How to Pitch Respectfully (Put Down the Phone)
BY Ed Zitron
Why PR people need to read more and call less.
In May 2012, Ryan Lawler joined tech blog TechCrunch after a career that spanned other successful tech blogs such as GigaOm and Light Reading. The reputation of founder and "Kingmaker" blogger and venture capitalist Michael Arrington has made TechCrunch the holy grail of tech PR coverage, and created perpetual desperation for PR people. The result? Aabout 350 emails a day in Lawler’s inbox. And that’s not even the worst of it.
Lawler’s phone is easily-available with a few searches of media databases, leading to hundreds of rage-inducing cold calls each month. Worse, he receives unsolicited pitches on every available social channel regardless of his obvious preferences.
"I evaluate all pitches at my TechCrunch email address, and so I personally expect all pitches to come to me there. That means no Facebook messages, Twitter DMs, LinkedIn InMail, About.me messages, emails sent to my personal email, and certainly no phone calls," he said.
Call me never.
Many PR people are told by senior people to make call-downs--calling everyone who hasn’t emailed you back--and reporters despise it. "I never want to be called by a PR person unless I am expecting the call. Especially for cold pitches. Email is the best way to pitch me. If I don't respond to the email, it's simply because I don't have the time to say "no" to the hundreds of pitches I receive each week," said Steve Kovach, Senior Editor at Business Insider. "I hit silent on every single call that comes to my phone."
In the last two years of PR, I’ve made a handful of outbound calls, and only because the reporter said "call me." The last cold call I made, back in 2008, ended with a "No" and a vicious click. Why? Because anyone writing for a website doesn’t deal with a time-based deadline, but one consistent deadline that ends when their heart stops beating.
Respect their boundaries.
The lack of consideration for a reporter isn’t just stupid, it’s negligent and will damage your reputation, according to Lawler.
"When a PR person takes me out of my preferred channel for receiving and evaluating potential news, it tells me a few things:
"They don't know me, and haven't bothered to find out how I like to get pitched. That reeks of laziness. I mean, come on, it's all over my Twitter account for God’s sake."
"They aren't being considerate of my time, or my personal workflow. Most phone pitches I get come in while I'm on deadline, or in a meeting, or basically in the mood to do anything but ANSWER A PHONE PITCH."
"They are likely a junior associate and don't know any better, and have been told to do this by someone who should know better. In other words, their entire organization is stupid."
Not all press is good press.
Annoyingly, disrespectful pitching can still work. Then 15-year-old developer of the app Summly, Nick D’Alosio, harassed Casey Chan of Gizmodo, and then proceeded to do so to the entire Gizmodo staff. Gizmodo featured the app as the Worst App of the Week, and then removed it after deciding it was childish. D’Alosio desperately pleaded to be put back on. This didn’t stop from D’Alosio selling his startup to Yahoo! Two years later for $30M. In fact, the piece no doubt drew attention to Summly, and according to a 2011 study by Stanford, reported by The Economist, all news (even negative) can be good news for an unknown company.
However, the most important part that these consistent declarations of "all press is good press" is the fact that being an annoying PR gadfly can simply get you ignored--especially to Lawler. "Even in cases where I might have been interested in a company or technology or news event…I'm disinclined to cover if I receive a phone call about it, simply because it tells me that the firm and PR person on the other line doesn't know what they're doing and I don't want to reward them for bad behavior."
Think before you pitch.
Disrespectful pitching is often more complex than simply picking up the phone. For television producers like Scott McGrew, business and technology reporter for NBC Bay Area, many PR people fail to do their homework. "I am often surprised how unfamiliar people are with my shift. Considering they’re pitching for inclusion on my morning shows--and we start up at 4:30am--they’d figure out that I don’t work at 4 o’clock in the afternoon."
McGrew, who both produces and hosts segments, is sympathetic to PR people and the job they have to do, but won’t tolerate lies or disrespect.
"It’s best to email me. If you call, I will forget minutes later. And all it takes to talk to me is to know my beat. My viewers don’t just use smart phones, they make smart phones. If you’re pitching a startup, I will want details like who they’re getting funding from and you’d best know it--different details to most. Really, the only way you can upset me is with a last minute cancellation of an interview or a story that is clearly not what you pitched--a bait and switch. Then you go on a list--literally. It’s not long, but it’s pinned to my cubicle wall."
In the end, tenacious email questions will win you far more friends than calling up to ask if someone got your pitch. And even then, if one or two don’t seem to hit home, perhaps it’s time to give up.
ED ZITRON is the founder of EZ-PR, a PR and media relations company based in New York City and Raleigh, North Carolina. He is also of the author of This Is How You Pitch: How to Kick Ass in Your First Years of PR. He has worked with Target and the Nature Publishing Group, as well as smaller startups and tech figureheads. He covered the technology and video games industry for seven years for Future Publishing and Eurogamer. @edzitron