Pitch on Time

Every reporter can tell pretty much the same story. She gets a breathless call from a public relations person who says she has a story idea. Let’s say it’s a law firm that is touting a corporate deal it closed. The first question is: When did this happen? Oh, the reply goes: It closed last week.

If a lawyer wants the recognition he feels he deserves for his work for his client, he is a week too late. There is a reason reporters call it news: It has to be new, and these days, one week, or even three days, is not considered new.

Before the Internet, it was at least conceivable that a reporter would consider a pitch regarding a matter that was a few days old. Today, that won’t happen. Most reporters are on a 24-hour deadline to produce or update their stories for online consumption. Their news cycles are measured in minutes, not days or weeks.

Richard Levick has said publicly that the Internet has restructured the nature of PR. Whereas firms once had time before news outlets published front page stories, Levick said, the modern-day front pages are places like reddit and Twitter — and scandals can not only break instantaneously, but spread infinitely faster.

What’s true of scandals is also true, in its own way, of positive corporate or law firm news. No one wants to read today about what law firm pulled together a deal that happened weeks ago.

What’s more, if a PR person develops the reputation of not pitching stories that are current, she won’t find much luck getting reporters to take her calls. It’s simply a matter of professionalism to get into the habit of proposing stories to the right reporters, with the right facts, at the right time.

Not all public relations professionals are former reporters, and even the ones who are ex-journalists may have enjoyed their experience in the old days like me in the 1990s when time seemed to move more slowly. One trade-off here is that journalists will often understand that in the short time available, you may not have every single fact nailed down. That’s a price that they’ll gladly pay, in order to get a pitch that’s on time.