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Using Personas for Pitching

I’m speaking at the PRSA International Conference in Boston today on a topic I’m really passionate about. Personas have been a great tool in marketing for decades. In the modern communications world, personas are incredibly helpful but not often used. One area where they can add the most to a communications campaign is during the actual pitch process. Using personas for pitching is something that can boost what I call the “pitch to placement ratio” enormously. In this post, I’ll explain how to develop the five main types of media personas. In addition, I’ll provide a list of questions to help create pitch plans based on that information. My presentation is embedded below as well.

Creating personas for pitching takes some lurking.

Let’s examine the problem.

Public relations people have been in effect communications “salespeople” for years. Their job has been to develop relationships with key media personnel, introduce story ideas and pitch their clients’ products, people and/or services as part of the story. Before the internet, social media and content marketing public relations played a key role in the ideation and development of media stories.  But all that has changed.

Factors like the explosion of blogs and other media outlets, reporters that are either changing jobs more frequently or freelancing among multiple outlets and content marketing have all made finding story ideas and experts much easier for the media. Taking it to a deeper level, as consumers we’ve come to expect a certain “experience” online when we’re shopping. This experience is driving expectations in our professional lives as well, where 75% of us want a truly “self-directed” shopping journey. Add to that a journalist’s natural independent, or what I call the “reporter factor.” The media has probably been the fastest to leap onto this self-directed idea, and have bypassed public relations altogether.

Stats to back it up:

  • Over 4 million blogs are posted…daily according to Worldometers
  • A Cision report said that 20% of journalists relied less on PR last year
  • Of those still working with communicators, the same study said that nearly 40% say we need to respect their pitching preferences more

With the proliferation of media, less perceived influence on story creation and development, and fewer relationships many have come to regard it as a numbers game. They’re taking the firehose approach, spraying that message as far and wide as they can. And following up endlessly with outlets that may or may not help drive really targeted reach. Even this little blog has countless emails per day – many of them not nearly related to what I write about.

Why use personas for pitching

Communicators need to take a page out of the digital marketers’ book and instead of going wide, go narrow. This is really where personas come in. Using personas for pitching can increase your pitch to placement ratio. Less work, higher results.

If you’re not familiar with them, a persona is a semi-fictitious representation of your ideal customer. What they do is help you become more familiar with the needs, desires and most importantly, the behavior of this particular group. When we “know” our customer this well we can create a plan to reach them in the most effective way. A way that is personalized for them, rather than a cookie cutter approach.

Personas help us get really specific, which given the media landscape today is incredibly helpful for pitching purposes. I often don’t even think of it as pitching anymore. To me, the job is to influence the media throughout their buying cycle. Rather than pitching stories, I’m supporting them in both the creation and the distribution of their stories. Remember that many of these folks are building their own platforms and distribution is incredibly important

5 Types of Media Personas

  • The blogger who is probably most interested in their own site and related assets. There are many of them, but few that really have a strong influence. Some say this persona is merging with that of the influencer. Is the blog the actual goal, or the influence of the blogger we’re after?
  • The broadcast or online video producer for whom a highly developed sense of urgency is a critical success factor. For them, the familiar rules still apply. They’re the storytellers of the bunch, and with online video have become a huge pool to dive into for communications reach.
  • The influencer, who looks to promote his or her own assets as well as those of their sponsors in the pursuit of driving the direction of a particular niche. This group has become the sweetheart of the communications world these days. Whether or not they actually help promote for our purposes remains to be seen.
  • The online writer, who is linked with multiple sites in a particular beat. These folks have replaced the beat journalists of old. They not only write about their particular niche they often become the experts in that niche as well, contributing to other pieces. They may eventually become influencers in their own right.
  • The traditional reporter who still has ultimate credibility, old-school journalistic ethics and from whose stories many OTHER stories are generated. Think of a New York Times article on a new study. Imagine how many blog posts, morning show packages, online pieces, podcasts, magazine articles, etc are still generated from one of those. They are old school, but still very powerful.

The first step is to determine which of these five you’re attempting to reach. Then customize it.

Questions to ask when creating personas for pitching

Here are some questions to ask yourself to help create this persona and a custom pitch plan:

  • What % of the cycle is self-directed?
  • How & when do they build relationships?
  • Who/what influences them?
  • What are their favorite channels?
  • When do they frequent?
  • What content do they prefer?
  • How do they find their stories?
  • What are their pain points?

You can find this information out by lurking…in other words go find someone that fits your persona, and is a “hot” target. See how they create their stories, who they quote, who they follow etc. If you can find a media person who is a good representation of your persona, simply ask them. You’ll often find you can’t shut them up if you’re asking good questions about how they find their stories.

If you can create good personas, you can personalize how you pitch groups of media. And avoid the firehose approach that is fast becoming more frustrating than effective. Take a tip from the digital marketing guys. Personalization is the way to go.



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