PRSA Icon 2019 – Star Wars and Social Change

Christine Varela headshot.

Christine Varela

Nov 7, 2019

Mallory Peak and Christine Varela in front of their Social Change Marketing presentation.

This video, complete with the famed John Williams score, was what greeted the crowd at PRSA International Conference (ICON) for our presentation about weaving social change marketing into campaigns. The link between the Skywalkers and communications strategy? They show an appeal to fear — while memorable — is often not effective at driving behavior change.

You can download our full presentation about social change marketing here:

Mallory and I had a great time presenting, and while we were there, we had the opportunity to attend sessions led by some of the top industry leaders in the country. One session, “Pitch Tank,” especially stood out to me.

This session allowed for conference participants to pitch their stories – Shark Tank style – in front of nationally-recognized journalists: Entertainment Tonight producer Claudia Cagan, NBC4 anchor Lolita Lopez, USA Today reporter Ruben Navarrette, San Diego Union-Tribune journalist Peter Rowe and Celebrity Source president Rite Tateel. The media-pitchers then received feedback from these journalists. These were my main takeaways:

1. Get to the point
The best pitches are direct and easy to understand. The Pitch Tank journalists gave kudos to the practitioners who immediately got to the story and didn’t bury the lede in build up or hide it behind industry jargon and lengthy vocabulary words. Pitches written in “plain speak” are simply more accessible and are more likely to be picked up. However, getting to the point has its limits. The best pitches give a reporter all the relevant information, but also leaves them wanting to know more.

2. Don’t cut and paste
Blind pitches aren’t strong pitches. Stories are more likely to be published or aired if the pitch focuses on how the story directly pertains to the outlet. The Pitch Tank journalists recommended media pitchers spend time researching their top outlet and changing the pitch’s approach based on who they are pitching to.

3. Make connections
Some stories are very local, and others are more broad, but journalists take notice to stories that can appeal to both. Even if a pitch has a broad appeal, it can be positioned to show how it effects the local community. Vice versa, localized pitches can be put in a national context by making connections to national stories or issues. The more a pitch connects to broad and local communities, the more versatile a media outlet will view the story.

4. Find the good
Currently, audiences and journalists have a hunger for inspirational stories, and media outlets are making an intentional effort to include more of these stories in their daily coverage. Taking an inspirational approach and finding the human element in a pitch can go a long way. The Pitch Tank journalists made a point that stories of good works or acts of kindness stand out and can quickly find their way into publications and broadcasts.

For more information on PRSA ICON, visit the conference website and check out the recaps of some of my favorite keynote addresses:

  • Laura Ling: Never Give Up Hope
    Journalist and human rights advocate, Laura Ling, reflects on her 140-day captivity in North Korea and the influence of hope.
  • The San Diego Zoo: The Healing Power of Animals
    The San Diego Zoo shares their discovery of the impact animals can have on the lives of children’s hospital patients and how they were able to share their animals outside of their local community
Bob Woodward speaking on stage.
Two speakers with a porcupine on stage.
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