Don’t Be Stupid: PR Pitch Mistakes Journalists REALLY Hate

MyPRGenie Six StepsAuthor, blogger, and journalist Shel Israel knows a few things about PR having been a PR guru in Silicon Valley for several decades before making the switch to editorial writing. So when he posts a comment about how PR people should behave, it’s a good idea to take notice.

Recently, he posted this on his Facebook page: “If you send me an unsolicited email on a subject that I do not cover, and I do not reply, it means I am not interested. If you send me a second email on the topic, and I still don’t reply, it means I’m really, really not interested. If you send me a third, it means I wish you would go to the window, open it up, and plunge to your death.”

I don’t think that Mr. Israel actually wants PR people who commit this PR etiquette mistake to die, but I do think he wishes they’d drop him from their pitch lists — and you can be sure that he’ll probably add them to his spam blocker after that third message.

Unfortunately, sending three unsolicited emails pales in comparison to some of the PR pitch mistakes journalists REALLY hate. Jenny Lawson, a Texas journalist who publishes a personal blog called The Bloggess, tells the story of a truly horrific PR gaffe. It started when a PR account executive sent a pitch about something completely irrelevant to the subject of her blog, and she responded with a form letter saying that she didn’t cover things like that.

The PR person responded with a note that said she was doing her a favor by offering her a story that would give her blog more traffic, and she’d remember the blogger’s “not very nice” response if she were asked for advertising recommendations. That would have been the end of things, if a vice president at the PR agency hadn’t hit “reply all” when he responded to the AE’s note to Lawson, “What a (expletives deleted)” he said.

If you work in PR, calling a journalist names should be reserved for that rare occasion when you are 100% sure that you are locked in a sound-proofed closet and absolutely no one else on the planet can hear you. Even then, it’s not a good idea. You’re just asking for what happened next: The Bloggess published a blog about her experience, and 164,000 of her followers on Twitter shared it. Ouch!

5 PR Pitch Mistakes Journalists Hate

The Bad Pitch Blog is devoted to nothing but bad PR pitches. Whether you’re new to PR or an experienced pro, it’s a must-read source of mistakes you don’t want to make. Not only is winding up “named and shamed” on the blog a bad career move, it’s a sure sign that you’ll find it even harder to get coverage for your clients in the future since many journalists use it as a guide to PR people to avoid.

Here are five pitch mistakes to avoid in 2014. (We don’t need to add that the examples included above — like calling a journalist names — should also be avoided, do we?)

Don’t Spray and Pray

A “spray and pray” pitch is mass emailed to a large list of journalists that may (but probably isn’t) relevant to the subject of the press release or pitch. It’s far better to take time to send your pitch to a few journalists you know write about a topic than to “spray and pray” to a huge, unqualified list. Not targeting your pitch correctly can be the worst PR mistake you can make. Check out MyPRGenie’s CEO Miranda Tan in this short video on the importance of targeting.

Think Before Trying to “Hijack” the News

News hijacking is when a brand/company “piggybacks” on a breaking news story to get coverage for its products and services. That’s a valid tactic, if the breaking news story is something that will help advance your company’s goals and objectives. But if it’s just a short-term tactic to get coverage, it can turn into a nightmare. Just ask Kenneth Cole.

Google your pitch topic before you pitch. There are two reasons for this. First, if no one is writing about it, you have to ask yourself why. Is it brand new, and you’re the first? Great! Or is it just a silly idea that no one wants? Second, if you are planning to pitch it to local TV station Channel 5 — and Channel 4 covered it recently, don’t waste your time. Ditto if the publication you’re pitching covered the story recently. Journalists and bloggers and broadcasters need a good reason to revisit a topic unless it’s part of ongoing coverage at the publication. (For instance, if a magazine carries a profile of the best new start-up in every issue, go ahead and pitch them about your start-up, with all the reasons you’re the best.) What’s the reason a journalist will be interested in your story? “Me too pitches” are annoying and usually ignored.

Proofread Photos, Graphics & Pitches as Carefully as Press Releases

One of the surest ways to wind up having your pitch or press release shared (but hardly in the way you hoped) is to make a mistake in the copy or headline. So most PR people are pretty careful about proofreading press releases. But how carefully do you check the graphics, photos, pitches, and social media copy that go along with your press releases? Here are some examples that remind us all to check graphics, too.

Take “No” for an Answer & Do it Gracefully 

One of the worse PR mistakes anyone can make is arguing with a journalist about anything. That’s the point of several of the anecdotes included here. If someone doesn’t like your pitch, or says no, just say “Thanks for your time” and move on. Don’t burn your bridges. And whatever you do, don’t try to argue with a journalist. That isn’t pitching, that’s just being rude.

As Clare Celsi wrote on her blog, The Public Relations Princess, when one hapless PR person engaged in a back-and-forth dialogue with her over a pitch she felt was spam, “Your sass is not helping your case, that of your client, or your company’s reputation. You do know I’m a blogger, right?”

Remember: the people you are pitching have large audiences — or you wouldn’t be pitching them. So don’t pick a fight with someone who can expose you to public ridicule that can wind up costing you your reputation — or your job.

(NOTE: I write a blog for MyPRGenie (disclosure: I’m a shareholder in that company, which is a cloud-based PR platform for small businesses and PR agencies), and usually I don’t repeat here the posts published on that blog. But there are exceptions to every rule, and this is one of them. If you want to attract media attention for your product or service, these really are the “stupid PR tricks” that will buy you a one-way ticket to almost any journalist’s permanent spam folder.)

About debmcalister

I'm a Dallas-based marketing consultant and writer, who specializes in helping start-up technology companies grow. I write (books, articles, and blogs) about marketing, technology, and social media. This blog is about all of those -- and the funny ways in which they interesect with everyday life. It's also the place where I publish general articles on topics that interest me -- including commentary about the acting and film communities, since I have both a son and grandson who are performers.
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