Good lessons from bad PR pitches – October 2021 edition

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

Catch up on past editions: September, August, July

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

Best bad example ever – three common flubs in first two sentences

The first common mistake is writing a fake-personalized first sentence. If you took this email into the Amazon and found one of those tribes that’s never had outside contact . . . even THEY could tell this wasn’t written to just one person. Second common mistake is using an exclamation point. Many (most?) journalists are cynical about them. Play it safe and avoid them altogether. And the third mistake is so common that it is repeated in the next tweet, so let’s tackle it there . . .

It’s no secret journalists don’t like background info

I’ve seen this time and again when I teach pitching workshops – for some reason, we PR people feel the need to write a “set up” line first, and then go into what’s new. Just delete the first line of most of your pitches, and you’ll make them better. It’s a dead giveaway when you find yourself writing “It’s no secret . . .” or “As you know . . .” that you don’t need that sentence.

We sometimes ruin words that journalists would otherwise like

In the defense of whomever wrote these offending pitches, you can find plenty of journalists who include these terms in their coverage. And more commonly in their tweets about journalism. But we in PR have taken things too far and overused them, to the point where they’ve lost their intended meaning. Back in the early days of the web – I’m talking the late ‘90s – there used to be this great website that a writer for Fortune or Forbes maintained privately and would post the buzzwords he was getting most often in PR pitches. I think it was called “The Buzzsaw” (does anyone else remember that?). It was pretty funny. I just googled for it and found that an Australian publicist had a similar idea in 2010 and started an online tool that will strip such words from your press release.

But aren’t we supposed to target them based on what they cover?

Very helpful tip from Kaitlin here. The number one most common complaint from journalists is getting pitched irrelevant stuff. The antidote to that is to search for coverage about your product category and pitch the people who wrote it. But you need to be thoughtful about it and obviously not pitch to people who are critical of your product category. Automation is to blame here – these PR reps are using software or interns to blindly search for any coverage with certain terms in it and aren’t taking the extra step to gauge the search results. I did a deep dive on this phenomenon specific to Twitter in the first two items on this post.

Not Halloween-related, but weird and freaky enough to fit

I thought I had seen the weirdest pitches ever, but this is my new number one. I’m right there with Jordyn. It gets even weirder when you check and see she covers Michigan politics. What the . . .?

Not that kind of “collaborate”

Whenever I see something like this that should seem obvious not to do, I try to imagine the pitch writer having pure intent and trying to do their absolute best, and then I try to figure out how they could be this wrong. My guess is the person doesn’t have much experience with top-tier tech media like Geoff (NYT and Wirecutter). And they are used to people valuing offers to help and hold collaboration as a virtue. To journalists, “collaborate on a story” means “you send the product to the address I give, and you get the people I want on the phone at an appointed time.” It doesn’t mean “I don’t have any good story ideas, so can you get on the phone with me and brainstorm some good angles for your clients?”

Obligatory complaint about too many CBD pitches (although no complaints about crypto this month, good job)

Obligatory mail-merge flaming

This article was originally published on October 22, 2021

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