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Increase Your Pitching Power with Personas

Wednesday, November 15, 2017   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Eva Keiser
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The following blog is a summary of a presentation given by Bonnie Harris at PRSA 2017 International Conference held in Boston.   

In traditional marketing personas have been an important tool for decades. In modern communications, personas are also very useful, but woefully underutilized. For communications professionals, personas can significantly boost the pitch to placement ratio, increasing results, decreasing effort and maximizing outreach efficiency. Read on to discover the five main types of media personas, and questions to create pitch plans based on personas.


A 2017 Cision report stated that 20% of journalists relied less on PR last year, and that statistic seems to be worsening. Just like retail customers, B2B professionals, including members of the media, want to control their own experience whether they’re buying shampoo or searching for new stories or experts. Although it may seem a bit depressing, there’s an opportunity for smart communications professionals to actually become more valuable to the media by providing support when and how they want it. It’s a kind of personalization for the public relations game. And it starts with personas.


The idea of pitching in a “pray and spray” mode is tempting. With hundreds of thousands of media targets, it might seem like playing the numbers game makes sense. A tiny percentage of a bigger pie is still a great number right? But we all know this approach wastes a lot of time and can actually damage the chances of developing relationships with the media in the long run. Instead of going wide, communicators should follow the example of digital marketers and go narrow. Focus in on the behavior and desires of a few key media archetypes and you might find yourself becoming more valuable to your boss or client, and to the media as well. 


Personas are a semi-fictitious representation of an ideal customer, or in the case of PR, an ideal media target. Personas allow you to discover the needs, wants and behavior of your targets. When we understand our media targets we can craft a highly personalized plan to reach them effectively.


Personas let communicators understand very specific details about their ideal audience for their pitches. In fact, using personas has transformed pitching so much for me that I don’t even consider it pitching anymore. My task now is to influence and support the media throughout their specific and unique “buying” cycle. In other words, instead of pitching ideas and experts, I am supporting them in the creation and distribution of stories.


And it works. This past week I pitched two ideas to two media people at my hottest target. And I got both stories placed. Although that was a great week, my pitch to placement ratio is usually around 50-60%. And yours can be too. Read on.  



  • 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 main thing is helping them find content. 
  • 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. A heightened sense of urgency is required with this archetype.
  • 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. The actual impact of their influence needs to be assessed carefully, however,  to determine the amount of time you want to spend with them. 
  • The online writer, who is linked with multiple sites in a particular beat. They not only write about their particular niche they often become the experts in that niche as well, contributing to other pieces. They may also influencers in their own right.
  • The traditional reporter who still has ultimate credibility, old-school journalistic ethics and whose stories typically generate many other stories. 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 next step is to choose whom you’re attempting to reach, and then customize your persona, and your approach:  


Here are the top questions to ask yourself when you’re creating specific personas:

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


You can find out the answers to these questions by lurking within social media. Try studying the behavior someone who fits your persona and is a desirable target. Watch how this person creates stories, the people they quote, the people they follow on social media, etc. Another tactic is to find a media person who represents your chosen persona and simply ask them how they find their stories. The right questions generate insightful and often plentiful discussion. (Many  journalists love to talk about their craft. Be aware you might be on the phone for a while!)


As you create solid personas, you can personalize how you pitch different media including the stage at which you approach them directly. By doing this you avoid the firehose approach that is inefficient, frustrating and not effective. Take a tip from digital marketers. Personalization is the way forward, and personas are the key.

Bonnie Harris is the founder of Wax Marketing, Inc. a St. Paul-based integrated marketing firm. Her professional career includes extensive time in both the marketing and technology industries.  A Slideshare version of her presentation at this year’s PRSA ICON can be found here.


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