At WriteCulture, we teach all kinds of tech PR workshops and seminars to corporate PR staff and PR agency account teams. When we teach the pitching class, we run into the same roadblocks across the PR spectrum—too much jargon, wasted email intros with lifeless descriptions of company products, and no hooks to grab the reporter’s attention.
Many PR writers assemble a pitch and then pray for the reporter’s interest. They bank on the allure of their client’s nth iteration of, say, anti-malware software. This leaves reporters wondering, “Why should I care?”
Why do we pitch this way?
Because we’re here to serve the executives on the corporate side and our clients on the agency side. We want to dazzle the journalist with the app’s new features and hope that makes the grade. Maybe we’re afraid to ask questions because we think we should know the answer. Or we’re shy to ask for what we need because we’re the new kid on the account team and we’re supposed to absorb all the information before we speak up.
Perhaps it’s none of these things.
Rather, perhaps it’s the glaring omission in the pitch—that is, the problem the solution fixes!—the people involved, their pain (and gain). Too often, PR writers describe the company’s side of the equation (the solution) without mentioning the customer’s side (the problem).
Journalists like to write stories about people solving problems in stories of transformation. The most important words in that statement? People, problems. Notice we didn’t say “companies, solutions.” Sure, the company and solution ends up in the final story, but that’s not what hooks journalists or their “readers” (aka customers and prospective customers).
A winning pitch is not a jargon-filled product description. But if you read the average technology pitch, you’ll wonder what problem the technology solves. At WriteCulture, we know this because we read countless pitches across many agencies and companies. We know that this misguided omission of “the problem” is commonplace.
The problem might strike you as implicit in the company’s solution. But it must be spelled out, it must be demonstrated. It should strike a visceral chord in the journalist. Showing her the problem clearly shows you understand her audience’s needs and pain, and demonstrates your product’s relevance in the life of the reader.
In the WriteCulture Pitching Workshop we tell team members to put the solution on ice and focus only on the problem. That might sound harsh, or maybe even difficult or off-putting to your client. But we’ve seen the results. It works.
For example, show journalists—don’t tell them—how the CEO turned the company around: by focusing on people and the obstacles overcome. Did the CEO have to fire half the executive staff and two-thirds of the employees?
Ouch. That’s a story.
Did the remaining employees come up with an idea that turned things around? If so, great. That means the employees were people overcoming problems. There’s natural drama and action in those details. For example, maybe their creation of a self-governance system lifted the company out of deep debt and brought profitability back by 40% within one year, etc., etc.
Don’t overlook the inherent drama, inspiration and results. How can you train your mind to see that? Look for people and problems. Don’t get buried by the “solution.”
Imagine if the pitch started by telling the journalist that Mr. CEO increased revenues by 40% from 2014 to 2015. Then asking the journalist if he wants to speak with the CEO and find out how he did it? Again, no mention of the problem, no conflict, no meat on the bone!
Not only should the problem be front and center, it should start the pitch. Introduce your client at the end. That’s right—if the reporter is sold on the problem, she’ll read further and contact your company.
At WriteCulture, we hold our workshop attendees’ feet to the fire and make them define, refine and polish their problem statements until the lightbulb stays on.
Here’s what a couple of past attendees said:
One person’s takeaway, in his own words: “Focus on problem as the lead into a pitch; focusing on a problem and humanizing it makes it relatable… Now I’m looking at the problem or shortcoming in the industry that my client is addressing.”
Within a month, this attendee had placed five clients and established an ongoing column for one of them in Inc.
Another said, “I’ve seen an increase in feedback and interest [from reporters] … a lot of feedback … by not focusing on an event itself but on the problem or interest. I changed the way I approach writing a pitch and thinking about pitching. I’m identifying the problem and what will be interesting, and leading with that.”