In media relations and baseball, pitching is where the action begins. But whether you are pitching a fastball or a story idea, where the pitch ends up is never a sure thing. That’s why I find pitching the most challenging and often surprising part of what I do.
Consider a pitch I once made on behalf of my client Bob Bryar, a financial planner. The goal was to generate a local TV news story in which he would offer expert advice that would impress viewers and get some of them to call him for help with their investments.
I could have called a news producer and said “Bob is a great guy and a fabulous financial planner and his clients love him. You should devote two minutes of your broadcast to him.” But I know from experience that the producer will most likely say “Why will my viewers care? There must be five hundred financial planners in Los Angeles named Bob who are just as good,” then hang up.
That’s why a good pitch is not just facts about the client; it’s a story including the client that’s interesting to the producer and her audience. A good news feature must tie into a timely topic that reflects the concerns of the viewers. In this case it was a wave of layoffs caused by the recession, when a lot of people lost jobs at which they had 401(k) retirement accounts. Now, along with a job search, they faced a number of complicated choices related to transferring such accounts, a challenge that Bob could help them solve.
That was the windup, but to get the pitch over the plate we also needed another person to represent the audience. Bob had a client who had recently been laid off and had come to him for help with her 401(k). She agreed to be interviewed for the story if I could set it up. We now had a complete package.
I pitched the idea to a producer I knew at the local ABC affiliate who covers consumer stories. After speaking with Bob and his client, he agreed to do a story. It’s not unusual to wait weeks or even months for a producer to assign a story to a reporter, but we got lucky and the interviews were shot just two weeks after I pitched it.
Here’s the surprise: Bob was on TV the next night, but it wasn’t the story I pitched. The producer was doing another story about the tax implications of being laid off. Bob is a former IRS agent and had provided a great “sound bite” about how much someone could owe in taxes if they took money out of a 401(k) to pay bills. It was a perfect fit for the tax story.
Potential clients learned about his expertise, and now that we have established him as a media source Bob may get additional opportunities to appear on the show. It wasn’t the story we pitched, but it still achieved our goal of promoting Bob on TV.