Good lessons from bad PR pitches – July 2021 edition

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

Catch up on past editions: June, May, April

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

Incredulous journalists are not always correct about PR practices

I really appreciate James’ open-minded attitude about recognizing that a practice he doesn’t personally care for – pitching late on a Friday afternoon – is “unconventional.” In many cases, that’s exactly what the PR pros are going for. They know that most of their competitors wind down pitching for the weekend, so they pitch when they feel like they may have a better shot at getting noticed. I’ve been teaching this practice since this post (with the results of an experiment that proves this works) in 2014.

Especially now that COVID has reshuffled (permanently, IMO) the work week, you shouldn’t feel constrained by what day of the week or time of day you’re pitching. You never know which writers need to file a piece over the weekend or Monday morning and don’t have an idea yet.

A worthy lament, but probably not going to go away

I feel for Kae Lani’s inbox, even if her review was actually only two years ago. But the reality is that – relative to the performance of the average PR person – actually knowing that she wrote that and tying a pitch to it is progress. There are so many tweets from journalists getting pitched things they’ve never covered that I don’t even include most of them. And yes, this was two years ago, but Kae Lani is still a food and travel writer. And many writers do updates of their older posts (actually a really easy way to get more traffic, because Google likes newer stuff). So I hope that as Kae Lani deletes the daily water bottle pitches she gets, she can accept them as a compliment for a job well done :).

Some words just inherently rub journalists the wrong way

Most of them have decided “thought leader” is a phrase worth mocking, even if your client actually is one (which, to be sure, most aren’t). We just covered this last month (second item). A better option is to show, don’t tell: Explain what qualifies your client as an expert without assigning them a label.

If journalists never covered things they are personally opposed to, there would be no news

Here’s the monthly disclaimer: Cian can tweet about whatever he wants, and he can write about whatever he wants, for whatever reason. My take here is aimed at people who would generalize what he says here to other journalists. And if you thought that you couldn’t pitch a journalist about a trending topic that they might be personally opposed to, you better find some motherhood and apple pie clients. Most journalists consider it their responsibility to set aside their personal views and provide readers with objective facts so they can draw their own conclusions. Many others – including freelancers, who get to pick and choose whatever they want to do – LIKE covering topics they are personally opposed to, because it gives them the opportunity to dig into the other side of the story (the “cons” of the trend), and expose their audience to that point of view.

And a second disclaimer – Cian’s broad-strokes dismissal of NFTs as party to the high energy consumption that “proof of work” blockchains require is short-sighted. As other journalists who recognize the potential impact of NFTs on the gaming space have learned, there are variations of the technology (“proof of stake”) that require far less energy. But you don’t read this column for blockchain jargon . . .

Here is a series of straight-up blunders that will make you feel proud that you don’t do stuff like this

Don’t say you have a “quick question” and then write a 56-word declarative sentence

There’s actually a kernel of a decent story here, but it begs for a bulleted list of examples, not a contender for longest sentence of the year.

Don’t offer a product for review and THEN ask what site the journalist writes for

I was surprised to learn from this tweet and the resulting thread that this is relatively common.

Don’t write “re:” in the subject line of a cold email

Not me, Sarah. I’ve been shooting down this unethical shortcut for a while now. And it’s a pity that people are using it on you, a writer for the NYT Culture section who is so friendly to pitches that you put your Gmail address in your Twitter bio.

Don’t write “action required” in subject line

This is a new one to me. And seems like it should be an obvious no-no, but someone still tried it.

Don’t spell client’s name wrong

I think I am a patient, forgiving person. People who work for me have made some pretty serious mistakes, and we’ve worked through it. But if I was paying a PR firm $10K a month and they misspelled my organization’s name in a media pitch, I would conclude that they do not have the attention to detail and drive for excellence necessary to continue to work for me. As in, this is a one-strike-and-you’re-out offense in my book.

This article was originally published on July 20, 2021

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