HOW TO PITCH: PR PROS TELL ALL
If the term "self-promotion" makes you cringe, listen up. Being a creative these days means you have to get comfortable with selling your work, and selling yourself. Whether you're seeking exposure for a recent campaign or side project, launching a business, or simply getting your name out there, familiarizing yourself with PR is a must. To help step up your comms game, we sought out the best of the business to share their advice on the do's and don'ts of pitching. All Working Not Working member agencies, each of them has extensive experience in getting work talked about. One of them was was even named to this year's AdWeek’s PR Industry’s 30 Under 30.
While there is an art to the pitch, here's the good news: it's not rocket science. "You can get your work out there and written about. All it takes is some common sense, courtesy, and a little homework. Good luck!"
Marianne Stefanowicz, Droga5
Marianne Stefanowicz is the Global Head of Communications at Droga5. She has managed in-house PR for agencies for almost 15 years on three different continents and in global roles at both TBWA and now Droga5. Originally from the U.K., Marianne now lives in NYC.
My favorite Droga5 campaign:
Under Armour's "I Will What I Want" featuring ballerina Misty Copeland for its efforts to redefine a category and inspire millions of women with her story.
I've been pitching marketing stories, agency news and creative work for close to 15 years. I don’t think I fit the stereotype of a PR person. What you see is what you get. I can't tell even a teeny tiny white lie. I wear my heart on my sleeve and if that’s not enough, my facial expressions will give me away every time. This has served me well over the years. As the journalists I work with hopefully recognize, the more I genuinely believe in something, the more effort I put behind it. I couldn't do this job without a passion for the business I'm pitching. With that in mind, here are a couple of tips from me to you, if you're trying to get your work written about or are wondering how to better work with your PR friends.
1. Invest time in building relationships. Whether with your PR team or directly with the journalists, take your time to get to know them, what they like to write about, what they don't like to cover, and generally, what their interests are. It's a 101 tip but crucial. Nothing is tougher than pitching cold to someone with whom you've never before crossed paths or sending story ideas on topics to which you know him/her is opposed.
2. Respect the journalist’s editorial rights. Just because you, your roommate and your mom love your latest film, that doesn't mean everyone does. What gets published is at the discretion of the journalist. They don't have to and physically cannot publish every single thing sent to them. So even while they may love your work, there may be bigger or better news that day. It happens. Be okay with it. There are no guarantees!
3. Get the credits right the first time. The biggest bugbear to PR and journalists alike is asking to make changes to campaign credits. (Offenders: you know who you are. Stop it!)
4. Be helpful. Chances are the people writing about your business are doing only that, versus actually working inside that world. They can feel like they are on the outskirts, so taking the time to give them extra information, a backstory, set the context or explain the relevance of the story will pay dividends. They will write a better story, and even if they don't use your material, it can still inform how they write about a topic.
5. Know your stuff, and believe in it. Don't pitch something you know nothing about. Inaccurate answers to a journalist’s questions will result in an inaccurate article. If you don't know, fess up. Find the answer and bring it back. Fudging it will do neither you nor the writer any good. And if you believe in and have passion for your story, it will show. The most natural sales pitches are the ones that you don't have to force.
It’s not rocket science. You can get your work out there and written about. All it takes is some common sense, courtesy and a little homework. Good luck!
Mark Pytlik, Stinkdigital
Canadian-born Mark Pytlik is the Founder and CEO of the global creative agency Stinkdigital. Since its launch in January 2009, the Stink offshoot has grown to 100+ full-time staff members and been responsible for some of the world's most recognized digital and integrated work.
A former journalist, Mark is the former Associate Editor of the advertising publication Boards, the author of the Bjork biography Wow & Flutter and a longtime contributor to the music website Pitchfork. He is currently based in New York.
My favorite Stinkdigital campaign:
My favorite Stinkdigital campaign changes on an almost weekly basis. This week, it's our most recent work for Spotify. "Taste Rewind" takes three of your favorite current artists as inputs and outputs dynamically generated playlists that suggest what someone with your tastes would have been listening to in the 00's, 90's, 80's, 70's and 60's. It's not only beautifully designed and presented, it's immensely intelligent: I've discovered tons of new (old) music since it launched.
1. Distill your proposition into one simple sentence, and lead with that. It doesn’t matter how good the work is; spend too much time on exposition and you’ll risk losing your audience. A sentence that neatly explains why your project is interesting will not only set it up to travel on social media, but it’ll give you an opportunity to get out in front of how people are going to think and talk about your work.
2. Show your work, warts and all. You’ve spent months sweating the details of your project, so it makes sense that you should want your final presented case study to look every bit as considered and crafted. There’s only one problem: actual process is neither considered nor crafted. For people to truly understand what you bring to a project, they need to understand your approach, messiness and all. So don’t be afraid to highlight the wrong turns, dead ends and screw-ups that no doubt mottled your process — they only serve to give you a helpful narrative arc which might further underline what a triumph the finished product really is.
