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PR Marketing: Pitching a Fit

The complaint I hear most often from editors is that the people who send them press releases haven’t taken the trouble of reading their magazines and newsletters before sending off irrelevant stuff.

To pitch successfully, whether you’re seeking sponsorship or publicity, takes research, intelligence, intuition and a little imagination. Finding the perfect “fit” – the idea that matches your needs to your target’s goals -- takes work. It takes individual, customized investigation -- and not a little time – to find that kernel of an idea inside the husk.

Pitching the perfect fit is like finding the piece to a puzzle. You start with a general framework: you’ve heard that such an such a team is switching sponsors, or a promotions director is changing companies, or the editor of one of your trade magazines is planning a story on what you do. Then you start thinking about how to make your message fit into that empty space. Many people tackle this assignment by sending out a generic proposal or pitch letter that is one-size-fits-all. But I don’t believe this approach works. It’s the source of frustration on both sides, and of endless moaning about how hard it is to find sponsorship and how poorly prepared junior PR people can be. When you take a little extra time to find out what the sponsor or editor is looking for, you can provide information that starts filling in the space for the missing piece. You won’t take any more time in the “discovery phase” of your pitch than you would stuffing envelopes with multiple copies of your generic proposal if you focus only on the people who are actually interested in what you have to say. Even press releases must answer the requirement of relevancy. You need to know the editors, by name and publication if you hope to have your news get to someone who can use it. Addressing your emailed release individually is then a matter of common sense, in my opinion. If the publication is one you consider important enough to carry your press release, it should be important enough to custom-tailor with an individual email and even a quick opening note about why you thought that editor could use the news. You could take a similar approach to sponsorship if you’re offering an event or platform with many supporting sponsor slots. But if you’re really clever – and seek a major sponsor or story placement -- you shape your information into exactly the form of that missing piece we talked about earlier. You craft all the “hooks” into your pitch that lock your concept into place to complete the bigger picture the sponsor or editor has in mind.

In a recent pitch for a new PR account, we earned credit for building our presentation specifically around what we could find out about the project (the restoration of a Grand Hotel on the New Hampshire seacoast). Instead of a generic capabilities presentation, we pitched the fit between the owner’s needs (experience, expertise and local knowledge) and us. When we suggested historic characters costumed in the fabric being used in the restored ballroom, we were shaping the hooks in the puzzle piece (us) that fit the gap in his picture of what was to come.

Similarly, after reading that Gatorade was moving away from Official NASCAR Sports Drink status, I contacted them about a Round the World Over Both Poles air record opportunity. I had already researched their website for “hooks” and found a Gatorade Canada division that might share the cost and have a connection to the Air Canada equipment being used. Then, with a phone call, I learned that all Gatorade sponsorships require an active “hot and sweaty” presence so helped the pilot supply details on endurance flights and the need for hydration and electrolyte balance to avoid Deep Vein Thrombosis. We even checked out Admr. Richard Byrd’s account of his Antarctic expedition and the effects of dehydration in his book, “Alone.” Each bit of relevant information was an exciting discovery, bringing the concept of our proposal more to life and shaping it to make it more relevant to Gatorade, more of a perfect fit. Each bit also added to those drawers and shelves of fragments of knowledge that get rooted through each time there’s a new pitch to make.

As it turned out, the puzzle piece we crafted for Gatorade was much bigger, in terms of budget, than the hole they had to fill (although that was, as it should be, one of the first questions asked.) It was not a perfect fit. But in the process we learned more about the company, their products, their marketing philosophy, the challenge of flying a 747 continuously round the world, and Richard Byrd. And that, to me, is what this business is good for – making each of us a bit more aware of our circumstances, the connections, the logic, the outcome and imagination that keeps us from marching in lock step.

I guess that’s why it seems I’m always pitching a fit. ###

For more 'how to' thoughts like these, see my book: PR Marketing: Making a Splash Without Much Cash.

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