His book, This Is How You Pitch, promises to dispel the unfortunately common idea that a career in PR is an endless series of parties and mutual back scratches between journalists and the people who do what we do. According to its own site, the book can “tell you how to avoid becoming a buzzword-spitting automaton that the media will hate.”
Curious? We spoke to Zitron to learn more about his (very blunt) take on the art of pitching…and the just-as-important art of clearing up misconceptions.
Why should PR people read your book?
Because it’s actually written to help people; it is honest in terms of what I’ve seen work. I wrote it as honestly and grimly as possible, because this isn’t a job most people want to do or can do.
Most PR books put too rosy an outlook on agency work. They talk of “dream clients” that the media will actually want to talk to, but to be perfectly honest, most PR people are repping something the media will not be interested in.
No book I ever read about PR said that. The closest was BJ Mendelson’s Social Media Is Bullshit, and that one’s not really even about PR.
What do people most need to know about the pitching process?
You can’t turn lead into gold. If something isn’t a good product, then you will most likely never truly succeed…you have to be realistic in terms of putting round things in square holes. You need to find a reporter for whom the product fits into what they’re doing.
Bad agencies often take on clients, make grand gestures, then kick the work down the line to anyone below them. If you can’t do the work, it’s so much better to say “no, I can’t do this.”
Why would they take these bad clients on? Some in management are so disconnected from real life and pitching that they don’t know what is actually required; they’re certainly not going to do the work themselves.
So management is responsible?
Form pitching is the fault of both managers and the PR education system. There should be pitching courses (two to three classes) in every PR program, but I took PR at Penn State and they didn’t even mention pitching. They mentioned bloggers in a weird, idealistic “they can’t wait to hear from you” way.
Why do I keep getting pitches for ad tracking software at a blog read by agency creatives when the two obviously don’t fit?
Because someone went into a database, clicked “people who write about advertising” list, put it into excel, mail merge, send.
The largest mailing list I’ve ever seen was called the “oh sh*t we’re f*cked” list, and it contained literally thousands of names. It was a doomsday weapon.
I personally haven’t done a mail merge in three years just in case I mess something up.
Yet, because of this poor education problem, people think that 50 mail merges are the right thing to do so they can say “I’ve reached out to this number of media members.”
What do most “how to pitch” articles miss?
None of these articles seem to say that “know the industry you’re pitching” does not mean “Be able to name two venture capitalists” or tell someone what Intel does.
I pride myself on being able to say I know the people I’m pitching. It sometimes makes me seem arrogant, but I do my best to know half as much as each reporter. I spend ages reading and keeping up with stuff. When people say “know the media”, many interpret it on a surface level. I follow/talk to reporters and media people about anything BUT my work. I get to know a writer as a person.
Its exhausting, but if you want to be good it’s a job that requires some bloody effort. I only do fairly well because I read and watch things all the time.
Everyone goes for the obvious media outlets: Polygon, The Verge, Mashable, etc. They read 10 blogs, not 50. It’s a huge undertaking, but you can only represent four or five industries until your brain explodes. You can’t be a “PR Everyman” and be good at your job.
You also need to be willing to admit that you’re wrong when you are. I’m wrong much of the time, and it’s liberating.
The key is knowledge, and people want to skip that step.
What’s behind PR’s supposed “bad rep?”
A refusal to admit that it’s not glamorous work and that much of what you’re doing is sending lots of emails.
If you have a fragile ego, you might want to not look so closely. Lots of people think they can will a pitch into winning, but that’s probably not true. Too many would rather send a pitch that probably won’t work just to say that they did.
Someone literally called me “The Magician” months ago, which was great for my ego. But I’m not. I just happen to have done a lot of reading.
PR is not similar to salesmanship or “creating innovative brands”, etc. It’s more like lobbying in politics. If you want to hide the lack of work you’ve done, you can do it.
How should readers view other “how to pitch” pieces?
Think about why the person is writing it. I do it because I’m vengeful and don’t want anyone to suffer like I did. It was scary; it was the opposite of what I was told.
Others write things to sound smart.