabber. PitchZen always offers follow-up pitches when doing campaigns with our clients.
Some industries are more responsive on first emails than others – it depends on the writers workload and how attentive they need to be to their inbox that day. However, I find that people generally reply on a second email – even if it’s to politely pass. Of course, this is all about what the follow-up says.
Usually something as simple as the below will suffice.
Just following up on my email yesterday – the [product] will effectively be helping [cause] by [some other data]. I’m including a few bullet points below.
Would you be interested in hopping on a quick call or digging in deeper?
“Reporters – and most humans – become inundated with emails every hour. So, speak to them like humans – be personal.”
— 05 You aren’t treating writers like human beings.
The largest issue in the PR world is that folks spam reporters. They send out one email with 1,000 folks BCC’ed (or even CC’ed sometimes, yikes). Every writer gets the same spiel and there’s just no personality there.
One would assume that social media would bring a personal touch to contacting media – but one could argue it’s actually gotten worse. Auto-responder DMs and @ing reporters on Twitter with a link and not much context at all.
The best pitches come from genuine interaction – “I read your article on ______ and don’t you think that if _____ then it should also ____? You should check out [your company/product]….”
While it’s not always viable to write 2,000 custom pitches, that’s where the aforementioned list comes in. Or – flagging 25 or 30 email addresses where you actually sit down and write them out personalized messages.
Because here’s the secret – if you genuinely connect with a writer, reporter, or blogger – you now have more than just an email address to hit up. You have a genuine business contact that you can rely on for honest feedback as well as honest coverage.
— Conclusion + About Us.
These are just a handful of ways that we advocate proper pitching, writing and relationship building. Of course there’s more – and of course these can be added onto and subtracted from. You’ll also find a lot of what we offer in the bullet points above.
At PitchZen we want to empower companies to take control of their communications – along with entrepreneurs we also assist publicists and PR firms to find successful ways to connect with writers, reporters, bloggers and journalists. The two main ways we do that – are by assisting communication professionals in developing unique and customized media lists and pitches.
No matter the industry or subject – we will help you to jumpstart your internal press database, as well as pitching approach.
If interested, check us out at http://pitchzen.co or fill in the form below.