The Pitch is Dead – R.I.P.


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We are gathered here to not mourn the death of “the pitch,” but to celebrate its life and how its misuse and oft irrelevance helped us improve the entire communications industry.

R.I.P.

Journalists and bloggers have had it and they’re fighting back. Quite honestly, it’s been a long time coming and we’re bound to see more blacklists and PR people called out for their mistakes.

Hey, it happens to the best, and the worst of us, and it really is up to us to do something about it. From setting, or resetting, client or executive expectations, developing our stories, to engaging bloggers and press, we’re the center of the process and we should exert our experience, recommendations, and influence to improve the process. Otherwise, we need to get out of the way.

In the era of Social Media you can expect to be outed as one of the contributors to the dark side of Public Relations if you continue to practice as status quo. But, it’s not the end. If it’s anything that we’re learning these days is that Social Media represents a new hope for those who truly want to evolve, leading a much needed renaissance for the communications industry.

PR today should really stand for Public Relations – oh wait, it already does.

So what happened then?

Why did we forget that people and conversations were supposed to have been part of the process all along?

Honestly, somewhere along the line, PR went behind the scenes focusing on strategy and planning, while pushing junior people into the trenches, lobbing “pitches” at target “audiences” and hoping for big hits.

Our day-to-day outreach nowadays relies on blasting reporters based on lists generated through services such as Cision, formerly MediaMap, among others. It’s a game of percentages based on mass emailing pitches using a customizable form letter so that each email would appear to be personalized, and for the most part, it has satisfied PR’s quest for coverage until recently.

With a list of 300 targets based on key words, PR could expect to see 10-20 responses, with a decent conversion to coverage. If a reporter didn’t want to receive emails in the future, they would reply letting us know with something as simple as “unsubscribe.”

Over time, however, PR has slipped into complacency, relying on blasting press releases and generic pitches in order to share news and information, when in fact, a less is more approach could be even more effective.

I’m not calling for the death of the mass email. If you’re smart about it, there are ways that it can be used effectively. And, as much as they may hate us, many reporters and bloggers still depend on great PR. They don’t however, show up to work hoping to get bombarded with irrelevant pitches and poorly written press releases.

Faceless, disingenuous outreach isn’t fooling anyone. So, what does PR do about it?

Some jump on the bandwagon and join outspoken bloggers and reporters in taking down PR, even though many of them are equally guilty of contributing to the problem. Instead of stepping back and thinking about evolution, others whine about how they’re too busy to reach out to people individually and blame others for their predicament.

At the end of the day, PR is about people. Yes, it’s about Public Relations and not about spam, mass marketing, and impersonal, blind pitches that only dig the entire industry into a deeper hole.

How do we as PR shift from pitching to engaging in conversations?

Let’s start by burying the generic “pitch” and everything it represents.

Then let’s jump to acceptance.

Chances are you have contributed to PR’s bruised and beaten image in some way. The question really is, what can you do better and differently as an individual?

When you approach a campaign from the premise of messages and audience, you’re already starting down a path of irrelevance.

As Doc Searls has said, there is no market for messages. Furthermore, there is no audience for your message either.

Pitches and press releases are typically polluted with garbage, unsubstantiated posturing and claims, and self-imposed market leadership. Every company these days seems to be a leader in a growing market with a new paradigm shifting solution that delivers an innovative way to revolutionize customer behavior.

Stop drinking the punch and join the real world. Just because it’s news doesn’t make it newsworthy.

As a consumer, you don’t make decisions based on “messages.” You’re too smart for that right? You consider information that relates to you as a person and as a customer. So why would you push that crap to your peers?

The notion that one message compels one audience is also antiquated and dangerous. Again, you don’t make decisions based on one source.

Figure out why your story is important and to whom it matters. Who are your customers? Where do they go for information?

Answering these questions is easier said than done. At the very least though, trying to answer them will inject a critical step at the beginning of every campaign, now and in the future.

I’m pretty sure your customers are not categorized by any one single demographic. So we need to take a different first step.

Markets are comprised of people, and people are different. While there are mainstream channels that reach them, there are also other more direct avenues of influence and also communities where you can engage your customers in conversations – many of which are thriving courtesy of Social Media and the socialization of information. Research can only help.

There isn’t one tool, one release, one story that will motivate your customers to take action. It all starts with becoming the person (and different people) you’re trying to reach and then reverse engineering the process.

Listen. Read. Learn.

Stop thinking like a “PR” person and start approaching marketing as an expert and demonstrate why what you represent matters to the people you’re trying to reach.

In the process, you’ll start to see things differently.

It will change how you approach people. It will change how you write press releases. It will change how you distribute and share information. Most importantly, it will give you the means to engage transparently and genuinely.

It shifts the process from pitching to conversation-based interaction that only cultivates relationships, strengthens customer service, and increases brand resonance and loyalty.

Remember, if you’re not part of the solution, then you’re part of the problem.

By changing things at the beginning of the process and improving how you approach the people you want to engage, you’ll quickly find that the pitch is indeed dead, and quite honestly, not really missed at all.

