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Pitching the pitcher. A few words on earned media.

Something unsuspected has happened to me. Having done earned media work for a decade and a half, I am now on the receiving end of pitches from PR companies.

This feels like karmic blow-back in the form of a stream of unsolicited emails. You see, I've always worked hard to bring a best-practice approach to earned media programs for my clients. Unfortunately, this is not what I see in my inbox. I'm disheartened to report that the "Spray and Pray" approach to earned media is alive in well in 2012. 

For what its worth (because if you're reading this post you're not one of the countless clods who simply don't understand what it means to earn attention and build a relationship) here's my take on what it is to do earned media work well online:

Most work effort to engage with digital influencers (i.e. bloggers and content creators) is done by email. As relationships are developed, phone contact is possible, but many digital influencers simply prefer email.

Some blogs and digital influencers will post their pitch preferences. If a blogger has taken the time write these down, it is always best to follow these guidelines. It is one simple keystroke for a blogger to delete an email. It isn't much more effort to blacklist a sender (or an entire domain as Chris Anderson from Wired famously wrote about it in 2008 with his now infamous, Sorry PR You're Blocked post). It is not uncommon for bloggers to post their correspondence with publicists and PR people on their blogs, whether they are delighted or disgusted.

Obviously, digital influencers and bloggers are not the same as established (i.e. mainstream) media. The accepted practices between professional journalists and publicists do not necessarily hold for digital influencers. Until you've built a relationship and established a level of trust, it is best to exercise caution with embargos and exclusives. Because the majority of the communication with an influencer (at least initially) will be over email, how and what you write is key.

An effective influencer pitch:

  • Has a descriptive, compelling subject line
  • Is written to be clear and concise
  • Is personalized and made relevant to the influencer
  • Includes a meaningful value exchange
  • Has a conversational style

Much ink (many pixels??) has been spilled over the years by people lamenting the brutal state of unsolicited pitches (largely from PR agencies). One of my favourite posts on this topic is this classic PR 203: How to Pitch a Blogger (or at least How to Pitch Jeff Pulver in 2008). Looking at B.L. Ochman's blog, I've found this more recent post that is a true gem. Check out her well-crafted and bang-on-the-mark post: Dear PR people: please take this quiz before you send out another press release or email pitch.

So where do I go from here? I'll do my best to resist the urge to critique, rant and rip apart the crappy pitches that reach my inbox. I'm an optimist so I've got to believe that one of these days I'll get a pitch from a professional who's taken five minutes to poke around my sites and get a sense of what I'm about; from someone who is genuinely interested in building a relationship. And if the stars align, what they've got on offer aligns to my interests and genuinely earns my attention.

photo: 44/365 Ready for Spring Training by The Sussman (Mike)

Reader Comments (2)

Great writeup Leona.
While this may hold true for global media, it may not be the same for Canadian media. Sadly, except maybe for TechVibes, the majority of media coverage here is just old boys club, you always read articles about friends or friends of those who write it. Or just stale news from months ago that is no longer news.
My work has been published on numerous blogs all over the world, the Mashable, TNW, BBC TV , most of them unprompted and I have yet to get a single local coverage, although I actually contacted the ones here, even met some as I am right in their backyard.
A friend of mine has a very popular app for Toronto, and his app gets 100x more downloads than competing apps yet when an article gets written about the subject it never mentions his app but in fact mentions those written by someone who is a friend to the writer. At least you think they would mention my friends app which is far more popular but no!
Many of my enterpreneur friends complain about the same and the sad part is that for most, the only local coverage they got is when Google or Apple bought their company!

Just try it for yourself, pull any local blog or paper today and you will find the connection, even worse, you will find articles mentioning the same people over and over as if they are they only ones doing any work here.

June 8, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSamir

Hey Samir - thanks for your comment. I agree with you, there are lots of untold success stories in Toronto's start-up scene.
I see opportunities. There is an opportunity for a passionate individual to create content and tell those stories. As for the Toronto tech media, any startup with a good story has an opportunity to reach out to them and earn some attention.

June 12, 2012 | Registered CommenterLeona Hobbs

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