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The Art of Selling

There are literally thousands of books and how-to guides that promote the best tips, tricks and techniques when it comes to selling. “How to Master the Art of Selling” by Tom Hopkins remains the proverbial bible for sales people everywhere, while hundreds of similar titles promote the same thing: The art of the sale.

What you won’t find so readily at the bookstore or anywhere else is anything about the art of pitching: news stories, that is, which if you think about it is kind of odd. Indeed, as much as public relations is about the promotion and professional maintenance of a favorable public image, it is equally if not more about ‘sales.’ In public relations, the ‘sale’ is the message you are trying to get out there, and pitching is the delivery method.

Sales, especially phone sales, is a tough racket. The fact of the matter is that no one likes to feel like they are bothering people, but if you have a message to get out there, then you're going to have to find a way to do so. This is especially true for any business looking to get their message out there: The “pitch” – and how you do it – is critical to getting your key audience’s attention.

The same rule of thumb goes for PR. It's not an easy feat to continuously try to convince your target audience – namely overworked and overburdened journalists who already have too much to do in too little time – to answer your phone call or email (or text or Tweet) and pay attention to what it is you are trying to pitch.

And just like a sales call you have one shot using the right tactics to avoid having the proverbial door slammed in your face.

Which is why it is an art, and not for the faint of heart.

PR is simply one avenue that is used to get a message out. The next step is convincing the media that it's newsworthy.

That being said, here are five “sales” tips for PR professionals to keep in mind:

1. Pitch Properly

Creating a great pitch or press release is like painting a picture. It may take time to ensure each line matches up and makes sense, but the end result will speak for itself. The goal of pitching is the same. You want people to know what they are looking at on first glance, but it can’t look like every other picture they have seen.

Key is getting to the point and letting them know why what you are selling matters to them – and doing it fast. This way, whoever you are pitching will be able to gauge their interest immediately.

2. Keep it Simple

In a world of too much information and too little time, PR pros tend to lean towards “shock value” approaches – finding ways to make an email stand out and catch a reporter’s attention, with ALL CAPS or, more commonly, with subject lines that they think will grab eyeballs.

The reality is that very few people appreciate being shocked into listening to a pitch. On the contrary, simplicity is often underrated – with journalists, explaining what a story is, why you feel it’s a good fit for them to report on, how it compliments their focus and coverage and, most importantly, what their audience might get out of it is much more effective than trying to “trick” them into reading a subject line and email.

Offering quotes and/or headlines that get straight to the point are helpful tactics as they make their job as easy as possible, which may make them more likely to interact with you and/or your client.

3. Do your homework and be prepared

Would you go out and sell a car or a vacuum cleaner without knowing how to start it? To be able to interact effectively, you must first educate yourself to ensure that you can answer all key questions about the “product” you are selling. With PR, that means taking the time to research similar stories, campaigns, etc. to ensure you understand all aspects of what you are pitching, and so you can respond quickly and appropriately to all inquiries.

You should also research and know your target audience: You wouldn’t try to sell a car to a class of elementary school students. Nor should you be “selling” your pitch about a new social media software platform to a journalist or publication that focuses on cars.

4. Know your target audience

Always research and get to know your target audience before approaching them: You wouldn’t try to sell cars to elementary school students. Nor should you be “selling” your pitch about a new social media software platform to a journalist or publication that focuses on boats.

Like sales, PR requires you to do your research to ensure you are reaching the right people with the right message. Find out what your audience is looking for and how you can help them before interacting with them. There is nothing more embarrassing then putting time into a great pitch and then sending it to all the wrong people.

This is an extremely important aspect of PR – and of ensuring the story and message you are trying to pitch gets some attention. There is nothing more embarrassing then putting time into a great pitch and then sending it to all the wrong people.

5. Timing is everything

It would be fascinating to know how many call-centre workers make a sale by calling during the dinner hour. Yes, they get people on the phone, but do they actually engage anyone to sign up for that duct cleaning service or have their computer scanned for viruses?

Ok, the latter two examples are clearly scams, not sales, though the premise behind reaching a key target audience and engaging them is the same: knowing when someone will be around and available to pick up the phone or focus their attention electronically is well more than half the battle.

Indeed, it may seem like it’s always best to get the news out there ASAP, but that may not be the case. Just as in sales, it’s usually best to try and time your pitches/interaction to the most viable – or appropriate – time. First thing in the morning is usually a good bet, as is near the end of the day when journalists may be past deadlines.

Bonus Tip: Offence, not Offense

If there’s one key trait that most salespeople share, it’s being thick skinned – knowing it’s not personal, and persevering at the job to make the sale. PR isn’t all that different. Just because your pitch is not picked up immediately or doesn’t result in front-page coverage doesn’t mean it won’t be – or that the relationship you develop with that contact in the future doesn’t lead to something else.

As they say in sales, no doesn’t mean no, it just means try again at another time.

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