Pitching the Media: Know When to Hold ‘Em, Know When to Fold ‘Em

As an avid poker player, I’ve been studying Texas Hold ‘Em for several years. Yes, I’ve read Doyle Brunson’s book. Yes, I’m a member of a local poker room. Yes, I watch the World Series of Poker on ESPN. And yes, I’ve seen Rounders and know that Teddy KGB’s “tell” involved Oreos.

It is a hobby that I really enjoy, but I’ve been finding myself comparing a lot of things in life to poker. The other day, I was following up on a press release and pitching the media, when I began to notice similarities with poker. It was interesting and I thought I’d jot down some of my observations:

STUDY THE GAME

When it comes down to poker, the more you understand the game, the better player you will be. There are resources out there that can give you a poker education. And there are opportunities to go out and test what you learn – free poker online, local poker rooms, games with friends, etc. — and learn more.

When you pitch the media, you need to have studied “the game”. Know the publication or the show that you are pitching. Study their history — what stories they have done in the past and what the format of those stories has been. And then use “free” opportunities like you have with poker: call a friend with your pitch, send an email to another friend who has a critical eye. Get to know someone in the media and use them as a mentor for constructive criticism of your pitch.

KNOW YOUR OPPONENT

The best poker players study the other players at the table and gather as much information about them as they can. They study their verbal and non-verbal communication. They pay attention to the way their opponents play. Are they tight players, only playing when they have great hands? Are they loose players, check raising with rags? Great players gather any and all the information they can about their opponents and use this information when they play.

Do the same in PR – know your opponent, in this case the reporter you are pitching (okay, I know, they are not really an “opponent”…allow me some poetic license). Read past articles they have written, watch news stories they have done. Know tendencies of these reporters; do they usually do negative or positive stories, what beat do they usually cover, etc.? Find and read their bios; where did they work before, where did they go to college, do they have family, etc.? Do research on when and how they like to be pitched; email, phone call, meet face-to-face? Gather information and know your “player.” You will establish relationships, make better pitches and have greater success.

GET YOUR MONEY IN WITH THE BEST HAND

This is a phrase you don’t hear often, mostly when guys are short-stacked. Basically, it means that when you have your best hand, play aggressively with large, sometimes all-in, bets.  For example, if you are dealt pocket 10s and the flop comes as 10-K-6, you should bet aggressively with your set of 10s. Even if someone has a king in their hand, you have them beat with your set (apologies to those that this looks like Chinese…play more poker).

It’s the same with the media. When you have your best pitches, get them in the game. Pitch the best sources or the biggest sources, maybe even ones you have never considered or have never pitched in the past. When you have a good story to tell and you know that it is going to benefit the reporter’s readers/viewers, go all-in, putting maximum effort into your pitch and to the resources that will produce the greatest return.

KNOW SITUATIONS

Poker players, as they play, are presented with a great number of situations. Good players have an understanding of how to play certain starting hands – pocket aces, connectors, suited cards, etc. They also know the odds associated with different situations – flopping a set, one card to a straight, two cards to a flush, etc. They understand how much to bet, if they should check raise and when to fold. One thing to note is that good players watch the other players after they have folded their own hands. Information is gold at the poker table.

When it comes to media, those that make the best pitches are the ones that know the situations. They have been studying the media and have seen a variety of situations – when is the best time to pitch, what is the best way to pitch, what are the best types of stories to pitch, etc. They can handle being cut off by reporters, they leave concise, effective messages and they understand when they have the best shot of getting their story accepted (so they DON’T get cut off by reporters). Like good poker players, they study the media after they have “folded” — when they don’t have a pitch or any news. The best PR people gather information and use it. It’s gold.

HAVE PATIENCE

One of the best tools a poker player can have is patience. Playing marginal hands and being a loose player, will bust you in no time. If you play long enough, you know that most of the time, you are (and should be) folding your hand. What they don’t show you on ESPN’s World Series of Poker is the number of hands that the players fold during a tournament. The best players are patient (disciplined) enough to play their best hands in the best position, even if it’s only one or two times per night. This kind of discipline will make you a better (and profitable) player.

Pitching the media? You’re going to have to be patient. They aren’t going to like every pitch you make. They aren’t going to get back to you in a timely manner (if ever at all). It may take several calls, emails, texts, Facebook IMs, etc. to get any kind of response from the media. Be patient when you are dealing with the media; pick your spots, pitch your best stories, when you are in the best position and you will have greater success rates for placements of stories. Get one or two great hits every month, and you are going to be seen as very, very good PR professional.

Play well.

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