Connect with me on Twitter, Jaiku, Pownce or Facebook.

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  • Jeremy

    Hyperbole much? ;)

    I disagree – it’s the same with press releases. Neither are dead, but the bad ones need to go away and PR needs to get back to relationships.

  • Chris Johnson

    Malcolm Gladwell would be proud of you!

  • Ryan

    The pitch will never die, but those who use it inappropriately will continue to be increasingly ineffective and will eventually go away.

    I’m all for moving our industry forward, but at what point do we say ‘to hell with it’ and let the dead weight flounder? Embarrassment from being outed is a great motivator for some, but not all. Frankly, it needs to happen more because too many PR people have forgotten that our business is about relationships, it’s too impersonal now.

    I call a good number of media and bloggers alike friends. That doesn’t happen by accident. How does that happen when those people generally have disdain for people like us? You tell me. Either people like me are brilliant, lucky, or, as I like to think, meticulous, thoughtful and patient.

    PR virtues, if you will. Some have it. Others don’t.

  • joel

    Right on Jeremy.

    The death knell of the press release has been widely sounded, yet a recent survey found 77.9 per cent (of journalists surveyed) said they preferred to receive information “via press releases sent to me by email!”

    http://tinyurl.com/2j3z4b

    And the pitch is not dead either. What’s dead is random, generic, poorly crafted email pitches lobbed over a blogger’s fence with not thought as to the blogger’s “beat,” preferences, primary topic, etc.

    A good pitch, crafted and managed by a PR professional with a genuine media relationship and some real intelligence, can still land a client on the cover of Fortune.

    Bathwater anyone?

  • Chris Norton (Wolfstar)

    Great post, I like your take on the world of social media and PR but I am not sure the pitch will die completely as many journalists in the UK still only seem to react to this. However, as the world of social media develops over here I think we may indeed find agencies and PR professionals altering the way they approach journalists.

  • onlineprguy

    “Chances are you have contributed to PR’s bruised and beaten image in some way. The question really is, what can you do better and differently as an individual?”

    That’s the essence of this post, to me, Brian.

    The unexamined life is not worth living; the clunky blast-pitch is not worth sending.

  • Brian Solis

    Jeremy, I agree with what you’re saying. I guess when someone can present something in a way that matters to you, they’re not really pitching you.

    Chris, word.

    Ryan, exactly. This is about building relationships. People like you represent the good side of an industry long plagued by malpractice. As I’ve been saying all along, engage or die. Eventually, people will have to change and improve their game in order to stay relevant in the future. If you’re willing to learn, then you have nothing to lose.

    Joel, personally I advocate well-written press releases and have long said that as long as they’re relevant, they will continue to remain effective in not just PR, but also SEO and business development. But I have to disagree with you on your platform for defending “the pitch.” Have you ever asked journalists if they like to be pitched? I have, and I can tell you that most will say no. What they will say is they appreciate inbound email from someone who did their homework and presented a compelling package that can help them write a story that matters to their readers. But is that still a pitch or is that something more important and effective? We have to call it out in order to get people to think differently about their approach. I think we all need to get out of the bathtub…

    Chris, the moral of the story is that we just need to think more about why what we’re representing is better matched to those we’re trying to reach. I think at that point, you look back and realize that you could call it a pitch, but in reality it’s something more important.

    OnlinePRguy, thank you. It’s funny how most of the comments completely overlooked the much-practiced mechanics of blasting journalists, choosing to arm-wrestle over the semantics of the pitch instead of the fact that the majority of the industry is confusing spamming with pitching.

  • Linda VandeVrede

    Maybe we need more INTJ’s (Myers Briggs personality type) in public relations….spamming is an alien social activity to them.

  • Reid Wegley

    I agree to a certain extent. The email pitch should have died long ago as it was merely a vehicle for spam and laziness.

    Conversations are good. I’m with you man.

    When you get a chance visit me at the ReidWegs Report and provide an opinion.

    RW

  • Anonymous

    I am pretty sure I pitched this story to you a month ago…j/k

    You are right in many areas, however picking up the phone and “pitching” is still the most effective way of getting messages across to the public. (Assuming you are shooting for traditional media which unfortunatly is still the most important deliverable in a PR campaign, regardless of the client and my opinion.)

    -Tyler Barnett
    Barnett Ellman

  • Ben

    Pitches aren’t necessarily dead, the method of pitching is changing: http://tinyurl.com/kwx7qc

ABOUT ME

Brian Solis is principal at Altimeter Group, a research firm focused on disruptive technology. A digital analyst, anthropologist, and futurist, Solis has studied and influenced the effects of emerging technology on business, marketing, and culture. Solis is also globally recognized as one of the most prominent thought leaders and published authors in new media. His new book, What's the Future of Business (WTF), explores the landscape of connected consumerism and how business and customer relationships unfold and flourish in four distinct moments of truth. His previous book, The End of Business as Usual, explores the emergence of Generation-C, a new generation of customers and employees and how businesses must adapt to reach them. Prior to End of Business, Solis released Engage, which is regarded as the industry reference guide for businesses to market, sell and service in the social web.

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