How can communicators connect with reporters in a meaningful way? Curtis Sparrer, Principal of Bospar and Eric Chemi, SVP of Broadcast Strategies at Bospar, discuss best practices for pitching a story to top tier reporters without wasting their time. Curtis and Eric also share why brands need to take a stand on social issues early and decisively.
>> More episodes here
HOST: DOUG SIMON
GUEST: CURTIS SPARRER
GUEST: ERIC CHEMI
DOUG: Tech PR has been considered to be at the forefront of PR for many years, it didn’t have to worry about regulations, etc., like some of the other industries, ls that still true? Curtis, how is tech PR leading the way, what’s new?
CURTIS: Tech PR is leading because what we’re doing is we’re doing category creation. We are saying this is a new category within technology, these are the leaders in the field, and we’re spelling it out, and we are talking to the biggest experts and influencers in the space.
DOUG: And, Eric, you come from a broadcast background. So, how are you crafting stories that are relevant both to what the businesses want to advance and that the journalists want to share with their audiences?
ERIC: It’s multiple worlds. So, my background originally was a computer science degree, then I traded tech stocks on Wall Street, then I got into the media side. So, I see how all the different worlds overlap, and you’ve got to make sure you’re playing the reporters’ game. They’re not salespeople, they’re not tech experts, how can you tell compelling, emotional, human driven stories?
DOUG: So, how do you connect with reporters in a meaningful way?
ERIC: You need to talk to them like a human. Remember that they’re not that interested in your company because you’re not a marketer, they’re not B2B, they don’t have a budget, they don’t have a P&L, they don’t really care, they’re getting 100 other pitches a day. So, can you cut through the clutter? Talk to them like a human. Don’t sell them, try to give them. Give them advice, give them something that helps them for their news cycle, the stories that they’re already working on, rather than asking them to do a chore on your behalf.
CURTIS: You have to make sure that you are not sounding like a marketer. It’s a weird thing because as PR people, we are at one point really focused on the marketing language and everything like that, and then we have to go back and say, okay, how am I going to make this sound as media friendly as possible so that a journalist will not think delete, delete, delete? Because that’s what we’re having to get around, just the obscure nature of a journalist wanting to delete something because a typical, you know, top tier journalists getting about 100-200 pitches a day. And if you’re sending them spaghetti code, it’s gone.
DOUG: Yeah, and that’s so important. One of the things we used to use as a tactic is ask clients, okay, what’s the story if you’re not in it? And then once you have that, get their place in the story, that’s usually much more fertile ground for journalists. And do you see similarities between the different types of outlets you pitch? You mentioned influencers, media, broadcast, print.
ERIC: I would say one big similarity is a theme that I always use, you can’t learn something until you already almost know it. So, think about where each outlet is on their learning spectrum. So, a lot of these companies in tech say, hey, we’re the best at this one particular niche technology thing, but a journalist may say, I didn’t even know that was a problem, I didn’t even know that there were five companies doing this because I never heard of any of them. So, you’re playing a game that’s trying to get people from A to Z in one step, but you got to get A to B. Then when they’ve learned B, then you get it from B to C. So, you’ve got to go incremental learning because they need to at least be at the place where they can almost understand the next step. If it’s too far advance for them in one move, you’re over their head.
DOUG: Yeah, and Eric and it sounds like your organization’s mentality has the need to really be in touch with journalists, understand what they’re doing, but for a lot of organizations it’s a challenge because they’re not always actively pitching the media. I mean, we have that advantage booking satellite media tours, our people are on a first name basis with the reporters they deal with so they can get up and down pretty efficiently, how do you develop those relationships?
ERIC: I mean, I’d say, I’ll speak quickly, Bospar, when I was on the other side, when I was at CNBC and Bloomberg, they were the best agency, from my point of view, at dealing with us as reporters because they brought us something interesting. Did you think of this creative idea? I can get you a quote, I can get you a piece of data. It’s not a big uphill battle pitch, it’s just something small to get the conversation started. And then let me be creative, give me something, and then I can help create a story rather than giving me something that’s fully baked, and there’s really nothing left for me to do as a storyteller.
