If anything was to put off a fresh-out-of university, wannabe PR starlet, it’s definitely a good old-fashioned national media sell-in. I think the following exchange would ring true to most trainees at the beginning of a career in public relations.
“Hi, hope you’re settling in ok? [Brief pause]… Great, would you mind pitching in this story on the role of mutuality in the provision of UK healthcare, to the health desks of The Times, Telegraph, Guardian and FT? [Brief pause]…Great, give me a shout if you need anything. ”
Cue internal combustion. National? The FT? as in the broadsheet paper, The Financial Times?? Eeeek.
Calling established, experienced journalists who put together the content for leading, high brow national newspapers seems a daunting task for those new to PR. Not only are you just getting to grips with what your clients do, but you also have to pick up the phone and confidently discuss said client to someone who receives a few hundred calls a day from PRs across the British Isles.
Personally, media relations and getting on the phone to pitch in a story is one of the main reasons I enjoy PR, mainly because I like nothing more than the sound of my own voice and, of course, securing results for my clients. I know many don’t, though – scarred, probably, from being thrown in at the deep end during their first couple of weeks. One of my previous managers was a big fan of ‘tough love’, or rather, putting the fear of God into you so that you daren’t come off the phone until you have secured a national hit, regardless of how many times you tripped over your tongue, pronounced the reporter’s name wrong or realised you were pitching in an 18-30s’ mobile app to Saga magazine.
Speaking to national media is one of the most common fears of PRs simply because a) no one wants to sound like an idiot, and b) everyone hates rejection. The truth is, national media pitching isn’t as overwhelming as it’s sometimes made out to be. As long as you know what you’re talking about (sorry but you can’t blag a pitch to the public policy editor at the FT, you have to know your stuff), know what the journalist you’re calling writes about, and recognise the relevance of your story to his/her agenda, you’re onto a winner.
Most importantly, you have to remember that you only have about five seconds to get his or her attention so you have to be succinct, engaging, and original, without leaving out any critical hooks, or over-egging the facts. Many PRs waste precious time on telephone etiquette. By the time you have said the following (or something to this effect): ‘Hello it’s Nicola Williamson from Admiral PR’, on behalf of XYZ plc, your time is up and you’re already on the back foot for such an unnecessary intro to the conversation. Instead, introduce yourself quickly, and I’d avoid asking if they have two minutes to talk. They don’t, ever.
You need a happy medium. Not too formal: ‘Good Morning Sir, it is Nicola Williamson.’ Or too casual: ‘Howay, it’s Nic…’ You also need the right level of confidence – not arrogant or presumptious, or too timid, so that you’re whispering your pitch down the phone to avoid your colleagues hearing. That’s just irritating. For everyone.
If you have any national media pitch nightmares, or lessons, you’d like to share, please get in touch!