Inside the Mind of a Millennial Reporter: The Art of Pitching

Inside the Mind of a Millennial Reporter: The Art of Pitching

An Interview with Inc. Columnist Jeff Barrett

By Heather Harder

We all know the stat: For every five PR people, there is one journalist. With the fast pace of news development, pitching has become both easier and harder in different ways. Contributors have become even more essential to help news rooms fill content.

I spoke with Jeff Barrett, an Inc. columnist, PR and digital consultant and Shorty Award winner to learn more about how he became a successful top-tier contributor, as well as his advice for PR pros who want to pitch contributors.

How did you become a top-tier contributor?

This wasn’t something I stumbled into. Inc. approached me because I’d written for Mashable many times over the course of six years. I never thought of myself as a journalist.

When I first started as a PR professional, it was really difficult to make a phone call, send an email and try to make someone cover something in the business. I needed to be able to create a name for myself and have an opportunity to get myself covered more. So I made a bigger social platform, and places started becoming pretty interested in my writing.

I kind of used the column as an opportunity to build up a name to where I’ve taken a different path to being able to help get coverage for my clients.

How does being a contributor make it easier for you to get your clients coverage?

I don’t write about clients. It’s about credibility and visibility, getting a leg up and a having a talking point when pitching reporters. And it goes both ways – doing an interview for Inc., for example, I understand what the PR person needs and wants.

What are some things to keep in mind when pitching a contributor vs. a full-time staffer?

A full-time staffer is going to be a little more rushed. I would say a contributor is more PR friendly. They’re going to be looking for all kinds of things to talk about.

Ask yourself how you can create reciprocal value. How are you providing value to a staffer? Do you have clients who are good sources? In both cases, it’s more about developing a relationship than it is about developing your pitch. You want to be able to say, “Here are the people I work with and the things I hope to get covered.” Then hope they’ll think of a way to create something. The time spent trying to cultivate the perfect pitch is not as advantageous as trying to create the perfect relationship. It’s the same with full-time staffers.

What are key things millennials like/don’t like when it comes to receiving pitches?

It has certainly become less and less formal. There is greater need to tap into social influencers. It really does just come down to building that relationship.

Pull away as far as you can from press releases. A press release is the owner’s manual. If you bought furniture from Ikea, you kind of need the manual to put things together, but you wouldn’t sell someone the owner’s manual. My process is to build the relationship and have a quick discussion. That discussion might end up being via text, Facebook message or Snapchat until we get to a point where something makes sense. It’s finding people in the channels that make the most sense to them.

You just start to adapt your message and speak in quicker soundbites. If you send someone a novel, it might be a little intimidating and they might just not know what to do with it. You almost start speaking in 140-220 characters. Plus with that approach, that’s less work on your end, then you can build out the release.

The worst thing to do is take three hours writing a release and crafting the perfect pitch. Every client is going to think that all their stuff deserves all the attention in the world. You have to believe in your clients.

When first making contact, do you think it’s better to be overly professional or to show your true personality?

A bit depends on how the relationship started. If it started on Twitter, it can be more goofy and casual. Over LinkedIn emails, you have to be professional. Go with your gut. Generally speaking, I try to get to casual as soon as I can. It’s way more beneficial.

How are changes in storytelling affecting how we need to package our stories?

Everything has a shorter shelf life now. It used to be that you could run things down. I received about 50 pitches with people wanting to talk about United a day or two after the big incident 2017. It was too late. Yes, it takes time to come up with the pitch and the angle. But if you have a relationship, tell the reporter you can talk about United now. You have to be able to capitalize on the first 24 hours. If you see something emerging, make sure you have three to four people in your back pocket to help you out. It’s really like a speed game – it’s like day trading versus investing in stock. Pitching is faster now.

Heather Harder is a communications specialist at RSE Ventures, a New York-based investment and incubation firm. She was formerly PRSSA National President and PRSA New Professionals Board Member. Follow her on Twitter @HeathHarder.

Build Brand Buzz through Blogger Relations

Person-BloggingIn a PR pro’s world, what’s better than a group of thought leaders spreading the positive word about your brand?

Besides this summer’s World Cup-gone-social case study, I’d lean toward nothing.

To achieve that ultimate brand buzz dream, you need a thorough, targeted blogger-relations strategy. When executed well, blogger engagement will give your brand third-party credibility among its target consumer audience.

But unlike Clint Dempsey, PR pros can’t score big within the first 30 seconds of a blogger-outreach campaign. It requires research, patience, engagement and an overall good product or service for blogger relations to succeed. Here’s how to start:

1. Find your niche bloggers. Fight the urge to mass distribute to a media list; opt for quality instead. Complement a database media list with hands-on research. Tools like Twitter’s Advanced Search can help you find niche bloggers with a substantial social following. Let’s say, for example, you’re a cheese brand. Search “cheese AND blog” in the Advanced Search words section, and you’ll get a list of hundreds of people who blog and have a special place in their heart for cheese. Bingo.

2. Read their content. Before pitching, take time to read each blogger’s content to see how your brand fits, then reference specific posts during outreach. Let’s go back to that delicious cheese example. If you’re pitching a food blogger, point out some cheese-specific posts and tie in why he/she would love your brand. Did he/she write about a new Gouda dish? Share a tasty recipe that makes your specific cheese irresistible. By using this approach, you 1) prove you read their blog, 2) highlight your cheese’s unique attributes, and 3) illustrate how your product can be repurposed for content beyond that initial review post.

3. Set reasonable expectations up front. As new PR pros, we’re under tight, demanding deadlines every day. But, keep in mind that most bloggers write in their spare time, and they’re under similar pressures during their day jobs, too. From the beginning, set reasonable deadlines you both agree on for product reviews, tweeting, etc. And always remember: It’s the blogger’s site – not yours. It’s his/her prerogative to stick to blog guidelines and write about what best serves the audience.

4. Engage regularly. Have your solid group of bloggers secured? Nice work. Now it’s time to prove you’re a good partner. Share their content, +1 their updates, comment on their posts or tag them in tweets they’d find interesting (within reason, of course). When executed well, a blogger-relations campaign is mutually beneficial: They help your brand reach new audiences, and you help their blog reach new readers.

5. Have a good product. Cue the “duh” reaction here – of course your product is wonderful – but hear me out. Sometimes PR pros are asked to promote an unfamiliar product. Because it’s new, they may not know or recognize the product’s flaws – but the blogger will. And, depending on the blogger, this could result in a severed relationship or, worse, a negative review (followed by a “good riddance”). If you’re uncertain about a product, test it out firsthand, or see what the review sites say. By doing your homework, you could save your brand’s reputation while helping improve its product.

As you embark on your blogger relations journey, remember that quality trumps quantity. And, while time consuming, this thorough strategy will have reputable thought leaders building powerful brand buzz among your target audience. Now that deserves a hashflag raise, don’t you think?

Do you work with bloggers? What tips do you have for a successful blogger-relations campaign?

Stephanie Vermillion headshotStephanie Vermillion is a senior account executive at Wordsworth Communications, a public relations agency in Cincinnati. She is on the PRSA Cincinnati Leadership Team and is part of the PRSA Cincinnati New Pros Committee. Connect with Stephanie on LinkedIn and Twitter (@SMVermillion).