Wine PR and the Media in the Age of Twitter

TweetingthepitchSometimes, when you open old boxes, you find something pretty remarkable.

I had the chance to pull some old boxes that held materials from my first years and days in the wine PR business. One of things I found was literally an exercise that my first employer asked me to undertake. The task was to write a series of story pitches aimed at wine writers. However, I was allowed to use no more than two sentences to write these story pitches that were supposed to interest writers in clients' stories and I was not to use the name of the client.

What's funny is that what I wrote on that old piece of paper from 1990 looked a heck of a lot like a set of tweets.

The point of this exercise, given to a young man with no PR experience, yet hired at a wine PR agency, was to help me hone my skill of writing directly and succinctly and provocatively and convincingly.

The mysteries of Petite Sirah are finally being uncloaked. Will the truth change the perception of this grape?

How hard does a varietal have to fight before it wins the battle? The answer of what is driving the "Fighting Varietal" wave in wine has been in front of our eyes for years.

Don't call it "Champagne". But if you can detect the difference you'll be doing better than the Champagne producer that makes the wine.

These are a few of the two-sentence pitches that I delivered to my boss for consideration back in 1990. They look like Twitter posts, don't the?

The art of writing succinctly and convincingly in few words has never been as important for marketers and PR folks as it is today. Like it or not, even the overly literate (which almost always includes writers and journalists) pay far less attention today to long, rambling communications. The Information Inundation is overwhelming. The need to get through one communication and get to the next is critical just to keep up. If you are in the business of issuing sales pitches or pitching stories to media cold, as all PR and communications professionals must be, you'd better be able to do it using a short supply of words.

I can't even imagine sending an email story pitch to a writer or editor that is over 300 words. And even at under 300 words, I'm making sure I find ways to highlight one or two sentences that I want an eye to latch on to. Sending long emails to anyone, let alone editors and writers, isn't just bad work, it is invasive and assumes too much about your own importance, while not appreciating the importance of the recipient's time.

This is of course one of the reasons that Twitter has succeeded so spectacularly: Its 140 character limit mimics, for good or bad, the severely reduced attention span we all possess as well as the necessity today of communicating in the quickest way possible.

So of course, this all leads to the real question: Can a Twitter Message effectively be used to pitch a story idea to a writer, journalist or editor? The answer is yes. However, it needs to be done just write and in a way that not only respects the basic principles of public relations but also the medium. Here are some tips:

1. Know Who You Are Pitching
In other words, you are looking for an individual's twitter account, not that of the publication. You are bound to get someone in the marketing department reading your pitch. In addition, this means actually being familiar with and having interacted with the person prior to pitching them.

2. Always Direct Message, Never Open Message the Media
I know. This should be obvious. But I've seen PR people use an open twitter feed to pitch a story to a member fo the media. It's no body else's business that you are pitching a writer a story or that the writer is getting pitched. Think of the twitter pitch as a quiet moment alone on the elevator. Just you two.

3. Stay on the Writer's Subjet Matter
If Joseph Journalist writes about Wine Technology, don't pitch them a story about your new CEO. Just don't.

4. Be Upfront About What You Are Doing
In almost all my media pitching by email, I write the same thing first: "I want to pitch you a story idea about a client of mine…", of someting to that effect. There's just no sense in pussyfooting around. Now, given the limitations of a Twitter message, this might not be possible to do and still get in your quick story pitch. But if it is possible, do it.

5. The Twitter Pitch Is Aimed At the Readers, Not the Writer
The Twitter Message should serve up the idea that will be most compelling to the writer's audience, not the most compelling idea to the writer. There is a difference here. The writer or journalism, because they spend so much time thinking and investigating details of an industry or niche, are going to find certain more detailed information more interesting than their readership will. However, in the end they need to write about information that is of interest to their readership. Recognize this.

6. The Hard Part: Write Conversationally, Not in Headlines
The Twitter Pitch isn't a chance to give them a headline. It's about selling the writer on an idea forthrightly. All sales are personal. Try try be personable in your Twitter Pitch

7. Declare Then Analyze
You've got 140 characters. The Twitter pitch should do two things: make a declaration then offer the key analysis of that declaration. For example, "XYZ Blog has played a key role in Hi-Liting sins of "Natural Wine". Do Nat. wines deserve this kind of attention? Story 4 U?"

8. Take The Conversation Off Twitter Soon
If you receive a positive response from the writer, take the conversation off Twitter immediately. There is no need at this point to limit your approach or the conversation. Plus, trying to talk about anything with any depth on twitter will rot your brain.

I think of Twitter as similar to the telephone or e-mail. It's just another communications device, which makes it an appropriate tool in public relations work. It's a matter of using it properly, in the right context and for the appropriate purposes. What I didn't think is that 20 years ago I'd be practicing for a technology that was two decades off.

10 Responses

  1. WineFolly - March 8, 2012

    Very smart article and relevant to the wine-o-sphere. I was also inspired by CopyBlogger blog! looking forward to more.
    Some of these are hard questions to ask, such ask “Know who you are pitching” any recommendations on how you find relevant PR peeps?

  2. Tom Wark - March 8, 2012

    Do you mean, any recommendations for journalists that are on twitter?

  3. Shelly - March 8, 2012

    “any recommendations on how you find relevant PR peeps?” Check out PR Divas on Facebook — almost all food & beverage PR peeps.

  4. Sondra - March 9, 2012

    Very useful article. thanks.

  5. WineFolly - March 9, 2012

    More like a how-to-find relevant PR people tactic. It’s hard to get the answers when you standing at the front door of a media outlet. PR associations that are tied with the media (back door approach)
    ie. I run a google reader, a google search word tool, and rely on twitter analysis tools.

  6. Emmalow - March 12, 2012

    Thanks Tom – always really helpful insight! Question for you: what is the best way to go about asking a media person to follow you so that you are able to DM? Since #2 says to always DM your pitch and never open message it to all your followers, I find that I’m often having to stick with standard email/phone outreach since many of the media contacts I follow aren’t following me back.

  7. Tom Wark - March 12, 2012

    Use email and phone. That’s my suggestion. Frankly, it’s more flexible than twitter—obviously. That said, if you know the person, ask them in an email to follow you: “Hey Joe, how are you? I was going to Direct Message you on Twitter about xyx, but realized you were not following me, so couldn’t.”
    Any variation on this approach will do.

  8. Jack - March 12, 2012

    So easy this days to “know who you are pitching to”. No matter what you are pitching, all you need to do is find a internet forum on the subject and read what people are saying in a forum, or even go to yahoo answers and type in your subject and see what people are asking.

  9. Robert Giorgione - March 12, 2012

    An interesting article. Many thanks for sharing.

  10. Emmalow - March 30, 2012

    Thanks, Tom!

Leave a Reply