Search the hashtag #PRFail on Twitter and you’ll find reams of journalists’ pet peeves. Some of their gripes may seem a little petty, but when you consider the influx of pitches they have to deal with on a daily basis, it’s easy to see why they’re annoyed.
— Claudia Peschiutta (@ReporterClaudia) August 26, 2016
Below are the five worst things you can do when pitching the media. Avoid making these mistakes and you’ll incur the good graces of journos everywhere. Ignore the advice and you’ll find yourself languishing in someone’s junk folder before the week is out.
A recent tweet by the Independent’s Editor in chief caused outrage among the PR community when he admitted that he deletes emails that begin, “Hi, hope you’re well.”
Sides were taken and things got heated (as they do in the Twitterverse), but I’m with the Ed on this one. Using a false or hollow sentiment is a waste of an opportunity. Instead, he advocates getting straight to the point. Everyone’s busy and let’s face it, you’re not pals or anything. So rather skip the pleasantries and say why you’re getting in touch.
Once you’ve established a relationship with them, then by all means, lead with a friendly greeting: ask after their dog, expound about the weather, whatever, just say it like you mean it. In other words, don’t ask if you don’t really care.
Poorly Targeted Press Releases
It doesn’t matter how many times PR people say they ‘target’ their press releases – far too often they simply mail bomb a load of contacts and publications with vaguely relevant titles.
While this may not always be immediately damaging, over time the approach will render your emails meaningless. They’ll fall into the ‘white noise’ category and will ultimately be missed by the people who you want to read them.
Instead, send unique, purpose built emails to the journos or editors you know and spend some time researching the ones you don’t before getting in touch. Familiarize yourself with the nuances of the topics they cover first and then send a pitch explaining why it fits into their area of coverage.
This small bit of effort alone will go a long way to fostering a great relationship with the publication in question. While we’re on the subject of making an effort, another pet peeve most people have about the PR set is their propensity for getting the intended recipient’s name wrong.
Check and double check before you hit send. Everyone can make mistakes, we’re human after all. Just make sure it’s not the name.
Being Too Corporate
Effective journalism is the art of communicating complex issues clearly. Far too often, marketing materials communicate straightforward issues in a complicated fashion. One sure fire way of earning the PR pain of the month award is to submit a press release or article that’s padded to the hilt with meaningless marketing sentiment and management buzzwords.
Some of these phrases are so overused that journalists have taken to ridiculing them online. This, as you can imagine, is not good PR for you or your client. The FT even has a microsite and column dedicated to showcasing the worst examples of this corporate non-speak, don’t let your client be one of them.
Don’t get me wrong, speaking to a journalist is still by far the best way to build rapport. Nagging, on the other hand, will get your nowhere. Fast. If you do call a journalist then never utter the universally despised phrase, “Did you see my press release?”
This is a guaranteed one-way ticket to PR pain-in-the-arse-ville. The road back is so long and arduous that few (if any) ever return.
A far better approach would be to prepare a simple and to the point pitch. Mention that you sent news over, but then offer them something fresh as well, like an interview. Make sure you know the content and argument well though; this isn’t the time for winging it.
Then, if they say no, accept your losses and move on. Not everyone is going to like everything you send. That’s just the way it is.
Quirky, Novel or ‘Funny” Pitches
Defining this isn’t easy, which is exactly why you shouldn’t use it. Your sense of humor, or worse, your client’s sense of humor, might not resonate with the person you’re pitching.
They’re already fielding hundreds of emails every day, so don’t let a badly timed joke be the reason they send you hurtling into the spam folder. Instead, err on the side of caution and avoid anything that could be misconstrued or misunderstood by a journalist.
Stick to the facts and communicate your news as clearly and concisely as possible. Remember point number three?
Keep these pointers front of mind when pitching and before you know it you’ll have developed a reputation as someone who knows how it’s done. When that happens, you’ll find that journalists may even start reaching out to you.
Tom Farthing is Head of Media Relations at TopLine Comms a UK-based integrated marketing consultancy with an international client base. From data scientist to radio producer at the BBC, Tom tried on many hats before finding a trilby that suited his passion for people and pitching.