DOUG: Yeah, and Curtis, have you ever thought of a strategy of having clients pitch the media themselves? Maybe one of the tactics reporters you deal with when they’re giving you too much marketing speak so they can hear what the reporter has to say directly.
CURTIS: One of the things that I think is really important is when a client hears from journalists directly. And so, sometimes what I’ll do is I’ll have an audit, or sometimes I’ll have a media panel. And I think that’s a transformative eureka moment for a lot of companies where they kind of sit in their ivory tower of marketing, and they think these big, great thoughts, and then they hear from journalists saying, what’s that? I think the biggest moment, the biggest aha moment I ever had a client was when they kept on saying, “we’re the only company that scales, we’re the only company that scales.” And I brought in a whole bunch of journalists, and they said that and someone said, “what does that even mean?” And they tried to explain it several times, and I watched them kind of look at me helplessly, like, okay, what do I do now? And that was that moment where we thought, okay, we needed to change our storytelling fundamentally so we could reach that chasm of understanding. And I think that’s an important moment for any company to understand, I think part of every PR professional is to educate your client about what the media is talking about, the vocabulary that’s resonating with them so that they can be better advocates on their own behalf as well.
DOUG: I’m not going to ask you if you have any advice for Disney right now, but speaking out on social, political issues, it’s important, it can be a minefield, it’s expected, there’s the internal aspect, depending on the makeup of the people who work at your company, how do you advise clients to navigate that?
CURTIS: Clients need to take the stand early and they need to do it decisively, and I think the biggest problem is there’s too much wait and see and not enough action. And I understand the kind of fear and trembling that comes with that, but I think that media are much more likely to reward someone that speaks up first than speaks up last. And so, companies need to strategically map out issues that they care about so that when an issue comes up, they can raise their hand first and convincingly, and not take too long to stand up and make themselves heard.
DOUG: Yeah, and maybe it’s about taking an interest in issues that are important before they become these hot, political touchstones. So, you’ve already got the basis, and it doesn’t seem like you’re just jumping in late. I think that was one of the challenges for Disney, sort of starting one way then going the other.
CURTIS: Authenticity is important, I think having that sense of, we’ve already established our credibility in the space, we’ve already been talking about these issues, I think that’s important. And so, yeah, I think coming late to any party and saying, no, we’ve been saying this all along kind of hits the sniff test in a weird way.
ERIC: I mean, another example, I’ll jump in, let’s say, we know the Disney example, but think about big oil, big energy, and their transition over time to be more green friendly, climate friendly. And they’re trying to at least say, hey, we’ve spent many years, we’re putting out this initiative, this announcement, this deal, this investment, so that it doesn’t seem all of a sudden, out of the blue, ten years from now, hey, we’re green. It’s going to take them a long time to change the narratives, but they’ve got to start somewhere because they know that is going to be their future for the next century to come.
DOUG: Yeah, any final thoughts? I know you make a lot of effort to help your clients become more inclusive and focus on that yourself, any tips in that area?
CURTIS: The biggest tip is to really recruit spokespeople who are authentic in these communities. I think if you’re going to reach out to a community that has a particular issue that you need someone to bring through with that group of people, otherwise it just kind of feels either mansplainy or a bit like you’re just parachuting in without much thought to really share.
DOUG: That’s great. Eric, any final thoughts for you about what people can do better to get more media coverage for themselves or their clients?
ERIC: I think it’s about playing the long game. Don’t expect that the first time you make an introduction to a reporter, you’re getting the front-page feature piece full story. Start small, play the long game. Let them know that you’re “media friendly”. You’re giving more than you’re asking so that over time, in the months and years to come, then they’ll want to call you and ask for a story or an idea rather than you’re always pushing and prodding reporters to do your bidding, that gets old very quickly, so play the longer.
DOUG: Yeah, and that’s great advice. I think the mark of a successful media strategist and media communicator is when reporters start calling them to try and get leads on stories themselves. It’s been great to talk to both of you. Thanks so much for your success, enjoy your time.
ERIC: Thanks, Doug.
CURTIS: Thank you.