Good lessons from bad PR pitches – June 2021 edition

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

Catch up on past editions: May, Apr., Mar.

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


Scary level of automation

PR pros accidentally hitting “send” on their generic template pitches has been a thing on Twitter for years. But this is worse than that. It appears someone has some software where they just plug in some search terms and then DON’T EVEN READ THE RESULTING SEARCH RESULTS, but rather allow the software to plug in one of the results into the pitch. I’d be salty too if I was getting this stuff.


‘Real world word’ not a requirement for legit pitch

Although I agree with Lee in substance here, his justification could be misleading to PR pros who try to extrapolate it to their own pitch subjects. Yes, calling your client a “mogul” is overdone and feels kinda weird – same with calling your client a “thought leader” in a pitch. Journalists don’t like people who are full of themselves, and both of those terms carry that connotation. However, you are allowed to use words in a PR pitch that people wouldn’t use in casual conversation, introducing themselves to their friends. When making introductions at the club, people don’t call themselves “serial entrepreneurs” or “women-in-STEM role models,” but business columnists like Lee use such terms all the time. A rule of thumb: Use the language your target journalist uses in their published work.


Not always true

As I say every month around here, this journalist gets to say what works for him and what doesn’t. And for Tim, a columnist for Reuters who writes for a mainstream business audience, leading off with a bunch of jargon is an obvious no-no. But when you’re pitching a specialized trade publication, jargon can be a love language to an editor looking for real domain expertise.


If you aren’t gonna check their Twitter or bio, at least get a new media database

This shouldn’t happen. Even if you ignore my advice to send a few carefully customized pitches instead of blasting a long list, the media database you subscribe to should be more current than this. Twitter and LinkedIn make it way too easy to stay current. If you’re not sure about the one you’re using, try the one made by the people who pull these tweets for us every month.


One shame tweet does not equal uniform agreement among journalists

I respect Matt’s authority to make this strong assertion – he has amassed an impressive media portfolio and more than 100K Twitter followers, plus his profile photo appears to be shot at Mesa Arch at Canyonlands National Park (the cool, harder-to-reach alternative to the more famous Delicate Arch in Arches National Park). But this falls into the category of people on Twitter being certain about something, while many other people feel the opposite. No less an authority than The Washington Post feels differently than Matt on this.


Coming off as collaborative is not a bad thing

Journalists are paid to be skeptical and wary of undue influence, but Rachel’s take here is a little strong. After a job well done, an effective PR pro these days is used to journalists writing things such as “it’s been great working with you on this” or “you’ve been a huge help.” So it’s natural that similar language would show up in a proposal pitch on the front end. Obviously Rachel doesn’t like it, so avoid that for her. But don’t let this tweet deplete all your humanity for other outreach.


A very suspicious subject line

My strongest reason for why this was a dumb subject line turned out to be wrong – I would have bet money that spam filters would have caught it. And that probably would have done the PR person a favor. I’m all for shaking things up and trying novel ways to get attention, but faking something negative is never cool. The good news: At the end of the replies, Stephen says, “Happily, pitches this bad are a rarity.”


Don’t let this deter you from trying other ways to reach your carefully vetted targets

It’s no surprise that Kate – whose bio makes clear is a “freelance security and privacy journalist” – would be chagrined that anyone pitched her on a platform other than email. But when you have a story that you KNOW is good and is dialed in just right for a particular reporter, and you can’t get their attention by email, then you should feel empowered to try other platforms until you get a response. In all cases I’ve followed where the previous criteria are met, the journalists are not offended when they finally respond. They don’t always do the story, but they appreciate the research and hustle evident, and it doesn’t harm the budding relationship.

This article was originally published on June 18, 2021

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