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FIVE "W'S" AND ONE LONELY "H" ­ THE NITTY GRITTY OF PITCHING


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by John Foster

Public Relations and the Artist, Part Four

Remember this ­ the media is not your target ­ the people reading what they write (or say) are your target…but the media is the gateway through which your message will pass, or not. My first day at my first agency I was handed a list of names and phone numbers and told to call them to see if they would write about some travel videos. Intrepidly I picked up the phone and plunged in…and by the end of the day had suffered more rejection than my entire four years of high school.

It was brutal but it taught me a valuable lesson ­ get used to rejection. In my case, it was because I was inept and the videos I was pushing were dreadfully dull ­ even with the minimal instruction from this article series you will be more competent and the story of your work is certainly far more interesting.

But you'll still run into brick walls - not because your story isn't worth its weight in gold, but because journalists are buried under pitches, always on deadline, and don't have much attention to spare. Your pitch will miss more times than it hits, sometimes by a wide margin ­ just thicken your skin and accept it as the price of doing business.

The following article is dedicated to mitigating that rejection (dare I tempt the gods and say “dedicated to achieving success?”) with some simple guidelines regarding how to talk to the media.

Read the publication (or watch/listen to the show). You'll guarantee yourself a slammed door if you have no idea what they actually write about. Even more important, read the work of the individual journalist you are going after. You can usually find several articles with a simple Google search. Not sure where to start? Well, begin by locating the correct section of a publication (arts and leisure, local news, etc.) then start following a couple of people until you find one that seems to speak to your target audience. Sometimes a quick comment in your opening query (“I loved your story on woodworking at Moosehead Lake and thought you might find this intriguing”) is the difference between a writer hitting the delete button and reading your pitch.

Email email email. I know my opening story included phone calls, but that was in the Mesozoic age of PR. Email is generally your best route, although if you can get into someone's “friend group” on LinkedIn or Facebook that works as well. Make your emails short and to the point.

Focus right up front on why you think this journalist will be interested in the story ­ then ask them if they want more information. If they do, that's when you can send them pages of good stuff. We used to practice the “elevator message” ­ delivering a pitch during the span of an average elevator ride. If you can't do that, you haven't honed your message enough.

Make sure you have the link to your Artspan site readily displayed in your email. The journalist will very likely want to give your work a quick look before they take things any further but if it's hard to find, they'll just skip it and move onto the next story.

Make target lists. Researching the media can be time consuming ­ keep track of the info and keep it organized ­ even something as simple as manila folders entitled “Christmas stories” or “local crafts.”

Anything you write could end up in print. Just fair warning, if you're sending something to a journalist, you are giving tacit permission to use it in a story.

Write pitches targeted to individuals. Generally, journalists hate reading what is obviously a blanket pitch to a wide group. Like anyone else, they're more likely to read your email if they can tell up front you wrote specifically to them.

5 “W's” and one lonely “H.” I've been involved in PR and marketing for 15 years and I still use this simple guideline when developing my pitch. Did I include the following key information ­ Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How? Sometimes they don't all apply, but usually asking yourself these questions will allow you to develop a well-rounded pitch that tells a journalist all the salient details in one fell swoop. But remember to balance this with brevity, especially when dealing with the How.

Description of your artistic method can probably fill pages ­ but make sure they're into it before you hit them with significant detail.

The marketing section on Artspan.com contains some simple template documents (such as a press release and media alert) for more formal media communications, but for straight up pitching, consider yourself ready armed with the above advice.

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