Fifty. That’s how many cannabis PR pitches, give or take, that Marijuana Venture editor Garrett Rudolph receives each week. And maybe, just maybe, one of those is worth a story.
Let that sink in for a minute. Only 2 percent of the pitches or press releases he sees are compelling and newsworthy. For a brand, that’s disheartening but not shocking. Effective PR works for everyone – the brand, the editor, but most importantly the reader. Understanding the audience is priority No. 1, as highlighted in this piece about cannabis brand awareness. Second, is know what is news.
That lack of understanding has frustrated me since crossing over from editorial to public relations. And it brings up a lot of threads worth teasing out: Should PR pros have category expertise? Why don’t those same pros realize what is news and what isn’t (this is a foundational part of the job)?
While these questions are relevant for all categories, they’re particularly interesting for those of us working in the legal cannabis space. A number of publications, both digital and print, have surfaced and companies are adding communication staff and PR firms to their teams at a rapid pace.
I reached out to Rudolph after reading his recent column, “This is Reefer Madness: 7 takeaways from MJBizCon,” which pointed out that the PR industry has caught up with cannabis.
Marijuana Venture adheres to stringent editorial standards (this is NOT a pay-to-play publication), which is one reason it’s one of the most credible publications in the industry. Below, Rudolph shared some of his thoughts about what works and what falls flat when he is pitched a story idea.
Question: What types of pitches do you see on a regular basis?
Answer: I see a pretty wide variety. One of the most common is the “so-and-so is available for comment” variety. Also, (I get) a lot of pretty mundane press releases.
Q: As an editor, what type of pitches are you looking for? What gets your attention?
A: Usually I’m looking for something unique, something different than what other publications are running with and something different than what’s already on my radar. I want something my competition doesn’t have.
Sometimes it’s as much about timing as it is the quality of the pitch. Also (unfortunately for those in the communications industry), I’m typically more intrigued by a business owner or manager sending me a pitch directly, rather than going through a PR firm.
Q: What makes a good pitch?
A: It really helps when the person pitching the story understands Marijuana Venture. Not that they have to read it cover to cover every month, but at least have a decent grasp on the content and our target demographic.
Also, personalizing the pitch gives it a better chance of being considered. Another thing is being prepared: If you’re pitching a guest column, have a high-resolution headshot and bio of the author; and have a reasonable timeframe for when it can be delivered.
Regardless of what type of content is being pitched, have some background understanding of the subject. For example, say I’m being pitched a feature story on a cannabis cultivator. Depending on what I’m looking for at that particular time, I may have some quick, easy questions: Indoor, outdoor, greenhouse? Soil or hydroponic? Organic or conventional? HID or LED? If you have those answers at the ready, that’s a big plus. If you have to go back and ask, I’ve probably already moved on.
Q: What makes a bad pitch?
A: Too many (examples) to list. Again, one of the biggest mistakes is not understanding Marijuana Venture and its target audience. It’s not too much to ask to read a copy of the magazine before sending me your pitch, and it’s obvious if you haven’t.
Also, pitches that are obviously copied and pasted to a dozen different publications; pitches that exaggerate a person’s expertise or need superlatives like “best,” or “highest quality” to tell their story; (and) pitches that beg for attention.
Q: There’s a lot of inexperience in this space; have you ever had people want to pay for editorial placement?
A: Certainly some people are pushier than others and people have suggested “pay-to-play” style articles. It does have the potential to tarnish an individual’s reputation and that can ultimately hinder the brand from getting the attention it might deserve. That doesn’t work at all for me.
Unfortunately, in the cannabis space, this is the norm for a lot of publications. It’s been interesting to call up companies unfamiliar with Marijuana Venture, say I want to write a story about them and have them ask how much it costs. Not necessarily because they think articles cost money, but because that’s the precedent that has been set.
Q: If you could give one piece of advice to someone pitching you, what would it be?
A: Learn about how publishing and journalism work. Some PR professionals (and most people outside the greater communications realm) have zero understanding of how newspapers and magazines operate.
Understand that I get 50 pitches a week, and I have to say no about 49 times. Understand what a high-resolution photo is, how deadlines work, how covers are selected and don’t take my time for granted. And perhaps most importantly, understand that my commitment is to my readers. It’s not my job to promote your company. It’s my job to put out the best magazines I can.
Q: What are your thoughts on press releases? Many see them as archaic, but they’re often used (and still requested by many editors).
A: They are kind of archaic, but they’re also a necessary evil. Just like story pitches, I delete about 99 percent of press releases that come across my desk.
Press releases are great for certain things: New products, new events, even new hires. And again, if you’re going to send a press release, be prepared for the follow-up; don’t send a press release on a new product or a new hire without being able to provide a high-res photo of the product or the person. If you don’t have that yet, you’re probably not ready to send out the press release.
There was a great article in Entrepreneur about the press release industry and how every press release that gets sent out basically waters down the entire medium. It really struck a chord with me.
Q: In your words, what’s the easiest way for someone to determine if they have news or a good story? Can you provide a couple tips or pieces of advice?
A: Great question. It’s tough to explain, in all honesty. Companies and individuals should have a good story. That story should be part of their brand, much in the same way as it’s part of their sales pitch. Whether that story is one I want to write about is another question altogether.
What makes you unique, different, interesting? There has to be more than “I grow the best cannabis.” Again, look at it from the perspective of readers and what they’d be interested in, rather than thinking about yourself and how a story could promote your company.