Good lessons from bad PR pitches – December 2021 edition

The Muck Rack blog gathers ‘em, I break ‘em down.

Catch up on past editions: November, October, September

See a three-year quantitative analysis of journalists’ complaints on Twitter here.

If this is such a fail, why do PR people keep doing it? I’ll venture a guess

NBC News:


First things first – Shawn is at NBC News and Tim is at Reuters. Both outlets are at the top of their respective food-chains and live and die by getting things first. So the offending PR pros in these cases should have known better. Let’s be honest – they probably do know better but succumbed to the urge to send a blast pitch that treated Reuters the same as HuffPost or People or a trade website.

And that pitch that went to HuffPost or People or that trade website was done properly, because those types of outlets live and die by aggregating news already reported by other publishers. They don’t have enough journalists to sniff around and discover brand new things. Much of their content starts off as something reported by Shawn or Tim or another of the vanishing pool of actual breaking-news reporters left in the world.

Citing coverage elsewhere is actually a best practice when pitching outlets that aggregate news. Those are easy to identify because they’ll link to other outlets’ coverage in their own stories. And you can help them recognize that your news is legit by flagging other coverage in your pitch.

Here are two additional rules of thumb about including coverage links in your pitch:

– If you’re going down the food chain, it usually works. You can include a Reuters link in your pitch to the Sacramento Bee, for example.
– Broadcast (TV and radio) are more comfortable following coverage from a print or online outlet than vice versa. That means if you place a story in the Sacramento Bee in the morning, you can share that link with the network affiliates in Sacramento to strengthen your case for coverage on that evening’s newscast.

Actually, mid-December is not too early for Valentine’s Day pitches to feature writers

To be sure, it clearly IS too early for Dahlia and Samantha – they get to decide and declare what works for them. My job is to make sure that you don’t inadvertently assume they speak for all feature writers. Two months in advance is just about right. See Kelsey’s helpful tweet that says as much in the second item last month.

To their credit, Dahlia admits later in the thread that the features team at the Louisville Courier-Journal starts planning Kentucky Derby coverage in January – the “run for the roses” happens every May. And sorry Samantha, but writers don’t “reach out.” We gotta let them know what we have.

But Doug, all of us are in that other 20 percent

Doug unknowingly sums up the PR pro’s reason for being: to stand out from the 80 percent of noise in his inbox. He probably assumed this tweet would be a deterrent to PR people, but it’s actually intensely motivating.

What’s the right timing for following up on an evergreen pitch? Not this

Jim’s precision in his complaint is very helpful for us. You see, following up “the next day” is perfectly appropriate for timely news – but you want to wait at least 24 hours. That’s the rule of thumb top-tier journalists have shared with me (and assuming it’s a relevant, valid story). Evergreen features are literally a different story – 3-4 days is best, if there isn’t competitive pressure from another outlet.

You want journalists to be happy while they’re reading your pitch

It’s good to connect with journalists on a personal level. Not good to try to do that around their personal tragedies, especially not when you’re promoting something related to those tragedies. If you rep a pet-related company and you see on social that one of your journalist contacts lost a pet, then it’s fine to send an email or card of sincere condolences. But don’t try to pitch, and don’t bring it up again months later while trying to pitch.

Buzzwords to avoid

It appears “gently float” is about to join “hope you’re well” and “circle back” on the dustbin of pitch-email history. “Dynamic” jumped the shark a couple decades ago, but I have to give props to the ultra-bored PR pro who ran out of day-of-the-week chitchat and came up with “pre-Friday.” Alas, it didn’t even have a chance to go out of style – Benjamin declares it DOA.

This article was originally published on December 28, 2021

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