“I know you’ve heard of me” – Good Lessons from Bad (!!) PR Pitches

Here’s the July breakdown of lessons learned from Muck Rack’s monthly compilation of journalists’ tweets about bad PR pitches.

Previous installments: April, May, and June.

Want to learn how to avoid these mistakes and instead send pitches that land coverage? Take the FREE online certification that Muck Rack and I put together. Closing in on 2,000 graduates.

Lesson: Many journalists hate exclamation points. But not all.

Erik’s take is consistent for journalists of his generation and beat (business and economics). Millennial morning show producers and beauty magazine editors, on the other hand, may skew more lenient of such punctuation and emojis. It’s key when interpreting these unsolicited tweets that you listen very carefully to what each journalist is saying about themselves, but not assign that same meaning to ALL journalists. In this case, lean away from exclamation points in your pitches, unless you see your target journalist using them in their own work or emails.

Lesson: The “I’m kind of a big deal” intro never works.

This tweet is a funny extreme that’s likely only going to surface in entertainment niches. More common in pitches I see is, “You’ve probably heard of (brand).” There’s no situation where this is a positive. If they’ve heard of your brand, then you don’t need to tell them they’ve heard of it. If they haven’t, then you come across as either self-important or even condescending. Either let your brand recognition stand on its own, or include some validation. Something like, “78 percent of HR managers have a favorable impression of (brand)’s hiring management software.”

Lesson: Follow-up is good. Demanding replies is bad.

I love it when PR people believe in their pitch enough to follow up. There’s an entire section devoted to follow-up in the course I mentioned.

But to be effective, you must accept that you are not entitled to any response. There is no such thing as a social norm or some kind of good manners that dictate that journalists respond to your outreach. When you so much as hint that there is, you come across as aloof, spoiled, or even “menacing.”

I think I know why these PR pros did this. Some sales trainers teach what they call “close-ended CTAs” where you invite a certain action by a deadline. It’s the same psychology that leads to advertisements that say, “Buy within the next hour to get the free bonus,” even though the bonus is always available.

But journalists hate being sold to. And they are not direct-response “leads” in a spreadsheet. Don’t use such tactics on them.

My rule of thumb for follow-up is to not acknowledge any amount of time that’s passed since your original outreach. And definitely don’t recite how many times you’ve contacted them about the same pitch. You simply want to put your most useful and relevant facts in front of the journalist in case they missed it the first time.

Lesson: Being surprising and authentic gets noticed.

In contrast with the previous examples of poor follow-up, I love this creative one. Can’t tell if the journalist is annoyed or amused, but my guess is this approach gets noticed and earns responses. NOT because it is self-deprecating, but because it stands out from all the other formulaic follow-up emails. That said, I am almost positive this screenshotted email is actually from a software sales rep, not a PR pro. References to “pricing” and “your solution” are the giveaways. Doesn’t mean we in PR can’t learn something from it.

Lesson: Tell your bosses or clients this is why you aren’t landing them in the New York Times.

That comes to about 15 cold email pitches per hour, or one every four minutes. Doesn’t mean it’s impossible, just unlikely. (Lower down in the thread she admits that email is the best format to reach her, but that most pitches are irrelevant.)

This same NYT writer was part of last month’s compilation with this next tweet. You can see that her attitude has changed from incredulity to mild frustration.

Lesson: Don’t offer to send draft interview questions in a cold pitch. But later, in some cases, might be okay.

First, there’s no excuse for including this line in a pitch to a reporter for TIME. PR pros should know that top-tier journos got there by exercising independence and crafting their own interview questions. That’s why it’s reassuring that Lissandra notes that “this is new.” She clearly hasn’t gotten one of these before.

Here’s the thing – this approach is not wrong in other settings, such as niche industry verticals, where the editors are overwhelmed and not as wary of PR pros. That’s probably where this PR pro learned this approach, and then forgot to remove it and included Lissandra on the same blast.

Increasingly, journalists at smaller operations have less time but are expected to put out more content. And they often allow PR pros they trust to do some of their work for them.

This article was originally published on July 22, 2020

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