Good lessons from bad PR pitches – Feb. 2021 edition

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

Catch up on past editions: Jan., Dec., Nov.

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

We’ve gone too far – data-mining journalists’ tweets has created a monster

It’s super common in this space to see journalists mocking mistargeted pitches. But there were two this month that were so blatantly and obviously off-base that I was intrigued to uncover how this could even happen. And I turned up something immediately relevant to any PR pro who uses Twitter to inform their pitching.

How do you send such a confidently worded pitch to the editor of a consumer tech guide? There just had to be some reason – however flawed – that somebody included Philip on that obviously blasted pitch distribution.

Taking a long shot, I searched Philip’s previous tweets. Lo and behold:

Clearly somebody used a database to search for “journalists who have tweeted about the Puppy Bowl.” Maybe even “journalists who have tweeted about the Puppy Bowl more than once.” And never actually checked to notice:

  • The tweets were three and NINE years old
  • The tweets did not indicate Philip was “into” the Puppy Bowl (however cute the puppies are)

Here’s another example that boggled my mind:

How do you make the leap from “national political reporter, @nytimes,” which is right in her bio, to “Saw you’re into fitness”? I assumed maybe she tweeted about running marathons or Peloton or something, but no. It’s almost all about politics.

But then I saw it. And it’s hilarious. The day before she got the pitch about “being into fitness,” she tweeted this:

This is a quote tweet of Elaina, the reporter, being interviewed on MSNBC about her work. And a comedian is fawning over her ensemble (the play-by-play is actually pretty funny). The comedian praises Elaina’s hoop earrings. So Elaina playfully shares, adding, “We love hoops!”

I have no way of knowing for sure – this could be a coincidence – but I gotta believe that some PR pro’s search algorithm saw “we love hoops” and interpreted that as loving basketball, and therefore put Elaina on a list for a fitness pitch!

The takeaway from these two pitches is: When you search journalists’ feeds to find out what they are into, actually read the tweets in the search results. When you pitch them confidently asserting what they like, and it turns out they don’t like those things, it’s worse than not pitching them at all. They remember how off-base you were, and will ignore you – if not block you – going forward.

I thought you liked trends?

You have no idea how many articles we’ve seen written about Clubhouse this week. And if someone had a Clubhouse angle, seems like a “platforms reporter at Adweek” would be an appropriate target. I get that Scott is frustrated by the volume, but don’t let his take dissuade you from pitching something topical to an appropriate beat reporter. Just make sure your offering into a competitive space has some point of distinction that gives it a fighting chance against everyone else flocking to latch onto the same trend you are.

Guilt-tripping reporters to respond doesn’t work

Now that PR pros are armed with email tracking software, they are getting more aggressive with follow-ups like this. Nothing wrong with follow-ups. But remember that you are not entitled to a response. Acting like you are, only offends. Instead, provide more value with each follow-up, something like, “I found this extra photo – what do you think?”

Opportunity to read about a journalist’s tweet about a bad pitch he got

This is a bonus tweet that wasn’t on the Muck Rack blog, but Twitter’s algorithm kept serving it up to me today (wonder what I spend my time on Twitter doing?). This is a perfect microcosm of the “journalist complaint about PR” tweet. Pointed rebuke, without the reason why it fails (even when a PR pro sincerely and plaintively asks for an explanation in the replies). That’s okay, it’s not a busy Politico reporter’s job to teach us how to do PR. That’s my job. 😊

The point is that for a Politico reporter, nearly everyone is available for an interview. Marc needs to learn right away WHY your source is particularly relevant right now. PR folk used to get away with saying something like, “DoD staffer available on Air Force cuts.” But now you need to actually tell what your source is going to say in the actual pitch. So that pitch would look like “Cuts to cripple Taiwan defense strategy” and then give bullets and contact info for your DoD staffer.

“This is a woman”

Read the replies, all from female journalists, doubling down on this complaint. Later in the convo Michelle tweets the real takeaway: “I feel bad. I love women doing things! But that alone does not a story make!” This is a very useful thread to show a misguided client or boss.

You are not entitled to a reply when you respond to a HARO query

In a near-monthly installment from Erik in this feature, he thinks that he’s being cranky when actually he’s really helpful. Barely any journalists respond to say no to the dozens of responses they get when they submit a HARO query – they just ignore them. I think his penchant for offering “pass, thanks” saves PR pros lots of time wondering about follow-up.

We did it! We didn’t overpitch Valentine's Day!

Before we assembled the journalists’ tweets for this month, I set the over-under on complaints about V-Day pitches at 4. In my previous compilation of three years’ worth of journalists’ complaints, I found that V-Day has been the second most complained about time element of the year (after Christmas).

And happily, I was way off. There was only one. So we’re making progress. Or journalists are getting so jaded they aren’t bothering to complain anymore.

Proofread proper nouns carefully

Yeah yeah, you know to not send pitches with typos. I’m not saying it’s okay, but a surprising number of successful pitches I’ve seen have a typo here or there. But not in a proper noun. A reporter reading your pitch really fast may give you a pass for mistyping “early next weak,” but they will show no mercy if you don’t catch “Joe Bidan.” The takeaway is to proofread every pitch, and pay special attention to proper nouns.

This article was originally published on February 22, 2021

Get Michael’s 5 Winning Subject-Line Formulas and best PR tips each week free!

Articles Right Form

This is the articles sidebar opt-in form and can be accessed under “Appearance” – “Widgets” – “Articles Sidebar”

Would you like to get the next article as soon as it goes live?

(I’ll also send you other weekly tips)

'Count Me In' article subfooter optin

This is in the footer of any articles and can be edited in the "Theme Options" and "Single Blog Form" tab: