Fashion week is just around the corner! If you need some advice about pitching fashion media, you’d better read on.
Nathalie Atkinson writes about food, film, fashion, design, books and pop culture for the National Post – anything but sports, basically! – and is the editor of Weekend Post Style. She also contributes to Elle Canada, Fashion, Hello! Canada and Chatelaine, and has written for publications like the Toronto Star, The Globe & Mail, Salon, Publishers Weekly, Report on Business, Best Health, Flare, Readers Digest, Toronto Life and Spacing.
Illustration: Kagan McLeod
How can someone grab your attention with a pitch?
I think familiarity with a reporter’s beats and writing is the only place to start (more on this, later); otherwise it’s a waste of everybody’s time. There are several regular departments I don’t take pitches for, but made an exception recently because out of nowhere a publicist in a completely different field pitched one of her talent clients into it, rather than into the straight-up typical section for theatre in the paper. She was thinking creatively about exposure for the client; it was just the kind of oblique idea that we’d have internally, and it was a perfect fit. I love it when that happens.
What do you find most useful when dealing with public relations professionals?
Good PR pros are like good boyfriends and have a great sense of humour. Oh, and: efficiency, concision, attention to detail and speed.
What is the biggest mistake PR professionals make?
It’s the same mistake that freelance writers often make pitching to editors: not being a regular reader of the publication you’re pitching to. A pro is familiar with who does what, the ongoing departments, regular features and bylines. It sounds dead obvious but that’s the only way to have any sense of the publication’s character, tone, types of appealing subjects and angles. And if they aren’t regular readers, we can totally tell.
The flip side of this is relying primarily on Google alert and news clipping services to keep track of client placement. It’s not only lazy, it’s hit and miss. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve covered a book, a designer, a product or an event and yet afterward, the publicist is still pitching it like it never happened! This leads to an awkward (them, because they’re embarrassed) and terse (me, because my ego is bruised) exchange that ends with some excuse about “being out of town” or forgetting to pick up the paper just that one time. You should be reading or at least thoroughly skimming all the relevant publications in your field; that’s your job.
Which leads me to graciousness. You pitched, maybe even stalked and nagged, then followed up for weeks, but you can’t take a minute to acknowledge seeing an article after it’s run with a quick email? Oh wait, that’s right, you didn’t see it because you don’t actually read my publication. Sorry, but gotcha. If you don’t read my newspaper, don’t bother pitching me. (‘Cause like I said: we can tell.)
Your pet peeves (pertaining to PR)?
Besides spelling my name wrong, the shrill ring of incessant “follow-up” phone calls that shatters concentration and often come within hours of an initial press release, pitching duplicate supposedly personalized story angles to several people at the same publication, as well as several dozen peers on the same beat (Twitter’s a virtual water cooler, people: we talk!) and breathless hyperbole? Press releases with egregious spelling and grammatical mistakes, mistaken facts and outright false claims, especially when they say “the only”, “the first” or “the largest” – because if anyone knows (or should) that market or beat, it’s the person you’re pitching to. Be it bullshitting or ignorance, neither is endearing.
Also: Sending unasked-for samples then hounding about when exactly we are going to cover that-which-we-didn’t-ask-for-in-the-first-place. Also? Pointlessly elaborate promotional items. Someone recently sent a ceramic dish actually heat-printed with invitation information. Not a sticker – a custom printing job right onto an otherwise serviceable platter! It was ugly (who wants to eat off a logo’d invitation?) and wasn’t foodsafe anyway. The inks couldn’t be scraped off and we couldn’t even give it to Goodwill, it was trash. The waste of materials and money put me off to the point that I was loath to attend, and now I’ll forever associate that kind of dumb waste with the brand. (Please send baked goods instead – and not those awful brittle cookies with the hideously inedible rock-hard logo icing, either. They’re offensive and will also go straight into the bin.)
Any other thoughts you’d like to add?
I just read my answers and realize I kinda sound like a malevolent misanthrope who lives under a bridge. But I like good publicists and couldn’t do my job well without them. I have to agree with Andrew: the best marketing and publicity pros, the ones who last and are successful, are the ones who pitch well and selectively, and build a good relationship over time by keeping in touch, even when sometimes there’s nothing to pitch. Preferably, with baked goods.