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Church PR: A portrait of a pitch

nun on phone
A Portrait of a Pitch part 1: Short or long-term perspective?
By Daniel Torchia
@dantorchia
Listen to this whole Media Ministry Minutes segment on this week’s SLHour.

Pitching a story to media can be a daunting task – especially if you feel you’re story angle or topic is way off the ‘beat’ or radar of the media in question. Pitching can be, indeed, awkward. But it should not remain that way. The change comes when one considers the underlying significance and important role of a pitch. And the change can mean the difference between fear and confidence (in the pitcher), or poor and excellent relationships (between the media and the pitcher and his/her organization).

If a pitch is very rigid or too “one way”– i.e.: focused only your very specific story, and not much else – then it is destined to fall short of its full potential and will most certainly provide a series of ensuing difficulties for you and your organization. If, however, you are more open to true dialogue, the pitch can be a sure path toward deep-mutual discovery, harmony and long-term benefit.

Short or long-term outreach?
The difference lies in the full intention of the outreach. Has the outreach been orchestrated solely for the coverage of a specific announcement or finite message with little openness for anything beyond that? Or are you and your organization sincerely interested in becoming a trusted partner in the news-making business, knowing that this will yield immeasurable medium or long-term benefit? If the latter is true, then you should be more than happy to entertain story angles that are not part of your immediate campaign (ie: you will be able to address any topic of interest to the media). It also helps, of course, if you and your organization can commit – sincerely – to ongoing communications with media – versus merely waiting for the next publicity blitz or need. That means embracing requests from media in between campaigns and, not to be neglected, communicating most (if not all) noteworthy organizational developments to media through the use of a newsroom or newswire. As you’ve guessed it: you cannot just open and shut the lines of communications as you would a bathroom or kitchen faucet – at least without repercussions. This implies, then, a consistent and transparent approach to organizational communications and media relations. It also requires a bit more time, energy and resources. But it makes all the difference in the world

In my experience, media and other stakeholders (even employees or donors) can sense a one-way communication campaign from a mile away! Having a short-term, myopic and inflexible approach to a pitch is usually indicative of a manipulative or at the very least self-serving attitude toward PR – and relationships. It is not fertile soil for a pitch and, due to its flawed approach, places a lot of pressure on the PR professional, yielding weaker results along the way as well.

Here are some practical tips for your next pitch:
• Know your top two-three key messages, but be prepared to ask the media: “what do you care about?” or “How might I help you broach this topic to your readers/listeners?”
• Know the underlying trends that may run through your topic or topics. For example, if you’re speaking about abortion, brush up on the recent medical discoveries that further illustrate the life of the unborn. Knowing facts and numbers is just as critical.
• Send the pitch via email and follow up by phone – but do your homework before making the call (know the media’s normal subjects of interest, style of writing/coverage etc.)
• Know when to give up. But try again at the next earliest opportunity.
• Continue to monitor the news and your targeted media; see what they cover and try to weave yourself into the conversation.
• Stay the course, pace yourself and never burn a bridge.

Listen to this week’s segment:

Stay tuned for A Portrait of a Pitch part 2: Story angles and the benefits of leaving a message


Photo credit: Sister Anji Fan, a native of China and a member of the Sisters of Providence of St. Mary-of-the-Woods, Ind., speaks on the phone.(CNS photo/Sean Gallagher, The Criterion) (Aug. 1, 2009)

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