Good lessons from bad PR pitches – July 2022 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.

This month, in a series of complete coincidences, journalists have helpfully shared some templates for both bad and good pitches. And also a series of bad examples of reacting to terrible/tragic news dominating the news cycle.

Three templates for writing a bad pitch

No justification for people who pitch this way.

“What if I told you . . .” is starting to pop up as one of those pitch lines that’s become cliché. In fact, the entire first-sentence-is-background-and-then-here-comes-the-news became cliché many years ago. But it’s a super common way pitches begin. When editing your next pitch, try deleting the first sentence. I bet you the pitch will still make sense and will get to the point faster.

This one requires a bit more nuance. “Wait!” some PR pros are saying. “I see outlets repurposing stories that broke on other sites all the time.” And they are correct – some journalists’ job is to watch what’s trending and get versions of those stories on their sites, even if they appeared first elsewhere. Matthew Boyle is very much not one of those journalists. His job is to break news for Bloomberg, and when you look at his work it’s pretty obvious that he’s different from an aggregator at HuffPost or Buzzfeed. See below for his ingredients for a good pitch.

Two good pitch templates

This is Matthew’s response, later in the thread started by his tweet above, when someone asks him what a good pitch looks like. Remember, this is a good pitch for him, a prestigious writer at a top-tier outlet. He has justifiably high standards. But there are plenty of outlets and journalists who have to cast a wider net (for example, see next tweet).

I love this tweet. If Ashley was like most journalists, she would have simply complained about getting pitched bidets. (I can’t resist the reminder that pitching bidets was actually a thing in the early weeks of the COVID lockdown.) But instead, Ashley gives us this helpful pattern for what she’s looking for. In fact, someone replied to her pitch with a general suggestion and she enthusiastically invited them to send her more.

Important side note – you look at Ashley’s bio and among the sites she lists as freelancing for are Shopify and Salesforce. This is a great example of the new “outlets” hiring more current and former journalists who are ripe for pitching.

Bad press release quote template

This is so on point it cracks me up. Journalists I’ve asked about press release quotes usually say they don’t even notice them – they just skim right past because they are so accustomed to the quotes following this format James is mocking. Either leave them out, or write them like people actually talk.

Three bad templates for pitching during that awkward time after terrible/tragic news breaks

“In these challenging times . . .” became an all-purpose pitch lead-off in the spring of 2020. Now it’s become a subject of scorn from journalists. The general rule of thumb is: if something happened that makes you feel like the journalist might think you’re callous for pitching right now, then hold the pitch for a while. If you feel like the show must go on, then it’s actually better to just get right to the pitch.

See how this violates the rule of thumb above? Maybe the PR person was just trying to be sensitive, but it comes across like they are actually trying to tie this car dealer’s initiative into a mass shooting, which is the cardinal sin of this kind of pitching. Exemplified horribly here:

Jaylon Ferguson was a Baltimore Ravens linebacker who overdosed on fentanyl and cocaine. That is not the right time to plug fentanyl testing. This is a nuanced principle – after his death, the idea that someone should have given him a test implies that people around him had failed him. If, in contrast, the news was some sort of widespread, impersonal study results about the prevalence of fentanyl overdoses or accidents, that would be a different case.

Two complaints on the rise, both clearly the result of blast pitches

I had never heard of this – scheduling a pitch to go out at the same time you have your email set to auto-respond that you’re out of the office – until the last few months. But it’s becoming a thing.

Likewise, this complaint is increasing. So don’t blast pitches. And if you must, at least coordinate media lists so you don’t duplicate. Yes, most journalists just blindly delete ill-targeted pitches. But many have told me they remember the agencies that are the most guilty, and sometimes they’ll set that agencies’ domain as a filter, so they never see another pitch from the entire agency.

Obligatory mail merge error

A new recurring feature in this column: obligatory complaint about getting NFT pitches

This article was originally published on July 28, 2022

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