I’ve now worked in b2b and tech PR for over 15 years. As an account exec I spent most of my time pitching stories at the coalface of client accounts. I then managed teams of people doing the same. I worked away from the coalface as a strategic adviser to clients but still needed to translate those big ideas into real world coverage. I also ran a tech PR company, defining its operational direction, the way it formulates its services and the creative content of its flagship business pitches. And NOW, having just set up my own PR agency in Manchester, I have come full circle. I am back at the coalface doing the pitching and loving it!
In completion of this journey one thing has shouted at me time and again. It’s the PR industry’s lack of creativity when it comes to pitching and selling stories. We’re great at developing big ideas that win pitches. Many of us are pretty good at creating and following really well defined PR processes too. The trouble is there is often a gap, which is the ability to adapt, tailor, mould and shape the information at your disposal into content that your target influencers will want. This takes thought, time and patience. In B2B PR this is particularly important. Outlets and opportunities are more limited; you need to work harder to carve a different peg for each hole, and the seriously big results are contended bitterly.
In my years of managing teams and agencies, stepping away from the coalface of pitching, I worked with loads of brilliant PR people who achieved great results. But there were also lots of times when I thought “why haven’t we been able to sell this story to this journalist?” or “did we really try and think about what angle they were interested in?” And I am not laying blame at anyone I have worked with. I am laying blame at people like me, who get the need to carve out individual ideas for individual journalists but who sometimes fail to pass this on to those they train and develop.
We simply don’t teach people practically enough about the need to visualise who you’re selling to and what they care about. It’s just simple sales technique. When we plan we don’t factor in enough selling time, and quite often clients don’t realise why you need this time either. They certainly need educating too! More time should be put into plans for coalface interaction with the media than is for content development, but it’s not the case. If PR management don’t do this their coalface pitchers will always be compromised on their ability to perform. In my mind, for junior PR staff, knowing you have a story with great potential but not enough wing span to make it fly, is one of the biggest career de-motivators. Then again, convincing your client that half the number of activities will achieve twice the results in any given month is another part of the challenge!
In my last job I worked with a great guy who I can only describe as the master of pitch thinking. He had more PR years than anyone else in the company but was still at the coalface with his clients and spent time talking to journalists and scoring the big goals in terms of results. I was often humbled and delighted to see how much the junior members of the team wanted to work with him and learn from him just to see how he did it. There is a real place for keeping senior thinkers on the front lines and many traditional hierarchical agencies don’t allow for that.
At Skout I fully intend to appoint a head of story pitching, and I may well appoint myself! We will also be a selling company, not a PR agency.