January 11, 2011

Pitchiness: Marketing, Publicity and the Difference

Most people associate the word "pitchy" with American Idol contestants who could benefit from a little AutoTuning. When baseball fans see the words "perfect pitch," Mariano Rivera or Sandy Koufax may come to mind.

But for those of us in the persuasive professions, pitching, though no less of a craft, is a whole different kind of discipline. The writer pitching her editor a story or the publicist doing his best to get that writer to consider his client as part of that story are essentially doing the same thing.  As in baseball, it's pretty much a one-on-one moment, even though the publicist's goal is to reach the editor's audience.

Marketers, on the other hand, are trying to persuade that audience directly, by advertising or by influencing. Even when those efforts involve one-on-one contact between humans, as with the attractive spokesmodels paid to talk up liquor brands at bars, marketing aims at a group.

Lately, the word "publicist" has become something of a punchline. In the music industry, where I've toiled for the past few years, it's lazily used to indicate monolithic major-label thinking no longer appropriate to the flexible needs of independent musicians, whose impact on their audiences, the theory goes, owes more to their own social media efforts.

Hooey, I say. A publicist's practiced charms are ideally suited to social media messaging (and as spokespeople for themselves, musicians generally make excellent musicians).  But messaging alone is mere pitchiness when promoting music, ideas, or products. It takes a marketing sensibility to think creatively about how to reach audiences and get them to take action, and to look hard at the results and the ROI.

The gatekeepers of TV, radio and print still matter, and though social media reaches them too, the one-on-one pitch is still the best way to reach out and convince someone, especially when there's a marketing presence behind it. Marketing, too, is all about the right relationships; teaming up with the perfect promotional partner doesn't trump a great click-through rate, but it's likely to have more overall impact, and that takes one-on-on convincing.

Anyone who hopes to influence and persuade an audience, whether of one or of millions, needs to start by understanding that audience and how to speak to it. Good marketers and good publicists (and good editors and producers, for that matter) know how to do both. Great ones know which pitch to reach for, and when they're off-key.

Fran Drescher as Bobbi Flekman, Spinal Tap's publicist

No comments:

Post a Comment