PR TECHNIQUE: PITCHING TO COLUMNISTS - Psst! How to get a gossip columnist’s ear

’Today’s gossip is tomorrow’s gospel,’ as the saying goes - and if you’re looking to tap into the media food chain, there’s no better place to start than the gossip columns.

’Today’s gossip is tomorrow’s gospel,’ as the saying goes - and if you’re looking to tap into the media food chain, there’s no better place to start than the gossip columns.

’Today’s gossip is tomorrow’s gospel,’ as the saying goes - and if

you’re looking to tap into the media food chain, there’s no better place

to start than the gossip columns.



Gossip columnists assume almost legendary positions on their respective

publications. Writers such as Walter Winchell were feared and revered

because of the power they held over celebrities.



PR practitioners certainly know who the most influential writers are

these days. High on the list are: syndicated writer Liz Smith, Richard

Johnson’s Page Six, Army Archerd at Variety, Rush & Molloy and Mitchell

Fink at the New York Daily News, Irene Lacher at the LA Times, Jeannie

Williams at USA Today and Laura Rich at The Industry Standard.



Meanwhile, on the Internet there is no bigger gossip than Matt

Drudge.



And on cable TV, MSNBC’s Jeanette Walls is a popular call for PR

pros.



Marc Malkin, on the Rush & Malloy column at the Daily News, says

celebrities will always be at heart of what gossip columns are all

about. ’We want celebrities, but celebrities now are different from what

they used to be.



It’s authors, politicians and Hollywood. And when any of them are

combined, that’s even better.’



Using the gossip columns is an art form, so it helps if you can get to

meet some of the columnists as they make their way around the bars and

restaurants of your city.



But what are they going to do for you? As one Hollywood-based publicist

puts it: ’They make the information seem more sexy. They add

personality.’



Another reason for using a gossip columnist is to get information that

isn’t quite ready to become a rounded story into the public domain.

Henri Bollinger, president of the Entertainment Publicists Professional

Society based in Los Angeles, says: ’They are helpful if you have a

story that isn’t fully fleshed out or there is a topic or angle that you

couldn’t approach the newsdesk with.’



Gossip columns constitute some of the most popular parts of their

respective publications. ’I don’t think there are very many people in

the entertainment business who don’t read Army Archerd (Variety) every

day,’ says Bollinger.



Andy Morris, vice president with New York agency Dan Klores confirms:

’The gossip columns are one of the first things I look at in the paper.

They can be very strategic.’



If you are looking to gain interest from the rest of the media

community, then a well placed mention in a column can move you up the

food chain, according to a number of PR pros. If an upcoming event

appears in the gossip columns, then it can often promote interest among

media and help to mobilize TV crews.



The two best pieces of advice about pitching columnists are also the

most obvious: be familiar with what they’re writing about; and ’master

the 10-second pitch’ says Bollinger.



Columnists, who often work with a large team, take hundreds of calls on

prospective stories a day. They know in an instant whether an item is

going to make the grade. For instance, sports events are not going to

make the paper unless you happen to have spotted a certain celebrity in

the stands.



Malkin, from the Daily News reminds PR pros they are there to create

buzz: ’Some people call and say, ’If you’re having a slow day, I have an

item.’ There is nothing more guaranteed to kill interest in your

story.’



Go for exclusivity, creativity



It is also worth keeping in mind that the columnists are driven by

exclusives.



Try and choose where your story sits best. What are the politics of the

paper, reputation of the web gossip or TV reporter?



It is also worth noting that although the rivalry among columnists is

fierce, they reportedly swap items thatmay offend some of their sources,

or even worse, their proprietors.



While the nature of gossip is that it isn’t verifiable, check out rumors

as far as possible before feeding them to columnists. The staff sre

going to remember if they spent time tracking down items that were

highly embellished or proved to be false.



Andy Morris at Dan Klores suggests being creative with your clients even

if they are not obvious candidates for the columns. Morris managed the

task of getting his healthcare client a positive mention in the New York

Post’s racy column, Page Six. Morris provided the column with a

photograph of a doctor he was representing. The doctor was being

considered for a People magazine spread on ’Beautiful People.’ The Post

staff picked up the picture and ran a story dubbing him ’Dr Love.’



Understanding how to keep your clients out of the columns can be just as

important as getting them in. But once the desk has a hold of something

juicy, they are not likely to let it go easily. Bollinger recommends

that one way of protecting your client from hot news is to make sure you

have something even hotter on someone else to trade with.



DOS AND DON’TS



DO



1. Give the columns the stuff on the big stars so you have a better

chance of getting coverage of your not so famous client.



2. If you want to keep someone’s name out of the paper, have something

better to swap.



3. Use the columns as a way of boosting interest from other media.



4. Use the columns when you are prevented from detailing all the kind of

facts a news desk would require.



5. Think of different angles for different columnists if you want two

bites at the cherry.



DON’T



1. Don’t be tempted to embellish or elaborate to sell the story. Always

be accurate.



2. Don’t deny stories that are true - gossip columnists have a wealth of

connections.



3. Don’t make your pitch too long winded - columnists’ phones ring off

the hook.



4. Never double plant material - gossip columnists live and die by their

exclusives.



5. Don’t presume the columnists are only interested in celebrities.



Be creative.



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