When I was 18, I was a consummate knife saleswoman. I was so good at convincing people their cutlery wasn’t up to snuff that I was able to buy myself my first smart phone. I should tell you, of course, that I also purchased my own knife set (with my employee discount) because practicing what I preach is important to me.

Fast forward nearly a decade, and I’m happily nearing my 8th full year as a public relations professional. I won’t bore you with the details of my knife-selling-to-PR time. However, recounting my time peddling sharpened blades reminds me of the similarities between my previous occupation and my current career.

Crafting a solid PR media pitchYes, you heard me correctly: Selling knives taught me quite a bit about crafting an enticing media pitch and building a strong relationship.

  • Laughter is the best medicine.
    We’re all human. We all have emotions and desires and needs and, hopefully, a sense of humor. When I sold knives I had two comedy routines.

    One of the utensils in the knife sets I sold was a spreader. When it was new and clean (as it was in the example sets I brought with me) you could easily see your reflection in the blade. I would hold it up in front of my face like a mirror and tell my client that it also doubled as a last-second makeup or food-in-teeth check. You never want to be the host who walks out of the kitchen with leftover spinach in tow!

    I was also very popular with musicians! If I was with a number of people at once, I’d ask the crowd if anyone played an instrument. If someone raised a hand, I’d tell them the knives also doubled as tuning forks. With astonished looks still on their faces, I’d ping the knife blade and ask what note they just heard. No matter what they said, I’d tell them that I had actually just played a B sharp, because these knives will always be sharp!

    The point of this anecdote is to illustrate the power of emotions, particularly laughter, when connecting with other people. Sharing a feeling or bonding over a stupid joke helps create familiarity. It’s also a wonderful icebreaker, (which, come to think of it, I didn’t sell, but that would have been cool). Don’t be afraid to liven up your pitches with a bit of comedy or a slightly less serious tone. You’re sending your pitch to another human being, not a robot. Remember that something that seems silly can go a long way.
  • Nudge, don’t badger.
    Before we could go out into the world alone to distribute our fabulous blades, we underwent a number of training sessions. The number one rule: Don’t ask someone more than three times if they’d like to buy a new set of knives. The same goes for following up after sending out a pitch.

    No response? Send a nice note asking the reporter or editor if they’ve seen your message. Still nothing? Third time’s the charm, the end all and be all, the last bastion of that particular conversation. If your inbox is still empty after that or you keep getting voicemail, leave that pitch be and move on to the next reporter or the next campaign. Most people might not mind a nudge — everyone’s inbox is a maze these days, and there’s a chance your initial note just got lost. But no one likes to be badgered, and as a pitcher, you need to understand when to leave well enough alone.
  • It’s a relationship, not a service exchange.
    While selling knives, I was reminded to follow up with prospective clients even after they declined to buy a new set of shiny kitchen tools. Not an aforementioned nudge, mind you, but a simple note: “Thank you for your time,” “Let me know if you have any questions about your current drawer full,” for example. Genuine well-wishes and acknowledgement of the time these other humans spent engaging with you go a long way to building a lasting relationship.

    The same goes for your relationship with the media. Treat them as you would your friends or family. They might not always want to write about your client or run your contributed piece, and that’s ok! You’re not simply exchanging a friendly note for a mention of your client. You’re building a relationship with another person. Get to know each other, engage in communication that isn’t just you pitching your client’s latest product news. Just like with other well-built relationships, ideally it’s a two-way street, and you’ll end up helping each other out somewhere down the line.

I think the most important thing I’ve learned is that whether selling knives or pitching media, most of life is about forming relationships with the people around you. Treat those other humans the way you’d like them to treat you, and you’ll find that the positive results you desire (selling a new set of vegetable-slicing tools or landing an exclusive feature) will happen naturally with time. I don’t think you need to try your hand at selling knives to understand that, but it sure helped me! Happy pitching.

~ Natalie Wolfrom, client and media relations supervisor

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