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Nov 30, 2007

PR Interview: 20 Secrets From ‘Perfecting the Pitch’ Author

SUMMARY: PR expert Benjamin Lewis shares tips and some tricks of his trade on how to pitch journalists -- many of them are right out of his new book, ‘Perfecting the Pitch.’
Contact information:
Benjamin Lewis
Perception Inc.

Lewis got started in PR in 1992 when he interned for a former U.S. Congressman and Ambassador. He says he worked “like a dog” and dreamed of being a White House press secretary.

After serving as a deputy press secretary during a 1996 political campaign in New Hampshire, he segued into the financial services and nonprofit worlds … and hasn’t applied for another job since. “People hear that you’re good at what you do, and they want you to come to them.”

Lewis suggests that PR people keep that bit of advice in mind when interacting with reporters and editors: “You set up one good relationship at a publication, and they will pass your name around to people who work with them. Roll up your sleeves and earn the journalists’ trust. The easier you can make their job, the better it will be for you.”

Lewis believes in the importance of rapport so much that it’s the focus of his new book, ‘Perfecting the Pitch,’ available at Amazon and other bookstores. It’s also one of the topics covered on his blog -- -- and in monthly Perception eZine. Lewis founded his PR firm in 2002. He graduated from Bradley University, Peoria, IL.

10 Secrets & Pointers

-> #1. Be persistent, not a pest

“If you don’t get calls back after trying for three to five times, it is time to pull the plug and move on,” says Lewis, who is a firm believer in letting the story simmer. Daily journalists work on tight deadlines; they cannot tend to your query right away.

If you have a relationship with a journalist, however, you can call a day or two later to touch base. But be considerate and prepared to take no for an answer. “If somebody tells us flat out, ‘I cannot do anything with this right now,’ we completely understand -- we move on.”

-> #2. Make an exclusive offer they can’t refuse

“Exclusives are the way you want to go.” says Lewis, who suggests focusing on a preferred newspaper or TV station. If that’s not going to work, move to your second choice, then your third choice and so on. Lewis advises against using a shotgun blast when a rifle will do. Give a reporter an opportunity to have an exclusive; you might interest a journalist in returning your call that way.

Lewis says that the media outlet that receives the exclusive has to be determined by the client. PR people must ask: “If you could have a pick of publications in which you could have a story placed, which ones would it be?” A PR person then must identify the pitch that will resonate within those specific outlets.

-> #3. Reposition a story to eliminate waiting

Refocus the angle of a story that may be of value from another perspective. This allows a PR pro to send it to another publication with a different audience and still maintain exclusivity.

For instance, Lewis might position a story on identifying objective 401k advisers to The Wall Street Journal. To multiply his success rate, he repositions the same story for financial advisers It now becomes an article on how they could hold themselves up to fiduciary standards while providing advice to consumers.

-> #4. Know a publication’s audience

Lewis stresses the importance of being familiar with a publication when you craft a query. If you’re targeting a small daily newspaper, for instance, you must come up with a local angle. It could then be picked up by local TV stations or other news outlets. “It’s a matter of identifying unique ways to position stories to fit that particular outlet.”

Keep in mind that weeklies usually have smaller staffs; the story you pitch may not go to a reporter. So offer a finished article that could be published with almost no editing or rewriting.

-> #5. Compose emails with care

Technology has made everybody lazy, says Lewis, who still believes “a good old-fashioned phone call is the best way to get to a reporter if you have a relationship. Email is not enough -- it’s easy to say that you sent the information over to the reporter. What else did you do?”

When you use email, don't abuse it the same way you do a text message. Always run a grammar and a spell check and make sure you use complete sentences. Lewis suggests presenting yourself in the way you want to be perceived. You represent your client; you have to make sure that your email is formatted correctly. Remove any graphic images or banners from your messages and send all of them as plain text.

-> #6. Just say no to attachments

Unless you are on your email recipient's approved list, attaching documents is a no-no because of internet security. Spam filters will often dump your email into a junk folder.

If you absolutely must send an attachment, let your recipient know that you have some additional materials you would like to forward. You can also include a link in your email for the recipient to click on for more information. This practice works well for podcasts and videos, although Lewis recommends saving those for promotional materials.

-> #7. Don’t get carried away with promotional materials

Lewis advises against sending advertorials to journalists. “Somebody at The Wall Street Journal doesn’t give a hoot whether you’ve been in Bloomberg or are being interviewed by the competition.” Instead, leverage your media appearances with your centers of influence -- clients and prospects who should be familiar with your accomplishments. Send notes and postcards for major hits only. They care about the quality, not the quantity of your brushes with fame.

-> #8. Choose an alternative to printed press kits

Send a press kit only on request. Reporters’ desks are already way too cluttered. Instead, Lewis recommends saving online media kits as a PDF file in a press room on your website. You may have a client who insists on using a printed press kit, however. Send it to reporters you have a relationship with in an envelope with a PR logo they will recognize.

-> #9. Create the perfect five-paragraph pitch

- The first paragraph covers “what”; the middle three support “what” with bulleted statistics; the last one suggests how to contact you.
- Have an effective lead, preferably one with a personal tidbit.
- Be straightforward.
- Offer solutions and take a stand.
- Reveal the intended audience.
- Provide examples of people affected by the pitched idea.
- Send early in the day.

-> #10. Build your relationship with journalists

If you’re still working on becoming a reliable and credible source for an editor or reporter, refrain from offering additional assistance with a story. “People in the media often deal with demanding PR people who send them garbage," Lewis says. “Those reporters just want to do the story on their own.”

PR people need to consider the nuances of working with journalists so their clients don’t get blacklisted. Professionals who understand the art of relationship building can work wonders for their clients. So, how do you build that rapport?

10 Tips to Enhance Your Media Relationships

- Offer available sources and fact-based data.
- Be at the right place *before* it’s the right time.
- Show why the publication’s readers might be interested in your pitch.
- Build your message using anecdotes, local aspect, variations on a general theme or expert report.
- Don’t make overly negative or humorous remarks; assume that everything is “on the record.”
- Read some of a reporter’s stories before pitching.
- Give reporters sufficient time to do research; respond to emails promptly.
- Suggest stories with unusual subject matter that has the potential to be widely adopted.
- Avoid fishing -- sending multiple stories to the same journalist in a short period of time.
- Make sure your co-workers aren’t contacting the journalist you’re pitching at the same time.

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