– By Alyssa Sy de Jesus
Rejection is a natural part of the PR process, especially when it comes to pitching. I like to call it getting “pitch slapped”. 10 to 20 per cent of the time, you get pitch slapped because the journalist is too busy meeting deadlines and trying to sort through the hundreds of other pitches that they’ve received. But I like to believe that no matter how good your research, story, or angle is, it’s so much more dependent on how you deliver your pitch. 80-90 per cent of the success rate of your pitch and hook is on you. This is why the pitch slapping that I got yesterday is about 80-90 per cent my fault.
Recently, in an attempt to improve upon my pitching, I came across a chapter by Jay S. Conger, a professor of organizational behavior, in the Harvard Business Review’s guide to “Communicating Effectively”. Conger writes the following “straightforward” approach as a “surefire way” for ineffective business communication:
“First, you strongly state your position. Second, you outline the supporting arguments, followed by a highly assertive data-based exposition. Finally, you enter the deal-making stage and work toward a “close”. In other words, you use logic, persistence, and personal enthusiasm to get others to buy a good idea.”
Guilty as charged. I sometimes forget that this “straightforward” approach is what sometimes gets me into a pitch slapping situation. Communication in PR is not a straightforward formula, but a process that takes patience, research, and emotional instinct. I find that Conger’s “Four Essential Steps” for effective communication helps to remind me of what I need to do to ensure that I am not using a straightforward approach to the process of PR:
1. “Establish Credibility”
As Conger terms it, establishing credibility is done with at least one of two things: expertise and relationships. In PR I think that both are essential. You achieve PR credibility by demonstrating your expertise in your own field and being well-researched in your client’s industry. Along with that, you gain credibility by showing the ability to be personable and to positively relate to people.
2. “Frame for Common Ground”
This is about being able to communicate “tangible shared benefits” with the other person. It’s not enough to say to a reporter, “You should write about this because it’s big news.” De-abstract that statement and find specific reasons as to why they and their readers will benefit from this type of news.
3. “Provide Evidence”
Conger is not talking about stats, facts, and numbers alone. Instead, find out what sort of “vivid” and significant story can you put together from your research. This is also where you can test your skills in words and language. I found that I got a more positive response by changing my wording from “local contest” to a warmer sounding and more proactive “community-based competition”.
4. “Connect Emotionally”
Although emotional connection is key, how much is too much emotion? You have to bear in mind that you still have to remain professional. Conger gives a really great tip in saying that you ought to do “emotional matchmaker” with the other person. Cue in on the amount of emotion that they are giving to the conversation and follow along with that. In PR, this can be a challenge when a media contact expresses exasperation with being overwhelmed with many other pitches. Your job is not to cater to their exasperation and give up on your own pitch. Your job is to take their emotion into consideration and work on a way to reframe your hook in accordance to their interest.
As I continue to develop my pitches for my respective contacts, I find that Conger’s checklist is a great starting point of reference that inspires constant research, processing, practice, and connecting. Although it is a checklist, Conger’s advice is not a formula. Instead, I see it as prompting points for the sort of thorough work and processing that PR requires. It’s tools like Conger’s check list that helps me get back up after a rejected pitch. Because in PR, you shouldn’t get “pitch pounded” or “pitch beat”. You get pitch SLAPPED because it’s a wake-up call to action and reaction.