One of the most difficult skills for a PR intern to learn is pitching to the media. Thus, some professionals believe that we should not be permitted to do so.
Joan Stewart of the Publicity Hound recently published a blog titled 5 reasons why PR interns shouldn’t be pitching the media. And in the first sentence, she warns: don’t fall into the trap of letting them learn on the client’s nickel.
Uh-oh, she’s on to us interns and our trickery…
Below, verbatim, are her five reasons why interns shouldn’t be pitching to the media:
1. Pitching is difficult enough for PR people who have been doing it for many years. It’s the one skill that takes most professionals several years to learn, and several more to hone.
2. Most interns, who don’t know the client’s company intimately, are ill-equipped to answer a reporter’s question about the client. An intern who’s caught off-guard might not know how to respond, particularly if the question deals with a bad-news situation on a topic that’s a lot juicier than the topic of the pitch.
3. Put yourself in the client’s place. What would you think if you knew that an amateur college student was representing you and your brand in front of the media and bloggers?
4. Guarding and protecting the client’s reputation is a lot more important than letting an intern stumble and fall and “learn from the experience.”
5. Pitching is all about building relationships with the media. Interns typically arrive in May or June and they’re gone by September. Work on building the relationships between the media and YOU.
When I read that list, I agree that her concerns are valid when it comes to guarding and protecting a client’s reputation. I agree that her concerns warrant caution going forward, but I don’t agree that they are reason enough to stifle the education/development of up-and-coming professionals. Our inquiring young minds are ravenous for know-how!
Teaching an intern to pitch neither has to be a trap, nor at the expense at the client’s nickel.
How do I know this? Because I’m well into the learning process and my agency has yet to go up in flames.
To me, her blog post only seems to be considering two extremes: either we let our clueless interns loose on the media OR we ban them from pitching altogether. Why is there no middle ground to consider? Where is the option to provide your intern with a little training/supervision and start them off small?
[Warning: cheesy metaphor ahead]
To me, it’s comparable to running a marathon. Before you start training, there’s a lot of learning involved. You may begin by talking to friends who have trained for one and listen to their experiences. You would need to learn the fundamentals of proper training and nutrition before you could begin and then develop a suitable training program. And when it’s time for your first day of training, you won’t start off by running 26.2 miles, but rather just four or five. And then the next day you may run six or seven. You’ll get to a full-marathon distance one day, but you’ll have to work your way up.
Similarly, I started small. I sat in on a few of my co-workers pitches and received direction from them. My first assignments were asking a journalist if they’d be interested in running a photo from a client’s charity event, or alerting a university publication of alumni achievements. I never pitched on a topic I wasn’t actively involved in at the agency. And when a “bad-news situation” transpired, the first thought was not: Hey I know, this would be a great pitch for the intern! Because that wouldn’t have made sense. And yes, in that situation, I would have most likely been ill-equipped to answer reporters’ questions.
I’d argue that an intern can come to know a company intimately enough, within the span of a summer, to pitch to the media on their behalf. I’ve been involved in certain client projects from their commencement, and I’d argue that I’m qualified to tell a reporter why those projects are significant to the community. Eventually I began helping my co-workers pitch and follow-up for more-newsworthy events. And the next day, when a publication had featured our client, what a learning experience it was to know that I was part of that process.
Nearly every endeavor in life involves a little training and hard work. Just because you can’t run 26.2 miles right now, doesn’t mean that you can never run a marathon. And especially if you know that it’s something you’re going to accomplish one day, why would you put it off? (I mean, hey… you’re not gettin’ any younger.)
So if we must carry on this metaphor to the point of figurative affliction, I’m going to ask all you seasoned PR professionals to slow down your pace for a second and glance behind you. Those little dots on the horizon road are your interns. Granted, we’re still at about mile marker #2, but we’ve laced up our Nikes and we’re on our way! Thanks for believing we could do it. You just may find that the more confidence you have in our abilities, the stronger our desire to meet your expectations.