Pitching is passé
I’ve been meaning to chime in on this one.
Steve Rubel stirred the PR pot when he said pitching is dead. Lots of public relations professionals responded, sometimes with ire, saying “it’s not.”
For me, the issue isn’t whether it’s dead or alive. But that it’s the wrong approach.
Reporters don’t want to be “pitched.” I dislike this word because it represents a one-way form of communication. “I’ve got this to say, shut up and listen.”
Journalists don’t want to hear a sales pitch. But they are interested in hearing a good story. What we typically call “articles,” “coverage” or “publicity,” journalists invariably call “stories. That’s no accident.
From the Bible to “Make Way for Ducklings,” to Elizabeth Edwards’s struggle with cancer, stories are the way we interpret the world, form our beliefs and convey information. Stories organize random facts and spotlight key ideas in a way that is appealing.
Why do PR professionals continue to “pitch” the media rather than engaging them with a story? The media’s reputation for cynicism is well-earned, and with news space shrinking, they’re especially happy to spike an idea if the person seems to be selling something.
I’m not suggesting that everything we must communicate has story potential. Sometimes there is no story; it’s just a piece of news or information to convey. But often there is a hidden story and we don’t work hard enough to find it, structure it like a story and communicate it in this manner.
What makes a story a story versus an item you want covered? At its most elemental level, every story has a character, problem, struggle and resolution.
For a 3D CAD client of ours, the “story” focused on global matters of the highest import, not the product: The CEO was on his way to Rwanda to help launch a Rwanda-owned business aimed at revitalizing the impoverished, post-genocide country. He was donating software and training people who desperately needed business expertise.
Sometimes we get it right.
I like the way John Sobol talks about storytelling. “The stories that are told by employees to each other about their company, that are told by customers to each other, told by management to staff, told by marketers to the public, told by executives at conferences, told by the media – a company’s reputation, its business objectives, its brand, its products and services, its recruiting and much much more – are all deeply bound up in this matrix of living stories that are told by and about a company.”
Sobol believes every organization would benefit from a Chief Storytelling Officer who “considers how stories work their way through an organization’s ecosystem, internal and external, top to bottom, and ensures their impact is as positive as possible.”
May your story have a happy ending.