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How to Come Up With Good Ideas for PR Pitches

Ken Gaebler

Evaluating PR Pitch IdeasInevitably, when our PR firm starts working with a new client, our initial PR brainstorming sessions yield dozens of story ideas that can be pitched to the media.

Some are great. Some are good. Some, upon further consideration, are just average or outright stink.

It's brainstorming after all, right? You come up with a long list of story concepts and then you narrow it down to the best ones. Those winners are the ones that ultimately go into the PR workplan.

What's the process for determining whether a given PR pitch is good or bad? How do you structure the brainstorming session such that you get mostly good PR story ideas? What constitutes a good PR pitch?

These are complex questions, but over the years I've honed the answer down to a simple three-circle Venn diagram that looks like this:

How to Come Up With Good PR Pitches

PR pitch ideas that have good potential can be found at the intersection of the three circles. Let's take a look at each question and discuss why these are the most important questions to ask.

Question #1: Is it interesting?

For us, the top goal of a PR campaign is to get media placements in droves, such that we drive positive business results for our clients.

In short, our success is defined by whether our clients are featured prominently in print publications, radio stories, television segments, and online venues.

In working toward this objective, we are in the employ of the editors, producers and journalists who ultimately decide what will be delivered to their audience. Clients, I know you think we work for you, but, in the final analysis, we really work for editors, producers and journalists because if we can't do right by them, we can't do right by you.

If we reach out to a journalist with a story idea that is not interesting to their readers, do you think they will give us the time of day?

The answer of course is "Hell, no." So, if a story idea isn't interesting, then pitching it is a waste of everybody's time. To cull the dull, we ask probing questions, such as:

  • Why on earth would the readers of BusinessWeek ever be interested in that?
  • Have you ever seen a story along those lines appear in The Wall Street Journal? If not, why do you think they suddenly would be interested in something that mundane?
  • Have you seen that story covered before? What makes you think the media is still interested in it?

Question #2: Are we relevant to it?

Assuming we've got a story idea that passes muster with our Question #1, the next question to ask is whether our client is relevant to the story.

Yes, people are going to love to read about this topic, Mr. and Ms. Client, but how can we convince the journalist that they should mention you in the story instead of some other credible source?

For this one, the vetting questions run along these lines:

  • Do you have any data that would help the journalist?
  • Are you guys the leaders in this trend?
  • What do you know about this topic that most people don't realize or know?
  • Do you have a case study we could offer up on this topic?

Question #3: Does it serve our interests?

The final leg on our three-legged chair has to do with why our client hired us in the first place.

We're not just trying to get news mentions for the sake of news mentions, are we? Instead, the organization has some strategic goals that it is trying to accomplish. Documented in the business plan, these goals inform the marketing plan, and the top-level marketing goals in turn drive the PR plan.

At the start of the engagement, as we envision the PR placements we are going to get, we have to run all of them through the "So what?" lens.

Sure, there's some value in just raising general awareness, but good PR strives for so much more than that, don't you agree?

At the end of the day, we want clients to be saying "We are successful in large part because we hired Walker Sands as our PR firm," and we only get that result when we ensure that our story pitch ideas have strategic value to our clients.

Using the Three Questions to Drive Better PR Results

As simple as they may seem, these three questions can improve your PR results if you use them wisely.

If you're already in the middle of executing a PR plan, run your existing story pitches through this filter and give yourself a grade. Alternatively, if you're just starting down the path of putting together a PR program, before you get started on story idea brainstorming, educate the stakeholders on this simple paradigm and why it matters.

Using these questions can make the PR planning process orders of magnitude more efficient, and, more importantly, can be the difference between executing a PR plan that fails versus executing a PR plan that makes you a hero because you were instrumental in paving the path to your organization's success.

Sure, some of you are saying: isn't this all pretty obvious? You would think so. It's common sense, yes, but I often find that a quick refresh on common sense goes a long way towards getting good business results.