Good lessons from bad PR pitches – November 2022

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

Catch up on past editions: October, September, August

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

I’m writing this a couple days before Thanksgiving, and this morning I was filled with the positive spirit of the holiday. I thought that I would try to give every PR pro covered in this column the benefit of the doubt and to attempt to justify their side of the story in the face of journalists’ complaints.

Well, I am definitely not cut out to be a defense attorney. After looking over this month’s journalist-complaint-tweets, I did an about-face. Read on to see the incriminating evidence.

Absolutely indefensible (I’m hoping it was a poorly executed joke)

Often in my training I find myself encouraging PR pros to be more proactive and creative in how they reach out to journalists, seeking what I call “their least-crowded inbox.” Never in a million years did I think I needed to add the caveat to not pitch them over a dating app.

Maybe one of these tips was “don’t pitch media over Tinder”

This is a valuable tweet from Casey, who takes it for granted that people know that embargoes are only for time-sensitive news that has enough value that journalists will swallow their urgency in return for an early heads-up. Evergreen tips like this are not only not valuable enough to justify an embargo, it’s a laughable proposition.

Don’t pitch via ProtonMail or Signal

This is helpful: When you see a journalist list their contact info and include ProtonMail or Signal, those are encrypted channels used for anonymous tips for really juicy leaks, not pitches. Sharp-eyed followers might recall that I may share some blame for this happening – a couple years ago in a webinar I highlighted a lengthy pitch process that landed the New York Times and included some outreach via Signal. Of course, there were lots of nuances that made that one instance okay, but collectively our PR community is not big on nuance when it comes to chasing top-tier placements. So with this post I correct the record: Today we learned not to pitch via secure channels and dating apps. 😊

No matter what actually happened, no defense for this

I get it, op-ed or byline editors often sit on pitches for weeks, leaving us twisting in the wind. But that’s not what happened here. All the communication was clear and timely. This is a straight-up fail that could have been avoided. Weirdly, a couple PR folks in the convo double down on sharing what they perceive is the other side, and Jim is not having it. (Hat tip to reader Robert Fischer for flagging this one for me, and I just noticed he has the best LinkedIn URL of all time.)

Yes, clients can be lame, but it’s our job to shield journalists from this

Super unfair to do this to a journalist – especially on the short Thanksgiving week. Yes, it’s likely the client/expert’s fault, but you gotta give the expert a shorter deadline than the real one so you can at least give the journalist a heads-up so she can find someone else. The best pros I know would find ANOTHER expert, even a non-client, before they would ever come back to a journalist after a deadline with this kind of hand-washing “sorry” response.

This thread is the best approximation of an editor’s bloated inbox I’ve seen

Read his helpfully precise instructions – he lays out exactly what he’s looking for. And I know this works, as members of my Inner Circle have successfully placed these kinds of stories. The final instruction is “don’t pitch on Twitter, email me.” And his email is right in his bio. And then . . . there are so many pitches I lost count after 50, and they get increasingly irrelevant as you go further down. Makes me wonder, sadly, why any editor would ever encourage pitches publicly.

Chris, you barely missed your moment

This guy beat you to it.

Well, what do you expect?

Okay, here’s one where I can offer a defense on behalf of PR folk. If you stop doing gift/product stories on Black Friday weekend, we’ll stop pitching them to you. Okay, some people will still pitch them to you . . .

I hope Teddy has a long career at the Washington Post

Or another top-tier outlet that has the luxury to look down their nose at covering products. When you look over his recent pieces you’ll immediately see he’s true to his word and never covers products, and therefore the people pitching him should know better. That said, the pitching formula he shoots down is exactly what works at pretty much every lifestyle outlet that includes health coverage, plus many local TV stations and even other daily newspapers.

Can’t be bothered to even attempt a mail merge


This article was originally published on November 23, 2022

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