Good lessons from bad PR pitches – December 2022

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.

The silent majority was silent on this one

I have no doubt Yessenia was totally sincere in asking this. But she might as well have phrased it, “Serious question for working journalists: Are any of you secure enough to admit that you no longer religiously adhere to an outdated norm, even though by so doing you will invite a Twitter mob of other journalists with torches and pitchforks to burn your reputation to the ground?”

Fact: Plenty of journalists still get super offended if a source asks them to review a draft in advance of publication. Fact: Plenty of journalists quietly DO agree to let a source review a draft in advance of publication. But they can’t admit they do, otherwise they will be labeled as biased or spineless by the journalists in the first group.

If you’re a current or former journalist and you’re aghast at that last thought, think of it this way. Imagine you are a nonprofit leader, or a tech executive, or an attorney, or a scientist, and you are used to people misunderstanding you. And then a journalist asks you for your opinion on something, and you actually believe it when journalists say they take great care to be accurate and clear in their reporting. So you naturally assume, since they want to get it right, that when you ask them to review what they end up writing, that they’ll be happy to do it. And then imagine how confusing it must be when they say no and even sometimes act offended.

As you read down through the responses you’ll see, predictably, an overwhelming majority that pile on with the conventional take. That’s what makes Nic’s so refreshing.

He admits that he’s had a change of heart on the issue, and that he does in fact do some sort of preview for some sources. I applaud him for recognizing that media do bear some of the responsibility for building trust in media. And for taking steps to restore some of that trust.

The takeaway from this section: If you’re working on a dense, technical, confusing, or sensitive issue, and you aren’t sure whether you want to take media interviews on the topic, go ahead and ask before the interview if you can review a draft for accuracy. Know the journalist may say no outright, or may do so only conditionally (they should absolutely read you back direct quotes, unconditionally). But also know that sometimes the journalist places a higher value on accuracy than on (false) perceptions of being beholden to sources, and will be willing to go along. Times have changed, and it no longer hurts to ask.

Things not to say to a journalist

There must be some component of sales training, or some persuasive writing coaching, that encourages people to use this type of language. It obviously backfires with journalists, who don’t do anything because we want them to. They only do things if we happen to provide info or ideas that they then decide THEY want to cover. Other phrases to avoid include, “It would really help if . . .” or “We’re getting really close to our fundraising/sales goal . . .” or especially “Thanks in advance!”

This was the only complaint about World Cup pitches

Usually whenever there is a big cultural event, journalists get swamped with pitches using it as a news peg. And then they complain about that on Twitter. Since this was the only one we found, we are left with one of two conclusions: Either PR pros didn’t overdo the World Cup pitches, or Elon’s impact on Twitter really is causing it to lose momentum as a venue for journalists.

What happens when you pitch on Thanksgiving?

Well, if you pitch Meg, this is what happens. But if you pitch other journalists – and it’s a good pitch that’s relevant to their beat – then when they mindlessly check their work email to avoid having to listen to Uncle Charlie blather about how bad the Lions are, they will be more likely to see your pitch. Because way fewer people pitch on holidays, so the competition for inbox attention is lower. So how do you know what the reaction will be of your particular journalists? You don’t. Only way to learn is to try. Realistically, you’ll have some in both camps. My personal philosophy is that those who hustle tend to get rewarded more than those who hang back. And just in case, I’m not talking about actually doing PR work on Thanksgiving – only about scheduling a distribution to go out on the holiday.

The timeless debate about timing pitches

Ashley writes for an Axios Local bureau (Charlotte). Their emails come out daily. So she’s naturally annoyed getting a pitch timed to a holiday more than two months away. But two months’ notice is the sweet spot for other types of media (feature writers, for example). And it’s way too short notice for a long-lead magazine editor, who is already working on spring topics. Takeaway: Don’t overgeneralize Ashley’s reaction to different types of outlets. Also – take Axios Local off your distribution list if you insist on blasting holiday news well in advance.

Best mail-merge fail of 2022


This article was originally published on December 22, 2022

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