Knucklehead or knuckleball? 3 tips on perfecting the PR pitch

When New York Mets pitcher R.A. Dickey throws a knuckleball, no one is sure where it will land. As a writer I’m not too proud to admit I’ve done the same thing at times—tossing ideas at editors without knowing how they’ll land.

To be more precise, we’ve all done as PR professionals what we dislike as editors: pitching without analyzing the audience. We’ve done it because we’ve lacked the time or patience to pull the editorial calendar or contact the blogger to determine her needs. I see it every day in my capacity as editor for The Builder Buzz, a social media newsfeed for the building and design trades. Mountains of releases clutter the inbox with appeals for coverage. Most of them are wobbly at best.

How do you ensure your pitch is on target? Here are three tips to crafting a more perfect PR pitch:

1. Know your audience’s audience. It’s basic but often overlooked: to create a better pitch you have to know your audience—what they like and how they prefer to receive their information. With editors and bloggers you need to know your audience’s audience. Examine the editorial calendars to determine what the editor wants. Then read the website, publication and blogs to determine what the readers, viewers and listeners want. As Amy McCarthy of Parenthood.com says, “If you’re pitching a . . . product, say how it can help my demographic. Don’t just carpet-bomb everyone in your Vocus database and cross your fingers.”

2. Provide news both audiences can use. Editors know that to retain readers they must provide news those readers can use—service pieces with information the audience can put into practice. Don’t send a pitch or release announcing a website or asking a journalist to follow your organization through social media. Strive to provide something of value to the journalist and her audience.

3. Know the difference between internal and external news. Here’s where life gets difficult. Your boss wants you to pitch a story idea to an editor because it makes senior management look good. You sense the subject won’t matter to people outside the organization. Sarasota, Florida PR professional Heidi Smith has some advice. “Above all, answer the question, ‘Who cares?’” she tells BIZ (941) magazine. “If only your organization gives a hoot, it’s not news—it’s just an item for internal atta-boys, not the media.”

By following that advice you may not win a popularity contest at work. But at least you won’t feel like a knucklehead.

Jeff Widmer