Good lessons from bad PR pitches – September 2022

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

Catch up on past editions: August, July, June

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


When a journalist blocks an entire agency

Yikes – not a good look for this agency. I’ve got no idea what they did or whether they deserved this. FWIW, journalists who cover privacy tend to be even more sensitive to outreach than the average journalist, especially if you try to pitch them through any channel other than their public email address.

This is not the first I’ve heard of agency-wide blocking. A WSJ reporter once explained to me very matter-of-factly that if she gets a pitch from an agency that is not relevant to her beat, she notes it, and if she gets a second pitch from the same AGENCY (not just the same person), then she blocks the agency. She didn’t have the energy of this tweet, it wasn’t emotional, just very practical in her eyes.

So you know what’s going to happen – innocent pros at those agencies have gotta get paid, so they’re going to try workarounds like pitching from their personal Gmail addresses or something. You’re probably wondering, “How do we know if our agency is being blocked?” Unless the journalist tells you, you don’t.

Best takeaway from this incident: Use this screenshot to show bosses or clients why you take the time to send carefully targeted pitches, so you can avoid getting cut off entirely.

What a genuinely innovative idea

I don’t know if this will catch on, but I’ve gotta applaud whomever thought it up. I’ve been teaching PR pitching for 20 years and this is one of the few truly novel approaches I’ve seen. Here are the pros and cons of experimenting with this approach.

Pros: If you can get a journalist on the phone with an open mind, you aren’t guaranteed to get coverage. But you are guaranteed to find out whether your story actually works for them or not. Even if they open your email, they are under so much pressure and so distracted they generally skim it and may miss compelling components. They also rarely have time to share objections or ask questions. You can handle all that on the phone. Plus you get to help out a charity :).

Cons: As you’ll see in one of the replies below the tweet, journalists – particularly of the old school – will view this as an attempt to “buy” them. Even though by its very nature the approach is designed not to give them the money. And even though it is becoming increasingly common for some freelance journalists to literally charge a direct fee to be able to pitch them (they couch this as offering consulting on pitches in general). Most journalists fall somewhere in between those two extremes. When it comes to offering anything to a journalist (such as paying for lunch or sending them a holiday gift) I used to teach: Don’t even try it. Most newsrooms had policies forbidding accepting such things. But now those policies vary widely, and journalists’ individual compliance varies even wider. Here are the new ground rules as I see them: Never approach anyone with these offers if they work at a legacy institution that includes coverage of sensitive areas like politics and the stock market. But if you’re working with someone at a digital native outlet, particularly someone younger than 30, and especially at an outlet that emphasizes lifestyle coverage, they will likely be more open to considering an offer like this.

The agenda-setting function of the mass media

There – in typing that subhead I finally got to use my master’s degree. That’s my way of saying Morgan has the cause-and-effect backward. If I wanted to rephrase Morgan’s tweet from a PR-centric viewpoint, it would go, “The time from someone coining the term ‘quiet quitting’ to it appearing in every workplace/career article I see is jaw-dropping.’” In fact, there were at least 15 separate articles in Fast Company in the month of August alone about the phenomenon. So that’s why journalists got so many pitches referencing it. As always, it helps to be at the front end of a trend, but as long as they are still covering it, you can keep pitching it.

Don’t save pitches for future when they have a strict time peg

Nobody is this dense – most likely they drafted the pitch earlier in the summer and it got held up in approvals or something. And then they were lazy about reviewing and updating it.

An actually novel and funny way to make the same old complaint about pitches

Long live the king

Congratulations to us! Often when a sad event dominates the news, journalists will complain about PR pitches that cravenly use it as a news peg. But literally the only complaint tweet in our search results was this preemptive strike! Not saying nobody sent QE pitches, but apparently none of them were distasteful enough to summon Twitter shade.

Desksides are as dead as Queen Elizabeth

Okay, in response to the question, I bet it was a journalist sometime in the 20th century who came up with the idea of a deskside meeting. And despite Kate’s antipathy, before COVID many journalists used to agree to them and find them valuable. But not anymore. Mainly because they don’t want to have to vacuum their bedrooms, which is often where their “desks” are. Yes, WFH killed desksides. But some journalists will still (rarely) meet you for coffee somewhere else.

A late-summer tradition unlike any other

It seems like the world is changing so fast and everything is going mayhem. And yet every August, PR people are pitching Christmas-timed stories to long leads, and some of them inevitably mistarget the pitches and hit, in this case, a breaking news reporter at the NYT. The fact that this is my fifth year reviewing these complaint tweets and this happens every year brings a strange sense of predictability and therefore comfort to my soul.

Obligatory mail merge fails

This last one is actually noteworthy because it highlights how fake journalists feel it is when we say “Hope you’re well.” They assume it’s a mail merge because so many times . . . it IS a mail merge.

This article was originally published on September 29, 2022

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