3. Avoid cliches. Imagine you’re sitting at a bar with a stranger. He looks at you, says “This reminds me a story…” and then proceeds to yammer on about a targeted digital marketing campaign for designer nutrition bars. That’s a shitty enough story that one might suggest this stranger isn’t much of a storyteller. Are you sure that you are? Better to avoid cliches. Don’t live at the intersections of things. Talk about your work in clear, direct language. Be a real person. Do whatever you can to help your audience see you as a human being doing actual work, rather than as a marketing-obsessed robot who eats word clouds for breakfast and poops influencer lists before bed.
Krisana Jaritsat, Wolff Olins
Krisana Jaritsat is the Global Head of Content Strategy at Wolff Olins. A born-and-bred New Yorker with a five-year stint in Las Vegas, Krisana has lived in three major US cities and two international cities.
She's dabbled in film, journalism, fashion, talent management and advertising across those cities with the through line being people, "It’s been less about industry and more about people. I’ve been stubbornly and aggressively adamant about surrounding myself with people much smarter than I am... then marinating in their brilliance…then hoping they don’t notice when I steal from them verbatim."
My favorite Wolff Olins campaign:
I have too many favorite projects from Wolff Olins–basically the main reason why I chose to work here–but a recent project out of our Dubai office called Salma I think is incredibly special.
The team worked with Emirates royalty to create a brand that helped put halal food in the hands of Muslim refugees. They named it Salma, which happens to be name of the first Emirati nurse, and is really an innovation in terms of design and concept in how it tackles the typical sterile, burlap-sacked vision of food relief. The team approached the project with so much empathy, positivity, and sensitivity and it shows in their phenomenal outcome.
In no particular order, here are three things I think important to keep in mind when pitching a journalist. Just to preface, I’m by no means the expert and am guilty of omitting some of these principles when pitching. But I try my best to stick to them and find that when I do, I get a much more positive response.
1. Skip the Jargon. Fancy words = Fancy project? No. People are quick to slip into industry jargon and super-size their words in an attempt beef up what they’re pitching... Keep your language simple and sincere; have faith in your project that it’s good enough to stand on its own. Think of it like this: how would describe it to your friends or parents?
2. Research & Respect Your Target. Journalists are getting pitched on a daily basis. Give them the respect to not clutter their Inbox with pitches on topics they won’t be interested in. Research them. Read their past articles, scroll through their Twitter feeds to see, check out what they’re Instagramming. Take note of their writing style and tone of their articles. Make sure they’re still at the outlet you’re contacting them at, as journalists move around often.
3. Keep it Real. Take a step back. Ask yourself: is this really interesting? We can often get caught up in the creation and execution of projects and unfortunately sometimes, that’s more interesting than the end result. It's important to step back and evaluate at the finish line how impressive is the result, really? And if you’re afraid of bias, ask a friend for an honest opinion. If your friend can’t give you a thumbs up, it might be unlikely a journalist would. You don’t have to be a chef to know something tastes good.
Meagan Phillips, 180LA.
Meagan Phillips is the Public Relations Manager at 180LA. Her first job out of college was the reception desk of Goodby, Silverstein & Partners. Over five years, she navigated my way up to managing the agency's communications via new business development and public relations. Through college, she hosted and produced "Rooftop Radio", a program on San Francisco State's KSFS radio. At night she worked as the news and traffic producer at Clear Channel Radio for Northern California.
My favorite 180LA campaign:
Expedia, "No Excuses". Sometimes I fit into the exact demographic our campaigns are made for. These ads, they speak to me. Take for example Expedia's "No Excuses".
Let's talk about this spots' music. I remember the first time I saw Grimes perform she had this baby voice but was wearing a hat with the big letters "PUSSY" across it. She was a polite young woman who still managed to punch you in the face. Which brings me to my next point: the female protagonist in this spot. INTJ, ESFJ, where ever you think you fall on that spectrum, I've learned there's a danger in defining yourself by "introvert" or "extrovert". A few years ago I read Susan Crains' "Quiet Revolution" and it rocked my understanding of where power comes from. This timid woman is afraid to travel because "I don't want to travel by myself", "I usually just go back home to see my parents with my family", and "Where would I go?" Wah, wah, wah.
She eschews her doubts— because screw it— she wants to have an experience. I also need a vacation.
1. Format your text. If you're copying and pasting your email pitches please, please, remove text formatting. It's so sad to see a salutation that's a completely different size and color then the rest of the email. It's like watching a good story die. And God help you if you get the name wrong.
2. Beware the BCC. One time I ignited a spectacularly awry email thread by confusing the "BCC" and "CC" lines. There's nothing like the thrill of a BCC gone wrong. I wish the Google Chrome "undo send" option existed then.
3. Consult your clients. Another big no-no is promoting commercial work without consulting the agency or brand. I’ve seen people send in spec ads, “preferred” cuts, pitch work, all kinds of unofficial content. There’s a fine line between asking for permission and begging for forgiveness. Understand the risk you are taking when you send work around that doesn’t belong to you.