4 Essential PR Pitching Tips for Entrepreneurs

What are the biggest mistakes entrepreneurs make when pitching their business or story to an online influencer or news reporter?

It’s about relating to influencers as people, not objects to be manipulated, says Mark Schaefer, a speaker, consultant and author of a new book, KNOWN: The Handbook for Building and Unleashing Your Personal Brand in the Digital Age.”

Schaefer is also a popular blogger who has been interviewed by  CNN, MSNBC, Fast Company and The New York Times.  When I asked Schaefer and a few other social media influencers and traditional journalists about the do’s and don’ts of pitching stories, he was quick to point out that most companies view influence marketing as a short-term campaign instead of a relationship. “A better way to think about things is to frame it as ‘influencer relations’ and not  ‘influencer marketing.’ Influencers should be in the same category as somebody in the press or an analyst, at least when it comes to B2B. B2C may be different in terms of being more product-oriented than relationship-oriented, but it still gets down to relating to influencers as people, not objects to be manipulated.”

First, let’s define an online influencer as someone who has a significant social media presence through their own chat, LinkedIn group, Facebook group page, YouTube following, videos, etc. Think Gary Vaynerchuck, Kim Garst, Jay Baer, Amy Porterfield and Ann Handley. Traditional news reporters and decision makers are those who have professional education and training as journalists (not opinionated talking heads and commentators) but top notch reporters such as Gordon Deal, Mark Hamrick, Jason Hiner, Jessica Wohl and Deb Hipp.

For our purposes, influencers and reporters as one in the same. In addition to Schaefer, I asked a few other influencers about their preferences on pitches, writing and relationships. Entrepreneurs and people looking for publicity, take note!

On email pitches and subject lines:

Melinda Emerson is Twitter’s @SmallBizLady  and founder of the #SmallBizChat on Wednesday nights. She’s also the author of Become Your Own Boss in 12 Months.

• Keep pitches short and to the point. Long emails are really old-fashioned.

Marty Daks is a freelance business writer and founder of a PR consultancy, Daks & Associates. He works with publications, businesses and educational institutions including The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and The University of Chicago. Daks was also a reporter for NJ Biz for many years:

• The subject line must be clear so I know what you are pitching and why I should be interested in it NOW. Entrepreneurs must also do research before they write to me, making certain that I cover the area or industry they are pitching.

Racquel Williams, a radio news anchor and news director at Beasley Media Group in Somerset, NJ, has been a reporter since 1990. She says three components of an email subject line pique her interest:

• Does it pertain to MY audience? If my audience is typically an older crowd, don’t send me a release about a hot new dating site that, “Blows Tinder out of the water!” (Which way do I swipe to delete?)
• Brevity. It’s a subject line. I may be more inclined to “read on” with just a choice few words that sums it all up.
• Don’t tease. I will undoubtedly delete it without reading if the subject line states, “Your listeners need to hear this!” It screams spam.

On PR blunders and goofs:

Schaefer says he rarely opens email pitches from people he doesn’t know. “I will do anything I can to help my friends. If I get an email from someone who has commented on my blog, reviewed my books or interacted with me on Twitter, I am more apt to read their pitch. If I don’t know you, I probably won’t even open the thing. And getting cold calls from strangers is just creepy.”

When it comes to pitching, Emerson suggests: “Don’t sell too quickly. Take the time to build trust and a relationship. It takes a minimum of seven—and as many as 21 quality interactions—to turn a contact into an online sale. It’s the same for connecting with influencers.”

Daks says mistakes with spelling and grammar are his pet peeves. “Poor spelling and/or grammar could indicate a phishing or other malware scam, and I probably won’t open your email.”

According to Williams, availability is essential. “Make sure your—or your client—is available for an interview. There’s nothing worse than wanting to conduct an interview, but hearing, ‘The doctor is in surgery all day and leaving for vacation tomorrow, sorry.’”

On writing your pitch:

Hands down, all four of these leaders agree that brevity rules. Daks says to keep the pitch short and be sure to include the essentials. Think like a news writer, he advises.

Williams offers this gem: “Get to it! The world now communicates in 140 characters.”

How about press releases? Are they useful these days or simply too long? Daks says he prefers a short message and a press release within the body of an email. All four influencers said to sending attachments for obvious technology and potential virus issues.

On follow-up phone calls:

The jury is still out on this facet of PR. While Schaefer said calls from people he doesn’t know are “creepy,” Daks prefers a follow-up call. “Editors are busy with emails, and yours can easily get lost or overlooked,” he said.

Williams is OK with phone calls too but says: “If you must call, ditch the BFF fakery and just say you’re calling because ‘so and so’s’ interview slots are filling up and you would like to know if I want in. That works on me for some reason. It sparks the FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) factor big time!”

One journalist who writes for major business publications told me off the record: “It’s really hard to pitch me. I get about 100-200 pitches a week, and many are off-target. I find most of my stories myself and then seek out sources. I can’t use something that’s been batch-pitched to two dozen other places. And most folks don’t take the time to read and try to understand the types of stories I do before contacting me.”

In the end, Emerson says folks who want to be recognized as experts in their field or featured as a trusted source must do their homework. “Opportunities don’t come every day, so it’s important to be ready. Be well-read, research new business contacts, stay up on industry trends and nail your unique value proposition.”