PR Pro or Pest? How Fewer Pitches Can Make You a Trusted Source

Take off your “PR pro” hat for a minute and put on your “shopper” hat.

“Space-saving PCs now 15% off!” That’s the subject line in my inbox today. Looks like, because I bought a PC six months ago, they think I’ll want another one. You know how you’re constantly inundated with ads and offers and options for where to spend your money? How the web, social media and email make it ever easier for brands and retailers to tout their next best things?

You’re probably like me: All of that info overload just makes you gravitate to what’s familiar and comfortable to you. For some, that may be Amazon. Discount sites spring up all the time, but with trusty Amazon Prime, you know in two days, it’s on your doorstep.

Or maybe you love Trader Joe’s. Yes, you could get thousands more products at a big box grocer, but you’d rather have across-the-board quality on fewer items. Maybe you can find vanilla crème-chocolate wafer cookies elsewhere, but you love your Joe-Joe’s and that’s what you want.

The point: An overabundance of options usually leads people to consolidate their trust into a few select providers. Surveys repeatedly show it’s the same with TV. We have hundreds of channels, but people stick with the same dozen or so channels most of the time.

Put your “PR pro” hat back on now. How does this relate to the way journalists and bloggers deal with the frenzy of PR people reaching out to them all the time?

You would assume that, with their emphasis on impartiality, they take a little bit here, a little bit there from a broad cross section of the people who contact them. But that’s not the case. It’s human nature; these embattled influencers who are struggling just to keep their heads above water actually develop a relatively few trusted contacts and go back to them again and again.

Michael Smart
Michael Smart, principal, Michael Smart PR

I see this with my most successful coaching clients. They’ve watched as resistance to their outreach wanes and then is replaced by requests for help from the specific influencers that matter most to them.

Journalists call such trusted folks sources. That’s where you want to be.

The rest are dismissed as noise, pests, or worst, flacks who get in the way more than help.

So how do you go from unknown or flack to source?

I’ll cover lots of successful strategies in this space in the coming months. But the key first step is to narrow your focus to a manageable number of media influencers. Just like they can’t keep up with every person trying to get their attention, you can’t be all things to all journalists.

Addition By Subtraction

Spend 80% of your time reaching out to the top 20% of your media list.

When I moderate panels or webinars with working journalists, it’s difficult to get them past their most frequent complaint about PR outreach: “These people don’t read my column/watch our show/listen to our podcast.”

We get that. We’ve heard it a hundred times. But they keep saying it.

Want to stand out from the hordes of pitching pros vying for their attention? Show up actually knowing what they’ve covered recently. And be able to add value to it.

If we already know that’s what they want, why don’t we consistently do it?

I hear you: You’ve got so many competing demands on your time. Maybe pitching is just one of the many hats you wear at a brand or organization. Likewise, maybe you’re at an agency serving so many different clients that it seems impossible to keep track of all the journalists across their various industries.

As I mentioned above, let me give you permission not to track them all. Just pick the top 20%. For most, that’s about 10 influencers. Come to know them and their work almost intimately.

This approach creates a mathematical aberration — you actually multiply by subtracting.

When you focus on fewer influencers, the depth and substance of your outreach to them increases. And so does their likelihood of response.

PR pros always ask me, “How do I reach out to journalists and bloggers via (insert channel here: Twitter/email/phone/carrier pigeon) in a way that comes off as genuine and not pesky?”

You easily can come off as pesky to a journalist no matter which channel you use. The best way to come off as genuine is actually to be genuine.

Once you’re sure you understand what’s useful and relevant for your specific media targets, you’ll feel very natural and comfortable reaching out to them. Your manner might even seem aggressive to someone else. But it won’t be awkward for you, and it won’t be for your target influencers, because the subject matter will be so on point that it will be helpful to them, not annoying.

To illustrate, here’s the current status quo that a journalist is accustomed to seeing in her inbox:

“Dear JENNIFER JOHNSON, Beneficial Computing today announced the launch of its best-in-class digital currency encryption algorithm, Plaid Mango...”

Contrast that with the approach you’d use naturally when you actually follow her and her outlet:

“Hi Jennifer, I know that one of the “Obsessions” you cover at Quartz is Digital Money, and I saw your tweet about your personal hesitations with bitcoin. I can relate: I got ripped off like that, too. Have you heard of Plaid Mango? It’s a cash-sending platform with a new type of security...”

Whether they follow through and share the info you’ve sent with their audiences or not, they’ll remember you. And eventually, when you’re consistently helpful, they’ll reach out to you. Once you’ve achieved source status, everything gets a lot easier.

CONTACT: Michael Smart is the media pitching coach PR pros turn to when they want to boost media relations success. He advises everyone from Fortune 100 brands to nonprofits and sole proprietors. Learn more at: