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Pitching: A Practical Guide

Phil Harvey

11:30 AM -- Pitching a story to a reporter or editor via telephone is one of the toughest things a publicist has to do. I've had to do it before and I was awful. But I practiced and got less awful over time.

I had one advantage over many of today's PR pros: I am persistent and annoying. When my pitches weren't working, I would phone the editor who just hung up on me 10 seconds earlier and ask: "Okay, I blew it. What did I do wrong?" On a good day, I'd get a notebook full of tips.

All of the sudden, those impatient editors had all day to talk. The subject matter had changed from my client's product to how big of an idiot I had just been. And who doesn't have time to talk about that?

If you're a publicist pitching Light Reading, you have a much easier task. For starters, you can get a list of everyone on our masthead and all the stuff we profess to cover right here. I say "profess" because our editors are highly independent and versatile and they're likely to write about whatever damn thing they want, depending on what's going on in the telecom world.

A better idea would be to visit each editor's bio page so you can see EVERYTHING they've done on the site: articles, comments, blogs, videos, etc. On most of the bio pages you will find a working phone number, an active email address, and a social-networking platform where that editor can easily be found, hiding in plain sight. Most of us even have introductory videos on our pages. See how miserable and tired we look?

To find an editor's bio page all you need to do is figure out their first name. My name's Phil, and my bio page is www.lightreading.com/phil. See how that works? Now try that same URL, but use Dan, Sarah, Carol, Jeff, Gagandeep, Ray, Michelle, or Craig instead of Phil.

You're welcome.

Now that you know who we are, what we write about, what city we're in, and so on, it should be easier to guess what kinds of stories we might like to write next -- and you can craft your pitch accordingly.

While you're crafting, here are five more ways to improve your phone pitches:

  1. Don't ask: "Do you have a minute?" We answered the phone. If we didn't have a minute, we wouldn't answer the phone.

  2. Pitch a story, not a client. Reporters like stories, not announcements, press conferences, or embargoed fluff. If you don't have a story, offer up a supporting character (your client) as a source of information, quotes, and general knowledge. It helps if your client really is a character.

  3. Unless you're calling at bedtime, don't read to us. If a reporter asks a question about your client and you retreat to a script, you've lost. You're no longer a source; you're a telemarketer.

  4. Show us the research. If you think we might be convinced that some trend you're pitching really is a trend, by all means, lay on the stats.

  5. Keep pitching. If our editors don't like the story you're pitching, they'll say, "No thanks." That's your cue to come up with a better idea, do some research, and pitch again.

Bonus advice: Ending a phone call with, "Let me send you an email with more information" is a passive way of putting off rejection. After you get a "No thanks," usually nothing you email will result in a story. Be a pro, do your homework, and come back with a better pitch.

Good luck out there, PR people. I know from experience that it sucks to be you.

— Phil Harvey, Editor-in-Chief, Light Reading

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