What Media Pitchers Can Learn from Baseball Pitchers
At 162 games, baseball holds the sports world’s longest season – it is grueling, thrilling, and relentless – and yet, it’s a staple American pastime. They actually have a name that embodies what it means to play the game: “the grind”. That same term can be applied to the PR world and what it means to have a successful media relations program.
Pitching in baseball is about more than being really good at throwing a ball; pitching media is much more than emailing reporters about why they should cover your client. In baseball, a top pitcher knows that getting to the postseason isn’t about winning every game; it’s about the long run and keeping your team in contention for all those games. In PR, media relations wins are about relationships, not quick hit coverage. There is much more value to the PR person who has five solid, trusted media relationships – reporters who’ll give you feedback even if the answer is no and who know you pitch stories their audience actually wants to read – versus someone with a 500 media contact list of folks that never respond.
There really isn’t any big secret to pitching success; you just have to do it. So from one pitcher to another, here are five tips about media relations I’ve taken from baseball:
Do your homework. A starting pitcher doesn’t go to the mound thinking he’ll just throw strikeouts. He has a plan on the types and sequence of pitches he’ll throw. He gets there from studying lots of film to review approach and results, looking at the opposing hitter’s prior at-bats against themselves as well as the opponents’ most recent games against similar pitchers. No media pitch should ever be sent without doing your research to understand what the reporter covers and how they cover it. A tailored pitch shows the reporter you had a strategy and thought about their focus, their audience, and you’re giving them a unique story to tell.
Don’t forget you have a team. Baseball is played with nine people on the field, and a good pitcher knows that it’s not all on him to get the outs. There’s a catcher to help figure out the best pitches to use, an infield to get those grounders, and an outfield to catch those fly balls. Whether you’re at an agency or in-house, you have people who can support your pitching efforts. Having trouble with the best pitch angle for a reporter, talk to a team member who’s had success pitching that reporter. Need more info on industry trends, schedule some time with a spokesperson to get more insights.
Remember, you can’t control everything. This one is personally a hard one for me to recognize at times. But there’s a reason why there are only 23 perfect games and why they call baseball a game of inches – sometimes things are out of your hands. A natural disaster may happen and it dominates the news cycle or the reporter may be dealing with computer issues and therefore didn’t see your pitch (I use this one a lot). So focus on the things you can control. You can control that you’ve done your due diligence in researching the reporter. You can control that you’ve delved into your client and understand the story worth telling. You can control the pitch you write. You can control your follow up and finding the right way to get in front of the reporter.
You can learn from every pitch. Getting feedback is how you get better at anything. When a pitcher throws a ball that gets hit out of the ballpark, first he will likely be very angry but then after he’s gone through two bags of sunflower seeds, he’ll look at the home run as a learning opportunity on what pitch he may not want to throw at that specific hitter. When you get a “no” in response to your pitch, don’t just frown and delete it. It’s the prefect opportunity to get feedback and ask the reporter “why” because they clearly read your pitch. “Why are you not interested? Is it just not the right time, have you switched beats, because here’s why I pitched it to you.” When you get a “yes,” absolutely pump your fists and scream, “I’m good at my job!” But then, do take a look at why it worked. What about when you get nothing but silence? Don’t just stop pitching or think you’re bad at it. Remember the things you cannot control, and see if you can follow up with another angle, at another time, or in another way (phones and social media when used correctly are great ways to build media relationships).
Be resistant and persistent (but not annoying). Yogi Berra said baseball is 90 percent mental. Augie Garrido said loving baseball is to love getting your heart broken over and over again. It’s a hard game – and you fail more often than you succeed. A pitcher who gives up a home run has to get back up and throw to the same hitter, and a lot of dread and panic could prevent them from executing. A good pitcher knows to start clean and give it their best stuff. Sound familiar? Your NRA (No/Non Response Average) for media pitching is probably pretty high, but that’s never a true reflection of the quality of work you’re doing. Pitching takes time and thought and cultivation. But don’t let fear stop you from playing the game.