Q: Hey Josh, I just read an article written by you titled “How To Get Free Press For Your Business.” It’s an older article, but I stumbled upon it because I am part of a small start up that is trying to find ways to increase our visibility. To that end, I thought about writing an article or two to see if I could get anything published – thereby increasing our visibility. Your article mentions not to make a company pitch, which is good because I was planning to write a couple of articles about our industry (Continuous Improvement). The goal is to have companies see the article, like the content, and reach out. Reading your article prompted me to reach out to you in hopes that I could get some advice on the best way to approach it. I don’t want to spin my wheels on something that isn’t going to go anywhere. Thanks for taking the time to read the message. If you have any advice for me, I’m open to whatever you are able to offer. Thank you, Mike
A: Hi Mike! First of all, thank you for reading my old work. That’s the first lesson to perfecting your PR pitch is to butter up the writer by talking about their writing 🙂
Since writing that article for Forbes back in 2014, I created a framework called The 7 Systems of Influence which, in a nutshell, is a tool to get people to do what you want, to put it bluntly. It’s used by parents to influence their children, by managers to influence those they lead, by politicians to trick people into voting for them…you get the idea.
It can also be used to sharpen your PR pitch emails so they don’t get lost in the shuffle, and by “shuffle” I mean the several hundred, and perhaps thousands, of emails every journalist for a top-tier publication receives each month. I gave up writing for the majority of two-dozen publications I’ve been published in, years ago, and I still get tons of pitches every month (and most of them are terrible, it’s like they all took the same online course and downloaded the same PR pitch template).
Here are the 7 Systems, and how you can use them to write a better PR pitch email.
What do you want?
You said you want to “increase our visibility,” but why? What will increased visibility do for you?
You then answered that question by saying you want companies to read your articles and “reach out.”
And if I can be so bold, I will assume you want companies to reach out so that you can get them into your sales and marketing funnel and turn them into customers.
If that’s all correct, then that’s your vision. So far, so good?
2. Genius Zone
Why you? In this case I’m not asking about you, Mike, but your company, although you yourself may be a valuable part of the answer.
What is the unique combination of experience, knowledge, skills, abilities, traits, and characteristics that make your company the one to talk about continuous improvement? There are a lot of other companies, thought leaders, and experts who could write an article about this topic, so what special ingredient do you bring to the table? The answer is going to be your core focus of continuous improvement combined with some other factor, or set of factors.
For example, I know a lot about skateboarding (I ran a skateshop once upon a time, have connections in the industry, still skate, etc.), but about 20 million other people also know a lot about skateboarding.
I also know a lot about marketing (I started a marketing agency and ran it for the better part of 20 years, interviewed some of the world’s top marketers, wrote about marketing extensively for two dozen top-tier publications, etc.). But so what? Millions of other people are also experts on marketing.
Although I have substantial experience in both these areas, just as your company does with continuous improvement, neither knowledge area makes me special by itself. I could use my knowledge in either area to get a decent job, but that’s about it. However, when I ask, “Who knows as much about marketing and skateboarding as I do?” then everything changes. There might be a dozen people in the world who have experience like mine, if that. That means I could make this my genius zone and go to Nike or Adidas and say, “Hey, hire me as a consultant for $500K/year and I’ll help you sell a ton of shoes,” and I’d have a shot at convincing them.
What can you combine with continuous improvement to make your content unique so that readers say, “Wow! This is totally different than anything I’ve ever read before!”
Who do you want to influence?
You said “companies” but we need to get more specific. I’m sure you already have buyer personas and all that jazz, but let’s see if we can add something to what you’ve got, because we don’t just want an audience, we want your ideal audience.
This is where a lot of the people and companies I work with struggle, because they’re trapped in a scarcity mindset. They feel that if they get too specific they’re going to eliminate potential customers and leave money on the table. So I ask them this question:
“How many new customers would it take to change the game?”
For an individual consultant the answer to that might be five or six new clients.
For someone with a small business they might need ten or twenty.
Whatever the answer, the game-changing number is a tiny fraction of the total number of potential customers out there. If that’s the case, would you rather target customers who:
- Are easy to relate to, and who relate easily to you, or who are hard to relate to and difficult to get a handle on?
- Need what you have, or don’t need what you have?
- Want what you have, or don’t want what you have?
- Have plenty of budget, or not enough budget?
- Require education, or are educated and ready to go?
- Energize you, or drain you of energy?
- Commit to becoming a long-term customer, or just want something small and quick?
- Tell everyone else about you and how great you are, or keep you to themselves?
If you only need a fraction of the available market, why would you waste time creating content that appeals to the type of customer you don’t really want, when there are more than enough of the customers you would love to have?
Get very, very specific about your audience.
But there’s a catch, Mike. The catch is that you have at least two audiences in your situation. One is the potential customer, but there’s also the matter of the writer you’re pitching your article to, and perhaps an editor who is going to approve it.
Just as you get specific about your customer, get specific about who you’re going to pitch, because if you do the shotgun approach and send 200 pitch emails to everyone you can, your chances are worse than playing the lottery. This isn’t a numbers game, this is a quality game.
However, to know how to target the right writer, we need to talk about System 4.
Content is three things:
Your pitch, as well as the article you’re pitching, will each have a primary “message” you’re trying to get across. You will probably never spell out what that message is, but it’s there and if you craft your content the right way, it’s what will get stuck on repeat in your audience’s head.
