Good lessons from bad PR pitches – March 2022 edition

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

Catch up on past editions: February, January, December

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

Heads-up – I wrote this before “The Slap.” By next month’s edition you will be so sick of it that I probably won’t get to take advantage of all the journo/PR tweets that are inevitably ensuing. But here are the more useful and less sensational tidbits from this past month.

War in Ukraine – Pitching at the Same Time as a Sensitive Situation

It’s a given: The invasion of Ukraine is horrible and deserves special sensitivity. What’s not a given is what constitutes insensitivity. These pitches all arrived at least a week after the invasion. I’m not trying to create an arbitrary waiting period for approved pitching, just noting that the PR pros waited at least that long before wading back in.

You’re trying to be empathetic, but just go straight into the pitch

This is a template that solidified in the early months of the pandemic – make a glancing acknowledgement of the elephant in the room, and then plow ahead with the pitch. But it doesn’t work here. Instead of forcing the concern, it would have been better to just go straight into the pitch. A commenter even makes that point lower in the thread.

This could have worked if not so specific

A better framing would be: “4 ways massive disruptions to the world economy affect Gen Z’s personal finances.” And only for targeting journalists who clearly cover PF from a Gen Z perspective, not for a do-everything writer at a small news outlet in a North Carolina mountain town.

What businesses can learn from war in Ukraine

I respect Shane’s POV on this pitch. He’s the founder of his pub, he gets to decide what he likes and what he hates. But hundreds of articles like this have been written since this pitch went out, and loads of people anxiously read them. We’re all wondering how to advise our leadership to respond to the war in Ukraine. Assuming it’s framed tastefully, this is a reader-focused – and therefore highly useful – pitch angle.

This one is inexplicable, so I won’t try to explain it


Non-Ukraine Tweets

When to use “embargo”

Click through and read the thread – you’ll see PR pros explaining why they find this confusing. Because embargoes are everywhere and, when properly executed, can be a very effective tool for PR pros AND journalists. But the key distinction Patrick makes lower down is that he writes for a paid subscription outlet. And therefore he insists on exclusivity so that his content will be valuable to his subscribers. Patrick was once kind enough to meet me for drinks. He made it clear he was looking for scoops about failures and firings – the kind of news agencies and PR teams didn’t want to get out. As someone who gets paid by agencies and PR teams, I realized that I’m never going to be a good source for him. So we talked about New York City for a bit and then cut the meeting short while maintaining mutual respect. That’s figuratively what you do if you read this tweet and have success with embargoes – keep using them, just not with Patrick and his fellow subscriber-serving writers.

This is actually a really effective pitch format

Not being sarcastic – I actually did half a webinar on this pitch structure, illustrated with successful pitches that landed, the NYT, Business Insider, and more. It’s just that the “blah blah blah in the news” has to be something the particular reporter cares about right now, and the “bullet points” have to be intelligent and not already part of the conversation on that topic. When you’ve got those ingredients, go for it.

A useful survey about pitch salutations

The takeaway? The same one from pretty much every journo tweet about PR: Accurate customization is the minimum standard.

Here’s why I specified “accurate” customization

Bonus points for creativity – but all the journalist will see is the misplaced punctuation

My new favorite journo tweet of all time

This article was originally published on March 29, 2022

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