Good lessons from bad PR pitches – December edition

The Muck Rack Blog gathers tweets from annoyed journalists, I break them down.

Previous editions: November, October, September

Don’t waste precious space in your subject line with the word “story”

My point is slightly different than Randy’s sarcastic one, but his tweet justifies it just the same. You’ve only got 6 to 8 precious words to grab your target journalist’s attention and distinguish your pitch from the other 100 in their inbox. Don’t waste one or two of them saying something like “Story:” or “Story idea.” They already get way more of those than they want. Squeeze as much energy as possible into your subject line by telling them what it’s really about. Rest assured they will recognize it as a story idea.

The risks and rewards of an over-the-top subject line

I’ve analyzed all journalist tweets about PR pitches over the last three years – this is the first time that a pitch has been noteworthy enough to be tweeted about by two journalists independently. As a human being, when you read the first one, you cringe. You and I feel his pain. At the same time, the pitcher tried to soften the message a little. And their service is not treading on the tragedies of COVID just for attention – preparing for death is what it’s actually about. And one could argue that their risky strategy paid off – yes, they got two negative tweets, but they more than tripled their fundraising goal on Kickstarter. Takeaway: OTT subject lines like this can pay off when you’re new and unknown, but should probably be avoided when you already have a reputation you can lose.

You can often delete the first sentence of your pitch and not lose anything

When I teach workshops on media pitches, one of the most common mistakes I see is PR pros starting their pitches with a “set-up” sentence that lays out the background. Before going on to explain what they have to offer. I agree with Jennifer – most of the time, your audience already knows the background. Especially if your relevance hook is simply “COVID.”

The journalist’s dilemma summed up in two contrasting tweets

I LOVE this thread, because it perfectly illustrates the dilemma journalists face regarding PR pitches. Most of the time, they struggle with them as useless time wasters. And just when they are about to condemn all PR pitches to the bad place, they realize: “Wait, sometimes I get really good stories from PR people. I better leave the door open just a little bit . . .” And then they get flooded with more irrelevant emails. You win when you send only the diamonds, because they stand out against all the coal.

I’m not being sarcastic: Journalists don’t want you to be nice

We hit this last month, and the examples continue. If you’re new to pitching, I wouldn’t blame you for being surprised. “How dare you ask me how I’m doing!” sounds pretty rude. But when you’re skimming your 46th unsolicited email in the last 15 minutes and you still have to file three articles/posts that day, you just want people to tell you what they’ve got to offer. Scott’s complaint is more pointed – obviously your efforts to humanize your pitches come across better when you don’t merely copy and paste them from the pitches you sent Monday. But save yourself the trouble and skip the small talk. This complaint is so prevalent that I and Muck Rack named an entire ebook after it.

Holiday gift guides – you’re either too early or too late

Back in August we had the complaints about gift guide pitches coming too early. Journalists being the varied and opinionated lot they are, it’s inevitable that they’ll also get cranky about them coming too late. But you would be wrong if you tried to triangulate a point exactly halfway between August and December as the “correct” date for your holiday gift pitch. That Goldilocks zone varies by journalist and is driven primarily by the lead time of their outlet – 3-6 months for print magazines, down to one day for online-only stuff.

You are supposed to do some work to help these journalists out

They are not sitting around looking for something to cover. Your job is to give them such a compelling angle and resources that you distract them from what they’re already working on.

This article was originally published on December 23, 2020

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