Tips on Pitching and Media Relations from Facebook’s Media Coach Bill McGowan

Bill-McGowan

Bill McGowan has held many titles throughout his career: journalist, “A Current Affair” reporter, author, founder and CEO of Clarity Media Group.

His most recent role is media coach for executives, celebrities and artists ranging from Kelly Clarkson and Eli Manning to Thomas Keller and Tim Gunn. He’s also worked with major firms to help PR professionals hone the art of the pitch.

Two of his most recent clients’ names might ring a bell: Sheryl Sandberg and Mark Zuckerberg.

In McGowan’s latest book Pitch Perfect: How to Say It Right the First Time, Every Time, he draws on decades of experience working both in front of and behind the camera to offer tips and tools on how to deliver a message efficiently and confidently.

We recently spoke to Bill to learn how that experience applies to PR.

What’s the biggest mistake people make when communicating in public?

They may do a decent job preparing talking points, but they don’t put the same amount of prep into the visual stories and examples that illustrate their points. They think they can pull the real content out of thin air, and that just doesn’t happen.

PR in particular needs to be able to speak experientially about the customer–what his or her problems are and how what you’re offering solves those problems–rather than relying on canned key messages and brand propositions.

The client’s default mode may not be to speak in relatable stories and examples, but it’s my role and the role of PR to compel and challenge them to do so.

Is refining language and eliminating jargon/verbal tics one of your biggest challenges?

Yes, and it stems from insecurity. I’ve had people in media training sessions say ‘I’m worried that if I don’t use that kind of language, people will think I don’t know what I’m talking about.’

Internally, jargon can be a shortcut. But if you don’t need to rely on buzzwords as a crutch when sharing your message externally, you will seem that much more confident.

Are there any particular cliches you tell people to avoid?

The one I hear over and over again is ‘so, if we were to look at this from a ____ perspective or standpoint.’ ‘At the end of the day’ is another one.

People mistake this sort of language as their comfort zone, but it’s really a conformity zone. You feel safer by talking the way everyone else talks.Screen-Shot-2014-03-05-at-12.15.21-PM

What’s the key to transitioning between internal and external messaging?

It’s really about thinking of your customer/client as someone who buys your product…without being condescending.

The old adage ‘Imagine you’re talking to an 8-year-old’ is terrible advice. I say ‘Imagine you’re talking to a relatively intelligent college freshman.’

The flip side of that: I tell my tech clients to ‘imagine you’re talking to your grandmother’. This is someone who knows a little bit even if he/she may not be technically savvy.

In the book you mention working with PR executives. What were the biggest challenges they faced?

We have been retained by firms to teach teams going out to pitch clients.

Most people don’t go into a client meeting doing enough listening and figuring out what the client wants to accomplish.

Many junior account executives in their 20s also haven’t received proper mentoring in how to convey an executive presence, or get rid of filler words and ‘uptalk’ to increase gravitas. The big question is ‘Do you have conviction behind the pitch you’re selling?’, but it goes much deeper than that:

  • Are you being an attentive listener?
  • Are you sitting or standing with an executive presence as opposed to leaning back in your chair and flipping your hair?
  • How do you begin the pitch with a compelling thought and end it with a bang?
  • How do you interact with your slides?

What’s the most important topic you address in terms of media relations?

Helping to craft the soundbites that I know will interest the journalist.