The last time I was asked to give advice on how to work with the press, I was booed off the stage. Actually, I was denounced from the floor by an angry conference sponsor for "not being inspirational enough." And then shunned at lunch for my bad behavior.
So I take on this assignment with some trepidation.
Still, what I told the ladies at the women's small business conference I spoke at in Laguna Nigel several years ago is still true: it's not easy getting ink-stained hacks like me to pay attention to your pitch. It's not that we think we're so great, or that your work isn't brilliant. Part of the problem is just that there are so many of you, and so few of us. And, in case you haven't noticed, we're getting fewer every day.
Ease of communication, while a boon to most, is also the bane of our existence. Every day, people who sit in chairs like mine are bombarded with hundreds of emails appealing for coverage. Many are worthy, some are lame, and some are from Nigerians, who mostly want our bank account numbers.
Contrast this abundance of fodder to the shrinking real estate in our publications. As ad sales dwindle, magazine size diminishes as welland with it the amount of space we can devote to editorial coverage. The Web is betterthe real estate is vast, for examplebut in order for us to bring you a story, somebody still has to report, write, and put the sucker up in congenial code. See above, re: numbers of us.
In any case, we still want to know what's happening, and we're willing to wade through our inboxes to find the gems among the offers for penile enhancement. I can't manage to give you guidelines for that magic combination of content and timing that could lead to a story, but I can tell you what's likely to make me spike your email without a second look. And what simple things you can do to increase your chances of getting a call back.
Herewith, 10 Tips for Getting Your Pitch Through Electronic Surveillance:
1. DO NOT, under ANY circumstances, send me unsolicited files over 1MB. My inbox is already the bane of my sys admin's existence, and your file could be the straw that crashes the whole thing. If that happens, my BlackBerry's out of business, and you land on my list of pitch pariahs for all eternity.
2. Come up with a searchable subject line. Give me an easy way to find your strand of gold among the dross.
3. Make that first line a zinger. I read a lot of pitches on the subway, on my cell. Long-winded pitches, with the lede buried somewhere in the third 'graph, are gone before I reach 14th Street.
4. For god's sake, read the magazine before you pitch. We do not, nor have we ever, run announcements of someone's promotion to SVP.
5. Respect our deadlines. Magazines work several months out. Pitching me stories on New Year's resolutions in mid-December ain't gonna fly.
6. Offer me something nobody's had before. The quickest way to catch my eye is to give me a chance to be first to report something cool. Editors, a very competitive bunch, love that. Give me some catnip to dangle before them.
7. Don't call me "to follow up on my email." Please. Especially not as I'm trying to eat a sandwich over my keyboard. If I like what you sent, trust me, I'll contact you.
8. Don't pitch me a story with the exultant line, "Business Week (or Fortune, or the New York Times, etc.) just ran this story, so we thought you'd be interested." D'oh!
9. Don't pitch me a story about something I've just written about. If I just did a story on, say, the blight of McMansions, I'm not likely going to write anything similar for the next two years.
10. Do pitch me something that advances the conversation. What are the big issues designers will be grappling with in the next few years? Who are the brightest young talents? Who has solved an intractable problem in a particularly innovative way? What trends are you picking up as you talk to clients? Why should I care about what you're pitching me?
If you can answer any or all of those questions, we should talk.