Keep a strong connection between your message and your audience. Envision an editor who has gotten yet another article pitch letter from someone who hasn’t read her magazine, standing with her hands on her hips and saying, “Frankly, honey — who cares?”
This woman really does exist. She worked with Seventeen Magazine and was giving a seminar on how to pitch a story idea to magazine editors. I realized there probably was not a tougher person on the planet to convince, and that if I could meet her needs, anyone else would be easy.
I’ll confess: I never did send her a story idea. After looking through Seventeen, and looking at my life and interests, it was clear I was the wrong demographic. If nothing else, her workshop prevented me from sending an uninformed pitch that would have been quickly discarded, so you could say she saved us both some time and grief. But her lessons still resonate and should be widely applied: no matter what the goal is for a communication — and who is the “goalee.”
Trick #1: Do Your Homework. It’s so simple but we still can forget it. If you’re trying to reach a publication, then spend some time looking at it. Apply the same approach to a television or online program. If you’re trying to reach a person, discover what you can about him or her through Google, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc. If it’s someone in your organization — or another organization where you have connections — talk with people who know that person.
If it’s a company — a potential client or employer — then check out its website (particularly the news section) and competitors’ sites. And if it’s a public company, read its financial reports, quarterly financial conference call transcripts or analyst research reports.
This will separate you from all the other folks who have just done a cursory job, or haven’t even bothered. It also will fulfill the need of those you’re trying to reach: the belief that we’re all unique and the world should only send messages tailored to us.
Trick #2: Show You Know. Now that you have this intelligence, weave it in to your communication.
- Explain why the story you’re proposing would be of interest to the publication’s readers or program’s viewers. (This shows you know who reads it/watches it and what they want.)
- Reference an important point you discovered about the person from your online research or from people who know him or her. (This shows you value that person’s ideas, opinions, feelings, etc., which helps to create a bond.)
- Mention the issues you know the company faces and how you have addressed them for other firms. (This shows how you can reduce the company’s perceived risk in working with you — because you already know and have applied information these people need.)
Trick #3: Take Your Ego Out of the Equation.
Let’s face it: even though you’re reaching out to this person or organization for your own purposes, as far as the recipients are concerned, it’s all about them. Focus any communication on their needs.
Editors and producers want good stories: to keep their readership/viewership up and advertisers happy. Business people and organizations want good ideas, or to improve their implementation: so their departments or operations are stronger, more cost-effective and competitive. Give them a taste of how you can solve their problems — rather than a dose of how wonderful you are.
The truth is that not every pitch you toss will be a good one. You often have no control over the reasons why the batter won’t take a swing. But if your approach is well-crafted, you’ve eliminated the most common reason for being turned down. And sooner or later, your proposals are going to connect.