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Monday, March 23, 2015

Making a Generic Media Pitch Personal: GIS Edition

Pitching is Personal

Pitching a story to the media is part art and part science. Pitching, in general, says the dictionary means "to present … for consideration." I've seen a lot of pitches in my inbox. The vast majority are generic; the same e-mail is sent to multiple people in different positions at different publications with different beats (areas of coverage). One of my favorites had the salutation, "Dear Susan." I'm sure it was intended for Susan Smith at GIS Cafe!
Image "Zack Greinke" by Keith Allison
under CC BY-SA 2.0

The rest of the pitches I recall stand out exactly because they were personal. I act on pitches from people I know first; they are from people who've taken the time to form a relationship with me. The first time personal pitches, where the relationship is just beginning, require more consideration. I'm most likely to consider pitches that convince me they know who I am and that I will be interested in what they have to say. I met Elliot Cohen that way and not long after wrote about his company, CityMaps. That relationship has continued; I was just in contact with CityMaps president the other day because they were back in the news with a funding deal. 

Turning a Generic Pitch into a Personal One

The generic pitches form the basis of a media strategy called "spray and pray." Hopeful press relations and marketing staffers distribute their pitch far and wide and hope one or two recipients will follow up. The process has limited effectiveness and can give a company or a public relations firm a less than stellar reputation with media. How can those tasked with getting some earned media (see this post for a recap if that's a new term) for their organization step up from a generic pitch to a personal one? It's not hard; it just takes a little time.

I received a generic pitch the other day that can serve as an example. I've removed the company information.
Hi Adena,
I'm a (title) at (company) and I work on (our product).

We are extending free personal licenses of (product) to a select group of industry influencers, to help with product recognition. We want to give folks who may not necessarily fit the typical paying customer profile the chance to work with (product) beyond the (trail period).

There is absolutely no obligation or expectation from this offer, but we'd love for you to get a chance to try out (product) and spread the word if you think it could be a useful tool for your audience. We're also interested in any comments, suggestions, or feedback you may have to help make (product) even better. Let me know if you are interested and I will setup your account so you can start kicking the tires today!

Thanks for your time and very best regards,
It's a pleasant note. I should mention that the first paragraph did explain what the product does, not just provide its name. I removed that to keep the company anonymous. I am familiar with the product, though I'd not used it. In short, the first paragraph was fine.

The second paragraph has room for improvement. I'm flattered to be considered an industry influencer, but I'd feel more connected if the writer acknowledged I was a blogger, speaker, educator, podcaster or something else. I'm not familiar with the term "product recognition," but I think I understand what the writer has in mind. I am curious why I'd need to work with the product beyond the generous trial period available to everyone. Is it possible the offering will be difficult for me, not a "typical paying customer," to use?

Here's how that paragraph might be rewritten to speak directly to me. I've based on it on information publicly available about me on the Web.
We are extending free personal licenses of (product) to bloggers who cover GIS to help grow our brand. We read Ignite Education and know you write for GIS educators. We want to give those with industry knowledge the chance to work with (product) and share their experiences. In particular, we think your audience of educators would be interested in (this aspect of the product). We are happy to extend an evaluation beyond the (trail period) if needed.
The third paragraph includes the term "audience." This is a good place to identify that audience explicitly. The writer might do so either broadly (people who use Esri software) or more narrowly (college educators who teach GIS). That information can help me decide to spend time learning the product and writing about it. The writer clearly states what his employer will get out of my participation ("product recognition") but hasn't shared the benefit to my employer, in the current situation, me or my readers.

The request for feedback is, I'm sure, genuine. Still, I did consider what I would get out of testing the product and providing feedback. Why? This past week I tested some new steam irons and washer/drier sets. I was paid $100. (This is not part of my consulting work; it's how I raise money for charity.) Here's how the third paragraph might be enhanced.
We'd love for you to get a chance to try out (product) and spread the word if you think it could be a useful tool for your audience of GIS educators. We're also interested in any comments, suggestions, or feedback you may have to help make (product) even better. Feel free to include those ideas in your coverage; we appreciate the constructive criticism you've shared about education software in the past. Let me know if you are interested and I will setup your account today!
I can't speak for all members of the media, but I appreciate knowing that the person pitching has read at least one of my articles relevant to the pitch. It's an indication that while I might no know it yet, we already have a relationship.


There are many resources for those pitching stories to bloggers, columnists, speakers and other influencers. These two are good starting points from Forbes and Cision.

I boil the best practices down to just three points:
  1. Do your homework on the influencer - Know where and how they communicate, what topics they cover and for whom. 
  2. Use that information - Illustrate how your story/opportunity fits with their work and how it will benefit them/those they influence.
  3. Work to create a strong longterm relationship - The next time you are in touch, your pitch may go to the top of the pile!