More good lessons from bad PR pitches – August edition

The Muck Rack Blog gathers ‘em, I break ‘em down here, every month.

Read deeper than the venting tweets

Four tweets in this month’s roundup are complaining about getting pitched for holiday gift shopping ideas. That’s the most on any one topic in the same month since all those tweets about insensitive pitches during the COVID outbreak in March.

So the product-pitching pros who are unsure of themselves might see these and go, “Oh, July and August is now too early, I better press pause and wait on my holiday gift pitches.” But that would be an oversimplification.

It’s totally normal and okay to pitch holiday gift ideas in the summer, but only for long-lead print magazines. They are the ones who work 3-4 months in advance.

These holiday pitches found their way to:

  • a travel writer – As an aside, I noticed she wrote a piece on “Holiday giving options” last October, which may be why she ended up on this person’s list. But that was about charitable donations, not Christmas presents.
  • a digital editor – She’ll probably do some holiday stuff but can turn it around fast and get it in front of readers with the push of a button, so therefore won’t be looking until probably October. She also has a second tweet in this roundup so it sounds like this was a tough month for her on the PR front.
  • someone who writes the daily coronavirus digest for the LA Times – The pool she swims in every day is people dying and losing their jobs, so it’s understandable why she’s so upset.

The problem is that too many PR pros are passing around these tweets and reading them out of context. When you start seeing magazine editors tweeting that it’s too early, that’s when you adjust.

Until then, these justified tweets highlight this truth:

It’s not a TIMING problem, it’s a TARGETING problem.

(I’ve got no explanation for this one, though):

I agree with this gripe – too may PR pros do this, and it’s ineffective

Don’t get me wrong – follow-up is awesome. For well-targeted pitches, it’s usually the difference between success and failure. But don’t ever use negative-emotion words in your follow-up emails. Other offenders are “pest” or “bother you.” You’re simply putting those feelings into the journalist’s mind and creating a self-fulfilling self-deprecation. If your follow-up is so frequent or forced that you feel compelled to acknowledge something negative, that’s usually a good sign you shouldn’t send it. Instead, consider how helpful you’re being when you have an idea that you know is relevant but your contact likely hasn’t seen it yet. That drives you to use words like “Wanted to make sure you didn’t miss this” or “In case this fell through the cracks.” Entirely different intention.

Doing this doesn’t mean journalists will always love your pitch. But it often prevents them from agreeing with you that you’re an irritating pest.

Also don’t do this

Nicholas is exactly right. If you’re pitching a byline – AKA contributed article – a freelancer is your worst target. He doesn’t get paid if he doesn’t write the piece himself. So go to the editor with this. Or at least a staffer. But we all know this was likely a blast pitch anyway, which leads me to . . .

A new way to get mail-merge wrong

It wouldn’t be an aggregation of journalist gripe-tweets without a few tweets mocking pitches that start with “Dear [First Name] . . .” But this one is more instructive:

You might think your mail-merge fields are working properly, but for some reason the formatting could be off and ruin the pitch. The solution, as always, is to not send blast pitches. But if you’re like, “This time warrants an exception,” then do yourself a favor and send a test email and check it in a couple different email programs (at least Gmail and Outlook), because they sometimes render formatting differently.

If you need more motivation, here are a couple more mail-merge fails:

Hilarious targeting error

When you first see this tweet, you can kinda guess what’s off here:

But it’s even funnier when you click through to his bio and see who he is:

Editor of AARP The Magazine 😀

This article was originally published on August 24, 2020

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