“This Is How You Pitch”: A book report and memo for current PR students and recent grads
By: Emily Gale, social media manager
The day after I graduated from VCU with a spanking new degree in PR, I couldn’t help but wonder where I would channel all of my liberated energy. My resume was polished, my LinkedIn updated and my library of cover letters was beginning to grow. What do I do with myself? I thought.
As each opportunity I embarked on steered further into marketing territory, I decided to purchase the book, “This Is How You Pitch: How To Kick Ass In Your First Years of PR” by Ed Zitron. My initial reason for reading the book was to keep my Swiss Army Knife of PR skills sharp. What I realized while reading the book, was that whether I was working strictly in marketing or strictly in PR, understanding the moving parts of the PR realm was relevant in any context within the communications industry.
Introducing Yourself to PR
I know, I know. The first chapter sounds like the title of your PR 101 textbook. However, this chapter has more curse words than an episode of South Park and includes the largest metaphor I’ve ever read. With that said, please understand that the chapter acted more like a happy hour meeting with the author than a dry introduction in a DVD manual.
Zitron’s satirical approach to the common misconception of the PR industry is something any PR person would nod in agreement with: PR is not what Samantha Jones does in Sex and the City. Furthermore, he addressed the well-known occurrence of failure with a pinch of empathy—a concept all PR professionals are familiar with.
“Failure is a part of our existence, and in PR especially, the situations leading up to it can be out of your control…but it’s not always what you do. In the end, it’s up to your audience, the people you target your pitches.” As a student the word ‘failure’ is heinous and negative. Zitron was right to address failure in the first chapter. After all, it is part of a verbiage we must all embrace at some point!
I left the first chapter with hope but more so an interest in what else Zitron had to say. What else should I know about the non-glamorous, failure-filled, hard-core field of PR? Will my current degree of experience prepare me for what may be ahead?
As I delved into the rest of the book, my grab bag of takeaways was beginning to look like an over stuffed suitcase. Instead of outlining each layer of my heavy roller duffel (to which I take everywhere, just ask Commonwealth PR CEO Brian Chandler, I make quite an entrance to each meeting!) I will instead highlight some of Zitron’s best touch-points:
– Pitching to bloggers and social media personalities requires an understanding of their medium and an ability to communicate in their language.
– Marketing and PR may be distinct fields, but they are intimately related and there are many lessons to be learned where they intersect.
– Showing apathetic clients tangible benefits will help to further engage their interests and increase their understanding of what you are doing. Just know that you cannot go it alone and wait for them to give you (negative) feedback. By then, it’s too late.
– As a PR person, you must keep your finger on the pulse of the world to gauge what’s appropriate and what isn’t in the eyes of your audience.
– Early in your career, most of your clients will not have a brand at all; you’ll have to help them create one before you start pitching.
– In the subject of crisis, honesty is key. But keep in mind, not everything in life can be salvaged, and this extends to reputation as well.
– The goal of pitching is to get in and get out as quickly as possible with the result that you want. There is no fluff.
– Advertising does not equal communication.
– Don’t sign your client up for 10 different social media platforms just to say you have them active on social media. You’re better off getting good at two or three and using them effectively.
– Controlling isn’t about making people think a certain way, but it is about trying to ensure the right message is getting to the right places.
Zitron is the Jedi Master of speaking the evident truth of modern day PR. As I (both a recent grad and young professional) continue to pave my path in integrated marketing communications, I have found that reading beyond the new Mashable article and Seth Godin blog post suits my insatiable appetite for more. If you find yourself within the first month of post graduation, still unsure of what the world of PR looks like, seek out Zitron’s advice—you won’t leave hungry.