Pitching – Like Throwing A Stick For A Dog

DogMichael O’Connor Clarke mentioned a great analogy for pitching to me when we were chatting at work today. He says pitching is like throwing a stick for a dog. Michael actually wrote about this years ago from a slightly different perspective; I’ll try to put a new spin on it.

Confused? Let me explain.

In an ideal world, you throw a stick for a dog and the dog immediately runs after the stick. Mission accomplished. 

Sometimes, the dog won’t get it immediately and you’ll need to point them in the right direction.

Sometimes that works.

Other times you’ll stand there pointing at the stick, but the dog has no idea what you pointing means. As Michael puts it:

“A dog has no way of interpreting what the human gesture means – you’re just an alpha dog showing them your finger. The finger of this alpha dog is, for the moment at least, really interesting. They’re probably going to comment on it in their own doggy way: with a tilt of the head, a waggy tail, and a curious expression.”

You’re trying to point them towards your stick; they’re focused on your finger.

Transfer the context over to the world of public relations and, more specifically, pitching.

Sometimes jurnalists or bloggers will just latch onto your story without you having to do too much. Jackpot. Other times, you’ll need to point them in the right direction.

If your approach (and news) is good, the journalist might go for the story.

If your approach isn’t so hot – and especially if you don’t do it right – the person you’re pitching is far more likely to focus on your “finger” – the pitch – than they are on the story.

That’s when things like this happen.

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  • Yes – it’s an analogy I keep coming back to in the last couple of weeks, as the discussion about the evolution of PR and the whole idea of pitching continues.

    Way back in 2003 I sat on a panel of fellow flacks at what was the first ever big conference focused on the idea of blogging in business. I got shouted down and snarked at for daring to suggest that the entire concept of pitching is fundamentally broken and wrong and that it would surely die as social media rendered communications increasingly transparent. I don’t think I’ve changed my view too much since then.

    I wrote a stupidly long analysis/diatribe on the same topic (and replayed the dog simile) here: http://snurl.com/eltj7 (really old piece, so pardon the link rot).

    Many other threads are converging right now to help clarify my thinking about this. Stuff from Clay Shirky’s outstanding “thinking the unthinkable” screed, thoughts in Jeff Jarvis’ WWGD book, comments Mathew Ingram made at Third Tuesday this week – I feel I’m approaching a minor epiphany of some sort.

    I’m not quite at the point where I can articulate it all fully, but here’s a scrap: while I really like the idea of Brian Solis’ new book (“Putting the Public back in Public Relations”), I think I would have framed the title differently.

    It’s not a case of needing to put the public back. Rather, as another old friend of mine once said, we need to put the hips back into Public Relations. We need to be thinking about our role as facilitators of great public relationships.

    If you have an actual relationship with someone, then going to them with some story ideas, comments, or news you think they’ll find interesting is never going to be “pitching”. You’re never going to use a “spray and pray” approach for people you have a relationship with.

    There’s much more to think about in this. Some of it is actually taking PR back to where it should have been all along. And part of it is evolving the role, purpose and practice of PR in light of what the Net has done to communications.

    I feel another McLuhan quote coming on, so I’d better shut up now. I’ll blog some more thoughts once I’ve noodled on this further.

  • Love the analogy, but it would break down in my household. My dog runs to the stick/toy, picks it up, and then expects me to chase him. Is that maybe more like pitching a blogger? 😉

  • We may also have too many dogs and too many sticks. We may still need to begin by differentiating from the other fingers. Same thing, different results. @knealemann

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