Entrepreneurs often ask me if publicists’ pitches really lead to stories. Journalists don’t like answering that. When we bite on a publicist’s suggestion, we feel like we aren’t doing our jobs — that rather than hunting down a great yarn, we just ran with what fell in our laps. But the honest answer is: Yes, sometimes a pitch works. And I’ll tell you the background from one such story in this issue, so you can see how it happens.
It began on February 1, when a publicist named Leila Belcher emailed our senior editor, Alexandra Zissu. Subject line: “Hi Alexandra — How Project 7 Gum Rose from the Ashes.” (Side note: A marketer recently told me that he ran an experiment and found that customers opened his emails more often when he put their name in the subject. Did that make a difference here?) The pitch was one paragraph; it said that Project 7 founder Tyler Merrick had a “particularly interesting and inspiring story” of rebuilding his company after it went under.
Usually, publicists reply to these kinds of questions themselves. But this publicist forwarded a personal response from Merrick, her client, who explained in detail how he went wrong. (In brief: He sold mediocre products that he thought people would buy because a slice of sales went to charity. It didn’t work.) “Founders need to be more vulnerable and transparent about their failures and struggles,” he concluded.
She got Merrick on the phone. “He was the most transparent person I’ve talked to for Entrepreneur,” Zissu says. And that’s how the perfect mix came together: a pitch that targeted what a publication covers and what a specific editor is interested in, an entrepreneur who is comfortable opening up and a story that readers will benefit from. Sure, it wasn’t gumshoe reporting — but no journalist will turn that one down.