For example, let’s say you wanted to get your 10-year old son to take out the kitchen trash every day without being asked. If you say to him, “I want you to take the trash out every day without being asked,” maybe the message will get through, and maybe it won’t. On the other hand, if you tell him, “I want to take you to the beach a lot, just like you want me to, but I often can’t because you haven’t finished your daily family work and checked it off, and then by the time you get your work done we don’t have time to go,” then he might think, “If I don’t take out the trash every day without being asked, I don’t get to do the things I want to do because there isn’t time. I need to get my work done in the mornings, before I’m asked.” The message has gotten through, and in a way that’s better for everyone.
The message you want the writer you’re sending your PR pitch email to have on repeat in their head is, “I desperately want to publish this article.”
How do you create that kind of desire in the heart of a writer who’s already overloaded with fifty articles they’d love to get out the door? And how do you get your readers to reach out to you when they read this amazing article? With one or more of these ingredients:
“Do you struggle to…?” Call your audience’s attention to a problem/opportunity, like “You probably have more articles to write than you know what to do with…”
“Once upon a time….” Tell a story and help your audience see themselves in it. This applies more to your reader than the writer, because in the case of your PR pitch you need to keep the pitch short.
“Don’t worry, I’m an expert.” Establish authority with degrees, awards, certifications, achievements, media coverage, testimonials, and social proof.
“You’re a hero, I’m here to help.” Your customer is the main character in this story when it comes to your article content, and it’s the writer when it comes to your PR pitch.
“I’ve got just what you want.” Reinforce a previously held opinion, need, or desire.
“You can’t live without this.” The result you deliver is critical to their success.
FOMO (FEAR OF MISSING OUT)
“Everyone else is already on board.” Create positive peer pressure with your article. I wouldn’t recommend it with the writer you’re pitching. More than likely, they’ll take any attempt at FOMO as a way to get out of having anything to do with you.
“This is super simple, I’ll step you through it.” Give them a plan. For the writer, it might be “I’m going to write the article for you.”
“It pays for itself.” Your offering is an investment, not an expense. That works for the article, but for the PR pitch the free part is that you’re writing the article so it’s “free” time. They get an article without having to put in the time and effort.
“Hurry or you’ll miss out!” Limit time and quantity to create urgency. Again, this works with article readers, but not so well with journalists.
Oh, and by the way, in case you didn’t catch it above, your PR pitch needs to be SHORT. If it takes more than two minutes to read and respond to, it’s too long.
After your message is solid, then comes choosing the right channel, or method of distribution for your article.
Not all publications are created equal. I once write an article for Forbes that generated over $5M in revenue for my marketing agency. I thought I could duplicate the feat by publishing a similar article on Entrepreneur. Nothing happened. Not a single lead. It’s not that Forbes is a good publication and Entrepreneur isn’t—they’re both great, but my ideal audience was on Forbes and they weren’t on Entrepreneur. Choose the channel where your audience hangs out, or you’re wasting all your effort.
Once you choose a publication, choose the right writer. Forbes doesn’t have 5,000 writers who write about business stuff, they have 5,000 writers, each of whom writes about a certain topic. If you pitch an article on continuous improvement to someone at Forbes who writes about lifestyles of the rich and famous, you might as well be pitching Better Homes & Gardens.
You’ve got a great article idea your customer audience will love, and you know who you’re going to pitch it to. When it comes to your PR pitch email, what’s the action you want your present audience, the writer, to take? This one is easy, and it’s the same in every case. The action you want the writer to take is to respond to your email with a single word, “Yes.”
If the writer has to type more into their email response than “Yes” then you’re doing it wrong, and you’re less likely to get a response at all.
Action is also System 5 in the 7 Systems, but don’t confuse it with the action we were just discussing that’s part of your content. This action is the action you’re going to take, it’s your plan.
I can’t give you a full PR pitch plan without knowing more details about your vision, but perhaps a few tips will apply no matter what:
- Pitch early (when you’re in the headline brainstorming stage)
- Pitch one headline to one writer at a time
- If no response, wait a week before you follow up
- Wait another week before following up again, tell them you understand if they’re busy and don’t have time to consider it right now, and that if you can help out with any articles that come up related to continuous improvement, you’d be happy to, whether or not you make it into an article (everyone loves truly helpful people)
Everyone collaborates. Some do it on purpose, and some do it on accident. You have more influence when you do it on purpose.
When it comes to your PR pitch, who can you collaborate with to make your pitch stronger? Here are some ideas:
- Include other experts in continuous improvement in your article to make it more credible and authoritative (and mention them in your pitch)
- Find someone you know on LinkedIn who is a mutual connection with the writer you’re pitching and see if you can get an introduction
- Be a true collaborator with the writer by helping them get what they want, rather than focusing on what you want
Does using the word “love” in a professional context make you uncomfortable? If so, then when you hear it, replace it with thoughts about the excitement and passion you feel when your vision is clear, you’re working in your genius zone, and you’re serving your ideal audience. Think about empathy and how important it is to truly understand your audience and know what they feel and what they need and want. Recall how someone was once kind to you in a professional setting, and how much that meant to you. Finally, and most importantly, think about what it means to have good will for your audience, to truly want their success. When I say that love is the seventh System of Influence, these are the things I’m talking about.
Love is when the writer senses that although you want something from them, you truly want to be helpful and you only want them to do this if it’s good for them. You see them as a person, rather than an object, and you care about their needs and desires.
Here’s the secret—if you’ve got the love, you can do everything else wrong and still get the article you want. If you don’t have the love, you can do everything else right and the writer may still reject you.
Any further questions? Please comment below.
If you’re interested in The 7 Systems of Influence and how they might help you or your business with your content strategy, I do coaching and training. Hit me up at firstname.lastname@example.org.Liked it? Share it!