Come the new year, I plan to stop doing something I've done all but nonstop, week in and week out, since 1991. Pitching the news media.
That's correct. This long-time media strategist for public relations firms both global and boutique will, as of January 1, 2023, never again phone, text, DM or email a pitch note to a reporter, editor, columnist, producer, correspondent or assignment desk in a bid for attention on behalf of a client. It’s official.
Yes, but why? Why step off the pitching mound now? Well might you ask. The answers might even carry some lessons for others.
First, let me explain why your guesses about my reasons are probably mistaken. The decision has nothing to do with my age (70). Nor with my professional longevity (almost 32 years practicing PR). Nor with burnout. I still feel, in every respect, at the top of my game, complete with a decent fastball.
Okay, then why? I'll start with three minor reasons. Last year I moved, from New York City to Italy for good. I'm now six hours later than the East Coast. Often either reporters are reporting while I'm sleeping or I'm sleeping while they're reporting. If a reporter in Manhattan asks at 5 p.m. EST to interview a client immediately, I’m already lights out. So no more playing the time zones for me. I'm giving my sleep priority.
Second, I'm obviously no longer located in New York City, where over the decades I've often met with members of the media in person over coffee, lunch and beers. Those face-to-face encounters in restaurants and conference rooms have proved priceless. You get to know -- and possibly even like -- each other a little. But now that I'm more than 4,000 miles away, that opportunity is off the table.
Third, maintaining media contacts after all these years turns out to be otherwise tricky, too. A lot of reporters I knew have retired. Still more have left journalism for PR firms, academia, corporate communications and freelancing. Many others have shifted off beats once relevant to you. And it’s axiomatic, if awkward to admit, that pitching those you know – and who in turn know you – is usually more fruitful than cold-calling strangers. So there's that, too.
|Front: grand-daughter Lucia, daughter Caroline and wife Elvira. Back: son-in-law Vito and Bob|
Other reasons come to mind as well. Reporters seldom answering the phone anymore. Too many PR people pitching too few reporters. The media landscape getting so fragmented.
But the number-one reason I'm hanging up my throwing arm is to break, once and for all, my longstanding addiction to pitching media in the first place. Across three-plus decades now, I've awakened almost every morning and shut my eyes in bed almost every night obsessing over how to get media coverage for my clients. Will I get a hit? How soon? A single or a home run? And what if I fail?
If you do the math – and I have – I’ve now pitched media for almost half of my life and three-quarters of my career. We’re talking pitches by the tens of thousands. Accordingly, I've spent much of my existence on earth in a state of uninterrupted suspense bordering on hysteria and panic. If awaiting verdicts to your pitches from reporters means holding your breath, then by my rough calculations, I probably last took a breath during the second Reagan administration.
Dealing with all the stress – the unrelenting demand for creativity, the never-ending pressure to deliver results, the ever-escalating anxiety over client satisfaction – can get old.
But hey, listen, you people on the front lines keep flinging your curve balls. If life is a pitch – and make no mistake: it is – then media relations is the right job for you. Go at it long enough, hard enough and well enough and you'll be in for those occasional moments of glory. A reporter at The New York Times will answer you with an emphatic "yes." You'll land an interview on the "Today" show. Or get your most challenging client on the front page of The Wall Street Journal. Suddenly, albeit briefly, your craving for a hit will be sated.
In those moments, life will taste almost unbearably sweet. Your colleagues will hail you as a hero. Your clients will claim you walk on water. You'll have earned your keep and then some.
As for me, I plan to quit (though I’ll still be devising media strategy and serving as an editorial specialist). So please feel free to listen for my mic drop.
Unless, of course, I change my mind and decide to keep pitching
In which case, come to think of it, maybe I will.
Bob Brody is a public relations consultant, a veteran of Weber Shandwick and Ogilvy, and an essayist who contributes to The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and the Washington Post. He is the author of the memoir “Playing Catch with Strangers: A Family Guy (Reluctantly) Comes of Age.”