What is the best way to pitch a writer – by phone or email? When should I stop calling to ask if you’ve seen my pitch? How much editorial control do vendors exercise over custom content sites?
Those were among the questions I got at a recent lunchtime talk at a Boston-area PR firm. I was invited to describe how I operate, as a blogger and free-lance writer, and how PR pros can work most effectively with folks like me.
For all of you who weren’t there for the pizza and my presentation (which you can download here, complete with samples of PR pitches done right and wrong), here’s a synopsis:
Q: When is the best time to contact you with a pitch?
Q: There are no good or bad times, as my work schedule is completely unpredictable. Since I don’t cover a beat for a trade publication, or have a regular story submission schedule, there are no regular “deadlines” to work around. On the other hand, I often go from calm to overbooked within hours. What’s more important than the timing is the form of a pitch. (See question below.)
Q: What is the best way to contact you – email or phone?
A: Email. Phone calls are an intrusive interruption, no matter what I’m working on. Given the low likelihood a pitch will turn into an interview or, much less, a story the interruption usually isn’t worth my time, or, frankly, that of the PR person.
Q: What kind of story idea pitches are you interested in?
A: Right now, none. When I write for trade publications (click here to subscribe to my email update on such stories) it’s always based on an assignment from them. Pitching stories isn’t something I typically do, as it requires a lot of up-front work with an uncertain likelihood of a return. For other writers, though, that might not be the case. A quick email asking if they’re open to such story idea pitches, and what areas they’re most interested in, could be worthwhile.
Having said that, some vendor-sponsored sites such as TechBeacon (sponsored by HP Enterprise) ask writers to come up with a steady stream of story pitches in a specific area such as security or DevOps. The difference here is that the Web site promises a regular stream of work, as long as the writer does a good enough job pitching. To get your sources exposure on these sites, treat them like a trade pub: Monitor what your target editor and others are writing about on the site and pitch accordingly. If these sites offer a handy “trending” or “what’s popular” list all the better, as that shows you the topics the editors will want more coverage of.
Q: How much editorial control does the vendor have over a site they sponsor?
A: This varies based on the site and whether the aim is to generate high-level visibility and thought leadership or to generate short-term leads. In my experience, most vendors downplay their sponsorship and hire IT trade press veterans to run the site. They want the site to look and feel more like a trade pub than a marketing site, tracking what stories visitors read to generate profiles and score them as leads.
Q: How do we pitch ideas or sources to editors of such sites?
A: First, make sure your idea or source can provide information that is original, detailed and timely (download my content quality control check list here). Then, make sure your source isn’t a direct competitor of the site sponsor, or that their messaging doesn’t contradict that of the vendor. You wouldn’t want to, for example, pitch a story about the continued value of tape storage to a vendor that just dumped their tape business.
The good news: Some complementary vendors are featured regularly in such sites (see one example here.) If in doubt, this is one time where a detailed, specific query to the site editor is worthwhile and shows you’re doing your homework.
Q: I emailed you a pitch and you didn’t respond. How often should I call to check for a response?
A: This was the toughest question and one where I was caught in a lie. My immediate response was “Don’t call or email me again – if I’m interested I’ll call you.” But one of the PR pros reminded me that sometimes such nudges have reminded me of a good idea I overlooked at first glance, or of a source I didn’t need when first pitched but can use as my deadline looms.
Bottom line advice: If you really think your idea or source is strong, limit the nudging to one email per week, focusing specifically on why you think it’s a good fit and asking what, if anything, could make it stronger. Then it’s in the editor’s hands to be courteous enough to at least respond.
Even if we can’t do lunch, email me your questions about best PR practices (or anything else) and I’ll answer them in a future post.