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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.
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.