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How to make the media hear you out

Today, we are equipped with an abundance of channels for reaching out to the media. Contacting them once involved sending them information in the form of a press release or an email pitch, and following up with a phone call. While the basics remain the same, our methods have innovated over time, especially with the proliferation of online platforms.

As PR professionals, we continue to put ourselves in the journalists’ shoes by taking into consideration the vast amount of information they receive in a day. Though connecting with journalists has become easier, the growing abundance of news makes it harder for us to make them pick ours up.

How can we make ourselves heard in this competitive environment?

  1. A helping hand: When deciding on the main points we want to share with the media, we must ensure that what we are providing helpful information that equips them to write a successful story and aligns with their readership, while also benefiting our clients.
  2. Base it on them: You will be shooting in the dark if you do not understand what your contacts are looking for. Identifying what types of stories they feature is the first step, followed by understanding their interests and their writing style.
  3. Impress within the first 30 seconds: When it comes to pitching, you have only 30 seconds to create an impactful impression. Use this time wisely and always go into pitches with a catchy headline in mind.
  4. Use the news to your advantage: News is our bread and butter. By picking up on trending topics and contributing to them, we can support the media when it comes to producing time sensitive stories. This includes sharing opinions, comments and solutions from our clients.
  5. Prepare and practice: Being prepared for a pitch includes knowing exactly what your story is about, how it relates to its wider context, and how it can support the news. Go in with a clear idea of how you are going to sell your story and why it’s important — and then practice!

It has been said that ‘Life is a pitch.’ For many PR professionals, nothing beats the adrenaline rush that accompanies new RFPs (Request For Proposals), with their attendant brainstorming sessions, creative debates and final exciting delivery… all fueled by copious amounts of caffeine!

Formulating and delivering a winning presentation to potential clients is a major aspect of what a PR professional does. With that in mind, here are the five steps I have outlined for that all-important process:

Step 1: The idea: Think Big

Once you receive your brief, you need to formulate a strategy that will successfully highlight your potential client to the public. Various components can be incorporated, such as creation of a brand identity, staging of unique events, thought leader positioning and social media activation. Brainstorming the concept is an important part of your planning. Your big idea should have a ‘base,’ meaning it must be strong enough to be disseminated meaningfully to your proposed audience. To establish your base, spend time visiting your client’s website to understand their vision and mission. Undertake extensive industry research to ensure your campaign is unique and one that will catch the eye.

Step 2: The Execution: Time is ticking

The creative brainstorming sessions and planning meetings typically involve teams being split up to generate different ideas and angles, thereby creating a number of themes and options. This process often take up the lion’s share in meeting the proposal timeline, meaning that there is usually a race with execution to ensure everything is finalised ahead of the deadline for sharing with the client.

Step 3: Presentation: ‘The look,’ ‘The Packaging’

Even though you might have mind-blowing concepts and ideas, you need to package them in such a way that they will sweep the client off their feet in 15-30 minutes. Your pitch should consolidate international and regional case studies, competitor analysis, strategic insights, target audiences, PR strategies, SEO analysis, media plans, communication tools, timelines and more… all contained in a concise and highly attractive presentation. 

Step 4: Let’s do this – it’s showtime!

Driving to meet your potential client for the pitch you will probably feel your stomach in knots and ice water running through your veins! On arrival at their HQ you may well bump into your competitors in the lobby. If this is the case, you wish them well and say: “may the best agency win!” Once it’s your turn to enter the room, you do what you came to do… deliver your carefully thought out presentation the best that you can. You harness your belief in your proposal to sway your audience, captivating them with your zeal and enthusiasm.

Step 5: It’s not over yet…

The client may not be ready to finalise their choice of agency immediately following the pitch. If this is the case, you should arrange a follow-up consultation a minimum of two to three weeks after presenting. The worst that can happen is that they will say no. The best that can happen, naturally, is that they will accept what you are offering. If this is the case, congratulations! You now need to focus on the next stage, which is building a great business partnership with your new client that that will last for years.

Taking your pitches digital

Similar to the rest of the world, PR in Dubai continues to leverage the power of the digital world, using innovative techniques to secure media coverage.

  1. Social Media Platforms
    • Facebook: In the UAE, media and PR professionals share thoughts, stories and media opportunities on a Facebook page called ‘UAE journalists’. One sentence either mentioning the topic or the event is good enough to catch the attention of the relevant people and generate a quick response.
    • Twitter: Tagging the journalist in a tweet, along with a compelling explanation, has proven a very effective method for reaching out to the media. From my experience, the success rate has been great as journalist quickly respond if they would like to take the story forward.
  2. WhatsApp: The popularity and use of WhatsApp has grown incredibly over the years and it has the benefit of notifying journalists immediately. Through WhatsApp we can send out pitches in the form of a message, a quick video or a voice recording for an extra personal touch. This medium should only be used once you have built a strong relationship with the journalist.
  3. Emails: Emails is still one of the most used and strong mediums for sharing your story. However, the form in which content is shared has evolved. Videos are a more interesting way to talk about your story and you can also include a quick message from the spokesperson making it more personalised. When it comes to emails, think beyond text to video, infographics and GIFs.

All in all, lengthy pitches in any form are a waste of time and it is essential to use digital channels in an innovative way. If you can show that your news is more than just promotion and instead promises to benefit society and contribute to the wider news, you’ll be are on to a winner.

In a presentation, you normally have a time frame of 30 minutes to take the potential client through the essence of your company. This information should include your team, who you work with, what you can offer and why the client should employ your services. Ideally you should be able to communicate this in 20 minutes or less. Having good ideas and credentials alone doesn’t always cut it. The way your pitch flows and how you unveil information can be the winning attributes. Standing out is about sharing information that allows people to relate to something meaningful to them – you need to make sure you tell your story in the most compelling way possible.

With this in mind, here are six pointers to help your focus in a pitch:

Start off strong: Make the opening count and begin with energy. If you lose your prospective client in the first few minutes, the chances are you will never get them back. Make your introduction memorable and relevant. Relate to the audience you are talking to and paint a picture as to where you’re heading. Maintain their interest by not revealing everything at once.

Showcase: Talk about your current successes and how you achieved these. Don’t be afraid to share the challenges or difficulties you faced along the way, but make sure you inform them how you turned these obstacles into opportunities and ultimately the results that you achieved.

Stay focused: The best pitches are those that are centralised on a single idea or theme. It could be about what the client wants to achieve or about the client’s product, brand or positioning.

Leverage sentiments: Identify the emotional arc of the client – it’s not only important to connect with their heads, but also with their hearts. Watch and listen. Body language can go a long way. Effectively responding to the client’s unspoken thoughts can add to their confidence in you. Make sure you do some homework about the client before meeting them – you can build on what you gathered throughout your meeting.

Call to action:  After you have been specific about your recommendation, wrap up with something that gets your listener to actively engage. Your goal is to affect their behaviour, to pique their interest and to ask for more. Make sure that your closing lines encapsulate the aim of the presentation and the journey you have taken your audience through.

Remember that pitches need practice: …and practice makes perfect. Rehearse your pitch as often as you can, trying out different scenarios that include an effective recovery should things go awry, such as appropriate use of humour. Constant practice will increase your confidence and help you perfect your pitch.

Lovelyn Rodrigues is the Senior Account Executive of Cicero & Bernay Public Relations. An independent PR agency headquartered in Dubai and offering new-age public relations consultancy to the UAE and across the MENA. |