1. Background Research
First, I did the obvious research. I identified the publications that reached the target audience interested in my client's product or service. Then I reviewed the publications or the media guides to determine which editors and writers covered the beat that included my client's desired communication. Finally, in the obvious category, I read as many of the articles these folks had written as I could. This gave me a general sense of what interested that writer or editor.
2. Primary Research with Writer
Next, I did what I'm sure most successful story pitchers do: I summarized what I had from my client, came up with a few story ideas and called one of my targeted writers. Rather than pitching one particular story, I would tell the writer that I'd read some of his or her stories and believed he or she would be interested in what I wanted to pitch. I would add that I would like to discuss some angles I'd developed to see if he or she would like me to develop them further.
This usually worked very well for me. Assuming the writer was willing to talk at all, we would then go into a working discussion that told me not only whether any of the angles I'd developed would work, but what that particular reporter was most interested in. Then I could gather the information and develop the story to suit that writer's interests and needs.
The Importance of Attitude
In the last paragraph, I wrote "assuming the writer was willing to talk at all." While this qualitative-research-based approach is part of my nature, I worked with a woman named Jill Pembroke at Burson-Marsteller in the 1980s who was the master of this approach. She was also the most successful media pitch person I ever met for a second reason. She had an irresistible telephone personality. She was bright, quick, funny and full of energy, and she used all of these traits in combination with the method I describe above. Her personality and energy came across on the telephone, and she scored major media coups. I mention her because, while it might be nice for my thesis to say that the research-based approach was everything, it wasn't. The approach was important, but so was the attitude Jill and others like her brought to the pitch.
3. Delphic Survey
Another research-based approach I used after my focus had gone from general account work to research and strategy development was research with media and other experts in a field. The first time I tried this, one of my colleagues at GolinHarris approached me with the following challenge: Her client was a chip maker that produced every four to six months a new chip that did pretty much what the chip before it had done, but faster. She and her group were having a tough time placing pretty much the same story over and over in a limited universe of media.
We did what is known as a Delphic survey: that is, a survey of experts in a field. We asked about 12 industry analysts and senior editors in industry trades what they thought would be the top trends in issues in the industry in the coming year. Being pegged as experts encouraged them to talk with us, and, I believe we offered to share our report with them. Then, the next time the client had a faster chip, my colleague tied the faster chip to one of the five or ten trends most often identified by the experts. With the next speed upgrade, she tied the faster chip to another trend. Thus each story became a trend or issue story with the client's chip at the center. She got great coverage for the rest of the year.
I'm confident that most of you who do media pitching use research methods 1 and 2, when you pitch; some of you probably informally use method 3. However, you may not have thought of it as research. You might simply think of it as common sense. My point is that it is common sense to do research.
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