How Not to Pitch

how not to pitch to mediaOne of the great things about being headquartered in Atlanta is our agency’s presence at Atlanta Tech Village (ATV).   If you haven’t been yet, I highly recommend heading to Buckhead to see first-hand what’s happening.  They’ve created not only a visually stunning space but an atmosphere that is buzzing with creative spirit, collaboration and the chance to see startups in their natural habitat (the coffee and snacks aren’t bad either).   We have a small, private office on the second floor that is perfect for meeting with clients based located in the Village or connecting those looking for some PR counsel.  We are working to keep regular office hours there so you can always find a member of the T/K staff.

In addition to hosting flexible work spaces for entrepreneurs, ATV hosts a series of events for the community.  One of the most popular is the #startupchowdown- a weekly lunch and meet and greet for the tech, and tech curious.   It’s a great way to get a feeling for the supportive environment they’re creating for entrepreneurs in the village.

They also host events sponsored by outside organizations.  Business Wire, one of the leading press release distribution companies sponsored a recent lunch and learn as part of their #BWChat series.   The turnout was great—what startup isn’t going to want to attend a panel designed to help them get valuable media attention?   For me the draw was to connect with writers including the AJC’s Matt Kempner who we’ve successfully worked with for several years on columns and features, and also to hear from other Atlanta communications pros and serial entrepreneurs including Eric Holtzclaw who is now hosting a new business radio talk show in addition to his work with Inc. Magazine.

Frankly, as someone who’s worked in public relations for the past decade-plus, I wasn’t shocked to hear most of the advice that came from our panel.  In fact, it was reassuring:  our staff is amazing at ensuring  we work to create timely, relevant and compelling pitches that are targeted exactly to the journalists we hope to reach.  We work hard to create relationships with journalists, ensuring we provide value even when we’re not pitching a client story idea.

The panel did some basic blocking and tackling that for the audience that was easily 50% startups, entrepreneurs or those looking to do a little DIY public relations work.  The stage was set for why it can be so hard to get your story out in the marketplace.  Stats we already know:  journalists receive hundreds of email pitches every day and nearly 7,000 stories cross newswires each day—the numbers are not in your favor.   The panel did a great job discussing why it’s so important to create interest and getting your head out of the box that your company or industry may be in.  Matt Kempner said regarding creating interest: “If you did not work in this specific industry—would you care?  My stories need to touch humans.  While I may quote a small business owner or a tech entrepreneur—they’re not the whole story.  They simply add vale and provide details to help demonstrate a trend.”

Then came the fun part.  The moderators opened up the panel to be pitched— right there on the spot. It felt a little like Shark Tank. Would the companies that raised their hand take heed of the advice they just heard?  Could they think beyond their own company or product to pitch a story idea that could reach a mass audience, demonstrate a trend, or put some piece of information into a larger context?

I’d love to tell you the answer was yes.   Instead one after another, brave participants raised their hand and began to talk about their company/product/innovation/app.   Nearly every single one of them stayed focused on telling the panel of journalist about their amazing offering.   Hyperbole was used, and often.   They were doing a great job SELLING their company.  No one pitched a story idea.

But something interesting was happening.  If the panel let them keep talking, usually somewhere around their 5th sentence you would heard something.   Perhaps it was an anecdote, or a reference to another larger company, a statistic or idea but it made my ears perk up.   It was the lead—buried somewhere beneath the sales pitch that everyone begrudgingly listened to up until that point.

It wasn’t my job but I desperately wanted to raise my hand and say “THAT’S THE STORY!”  For one brave entrepreneur that created a new app that aggravated events around Atlanta all I could think of was: “I bet he has amazing data on what weird and off beat activities people are interested in.” Sure enough, when the panel dug a little deeper with him he revealed he has access to tons of data, including an interesting find that break dancing events have become really popular.  There’s the story!

I have to give credit to these folks:  they’re genuinely interested in finding out how to break through the ridiculously competitive world of earning editorial coverage and it takes a lot of courage to stand up and pitch in front of a crowd.  Learning the difference between a sales pitch and a story pitch takes time. Some may even be successful trying their hand at pitching their story on their own.  Others will seek professional counsel.  That’s where we come in.   Come find us at Atlanta Tech Village next time and we’ll happily listen to your pitch.


About Lauren Sullivan Shankman

Lauren is a two-time boomerang employee of Trevelino Keller where she currently serves as a senior media relations specialist. When she’s not pitching stories she’s playing taxi driver for three awesome kids or seeking ethnic eats with her husband.

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