Interview with Aileen Pincus

Aileen Pincus
Aileen Pincus

Aileen’s communications experience spans the fields of journalism, politics and public relations. She has trained senior executives from around the country for one of the nation’s largest public relations firms, Golin/Harris International. Her work in strategy and communications training for Fortune 500 companies included counsel for the pharmaceutical, medical research, banking, automotive, legal, chemical, engineering and technology industries, as well as for political and non-profit groups.

Prior to training and consulting in private industry, Aileen worked as a senior staff advisor for a U.S.Senator. As Communications Director, she coordinated all local, regional and national media efforts, and served as the Senator’s chief spokeswoman. Aileen comes to media and communications consulting after an extensive career in journalism.

Aileen reported for local and national television news markets around the country for nearly two decades. She was an award-winning reporter for the NBC affiliate in Portland, Oregon, the ABC affiliate in Tampa, for the Fox affiliate in Washington DC and for CNN, where she reported on national stories for CNN affiliates around the country.

As President and founding partner of The Pincus Group, Aileen now directs effective media strategies and communication training for clients around the country. She writes and speaks on effective communication for national organizations and forums.

Aileen is a graduate of California State University at Northridge, School of Journalism. She is listed in Who’s Who as one of the nation’s most influential people. Aileen resides in Maryland with her husband Scot and their two children, Benjamin and Anna.

Check out Aileen’s clear command and understanding of the rights and wrongs of networking, the elevator pitch and an especially memorable pitch that was made to her!

Won’t an elevator pitch come across as if I’m reading from a cue card? How do I speed through key information without sounding robotic?
If it does sound robotic, you’ve got the wrong pitch. Ever meet someone with a deep knowledge or expertise who can’t communicate what he or she knows effectively? It’s not the mere facts about the product or offering that you need to get across here. After all, we could all save time and just hit the send button if it were. What you’re really demonstrating is something deeper – something you can only demonstrate in person. That’s your understanding of how that service or product will help your target solve a problem or gain advantage and your trustworthiness in following through.

To accomplish that, you need to offer something more than mere data. Yes, you need to get your offerings down to one or two key, broader ideas. But you also need to practice offering these ideas up in a short time frame that highlights the passion and meaning behind the facts. Here’s a test. When you’re meeting someone new and they ask what it is you do, do they ask a second question? If you’re not prompting more interest on a matter you know extraordinarily well, you need to understand why. At the very least, it probably means you need to keep working on that pitch.

Remember the elevator pitch has to be about what this product or service means for them. For instance, “We sell promotional products”, is a factual statement that would hold true for any number of companies, indistinct of each other. It’s certainly not going to convince anyone of the superior quality of your company to provide products. “We excel at helping local businesses like yours stand out from the crowd with high quality, leading edge promotional products (like this).”

I just hand out business cards. Doesn’t that eliminate the need for an elevator pitch?

A business card that substitutes for a marketing, sales, business development and public relations effort? That must be some business card! Joking aside, think of a business card as a first handshake. It’s a greeting – a mere gesture to start a conversation – not a replacement for a pitch about how you can meet the needs of this perspective client.

If I always knew who I’d be meeting, I could be prepared. However, I meet prospects all the time and don’t necessarily know their needs immediately. Should I have a watered-down basic elevator pitch handy for those types of chance meetings?
Concentrate on what you do know. Of course, the more you know about your prospect and the challenges they face in their industry, the more you can target your pitch. But not knowing more shouldn’t stop you from pursuing business when the opportunity arises. After all, you can assume every business wants to grow and every business wants to hold on to the customers they have. Think about the meeting point between what it is they need in order to do that, and what it is you have to offer. What solutions are you providing? You can still deliver an effective pitch, and with some quick thinking based on the answers you hear, hone it further.

What phrases or key words should I refrain from using?
A pitch that centers on “I” will not be nearly as effective as one centered on “you”. Don’t waste time talking about your own achievements, awards, company structure, etc. unless you can relate it to something important to the prospect. (You say “We’re the leading provider of widgets!” Your target might hear, “We’re too big to give you any personal service.”). Try to stay away from over-used or trite phrases that may signal the opposite of what you intend. For instance “out of the box thinking” is rarely labeled that by those who actually practice innovation. What service doesn’t say it is ‘customer-focused’? Finally, don’t call attention to your “outsider” status. Monitor your vocabulary, attitude and dress with the question, “What if I worked here? Would I fit in this environment?” For instance, a young professional who dresses too casually or who otherwise carries themselves unprofessionally, may be easy to dismiss. The same holds true for someone who uses “like” or “uh, you know” in every sentence, or who seems unbothered by their own ignorance (as in: “Well, I don’t really know anything about your business—you can decide how you can use this.”). Of course, simple good manners work everywhere. When in doubt, leave it out.

Is it smart to attempt to get an appointment or phone call immediately after making a pitch or would that be considered too aggressive?
Let me put it this way: That’s a question I’ve never heard a man ask. The lesson is this: If you have doubts about what you’re pitching, or why you’re pitching it, work those out before you get there. If you believe in your product or service, then let your confidence show. A confident person knows assertiveness is not something to fear or to mislabel.

We know that first impressions are crucial for both businesses and individuals. If a pitch is made that doesn’t seem to land well, should a follow-up with a prospect still be made or should it be assumed it’s just a lost cause?

Here’s a true story: A recent college grad begins his career in the late 1950’s by cold-calling the local Chicago owner of a couple of hamburger stands. He pitches the man on this new thing called public relations, hoping to convince him to become the young man’s first client. He tells the businessman public relations can be used to help the businessman bring many more customers into his stores by telling people why his burgers and shakes stand out. The small businessman declines, saying the two stores are doing just fine already. The grad, a young man by the name of Al Golin, doesn’t give up. In fact, he takes every chance he can to press his case with the small businessman, asking for just one meeting. Months later, the small businessman by now tired of the young man’s pestering, agrees to sit through one meeting. I listened to Al Golin tell that story of how he built Golin/Harris into one of the world’s largest public relations firms. He lit up when he told us Ray Croc wasn’t an easy client to win, but that he proved immensely loyal over the decades. Golin/Harris is still the agency of record for McDonalds.

So let me quote an entrepreneur from an earlier generation who was even more succinct on the subject. Henry Ford said, “Whether you [think you] can, or whether you [think you] can’t, you’re right.”

Have you been on the receiving end of any pitches that were especially memorable? What made them memorable?
One young lady pitched her web design services to me the wrong way – making it clear she knew nothing about my business, my market, or even her own. She even had difficulty answering what I thought was a simple question: why [should I choose] your services when I have so many other choices? I declined her offer to meet. When we next ran into each other, she’d learned her lesson. She clearly had come up to speed about my business and my competitive market and was able to clearly and quickly offer me the unique combination of skills she had that set her apart. I was so impressed, I agreed to a meeting to review her work and wound up a short time later, buying her services. I think what impressed me even more than the strength of the second pitch was the distance she’d had to travel to make it. It showed me she was someone who wasn’t about to give up until she had it right. That’s what I was looking for!

Get more tips from Aileen on the perfect elevator pitch!

Before you deliver your next presentation, face that media interview, prepare another speech, begin your campaign, meet regulators, land in crisis, or attempt to emerge from a current one, arm yourself with communications confidence. Contact The Pincus Group for a free consultation on powering up your communications skills!

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