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The Volume of Bad PR Pitches is Out of Control

by Frank Strong

The Volume of Bad PR Pitches is Out of Control

For the first ten years of my career, I thought noisy posts from journalists complaining about PR pitches were merely self-aggrandizement.

Oh, how fun it is to be so loved.  Everyone wants to be in your column or article. Slow news day, eh?

I’ve always worked hard at understanding a reporter’s coverage and sending good pitches.  As a result, I chalked up bad pitches to one or two lazy PR people (or worse, intentionally manipulative).

My views have changed.

Blame the Carpenter or the Hammer?

First, I went to work for (the now defunct) Vocus, the media database company, and one of a dozen or so companies that aggregate media contact information.

Every now and again, a reporter would take Vocus to task for selling contact information. As the PR guy, I took the heat rounds, cherished those rounds even — as some would-be defender of the good PR pros everywhere.

It was not a pleasant experience, but my view was simple:  If a carpenter bangs crooked nails, who do you blame – the carpenter or the hammer?  The database was merely tool and any technology can be misused.

I’d attempt to have a real conversation with the reporter – sometimes it worked out fine – other times it did not.  When it was bad, it was really frothing-at-the-mouth-rabid bad.  I literally lost sleep.

Ever heard a reporter drop the f-bomb?  I have.  Not just anyone either – but reputable, perhaps even esteemed, reporters working for tippy-top of coveted publications (I’ll never give names, so don’t ask).

When I could get a conversation with them, most would realize I wasn’t a bad guy, but they hated my employer.   They hated the company in a visceral way that defies the calm and impartiality that’s characteristic of journalism.

Many of them would forward me pitches some PR pro had sent. The pitches were awful – way off topic, written in ALL CAPS and in some cases distasteful.  Why?!  WHY WOULD ANYONE WRITE A PITCH IN ALL CAPS?!   It’s ugly, hard to read and it feels like shouting.

When 80% or more of the pitches in your email inbox are garbage, it becomes easy to understand why reporters, indeed bloggers, sometimes pick up the pen and vent.

A Blogging Perspective

Since 2007 or so I’ve managed blogs professionally – PR has changed – and eventually starting this one here. In that time, the volume of bad PR pitches I receive has grown to epic proportions and these tend to be disproportionately awful.  It’s becoming a full time job to delete the junk. I’m thinking about sending these folks invoices for billable time.

For a while I thought it was just SEOs trying to build links.  Next I blamed well intended but misguided small business owners. Finally I settled on marketers trying to do a little media relations as an additional duty (a terrible idea).

I’ve come full circle. It’s taken me a while, but it’s true:  Most PR people are either clueless or careless. That’s both good and bad for those with a strong work ethic.

What amazes me is that there has never been a better time for media relations. Publications have cut staff for years now, outlets are starving for good content and there are more opportunities to earn a placement than ever before.

If PR pros pull together a good pitch, put a little though into what they are trying convey, the chances of earning media coverage are very good. It’s not a job for junior staff!

What PR needs to do is slow down – forget volume and think about quality. Narrow down a list of outlets your clients or companies would like to be in, and take a thoughtful approach and start pitching tailored or customized ideas to the people to whom you are reaching out.

There’s nothing wrong or illegitimate about advocacy. Everyone has a view point or a story to tell, but for crying out loud, take a little pride in your work – and drop the sense of entitlement!  While I too think “relationships” are overestimated in PR, reporters do value contacts that a) understand their work and b) pitch relevant perspective and c) favor utility over hype.

It’s true of bloggers too. I’ll take a guest post in a heartbeat if the content has a strong pulse.

* * *

If there’s one secret to pitching I learned early on and has served me well over the years – it’s all in the lede. Write a good introduction to a story, not a good introduction to a pitch. If PR can do that, it’s very easy to stand out amid the volume of bad PR pitches which are out of control.

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4 Responses

  1. Joshua Kail

    Thanks for including a link to my article. Its funny, in one of my original drafts of it I included a bit of where ‘relationships” with the press are valuable for PR Pros, mostly in the friendlier demeanor they take even if under deadline or the familiarity of you being a source of quality content regardless of the client.

    There are two reasons took that paragraph out. The first is that while good relationships makes our lives as PR pros a little more pleasant, this is not enough to warrant its inclusion in a sales pitch as to why one firm is worth taking on. The client will never see that impact in a regular or long term meaningful way and you end up building expectations which can never be fulfilled.

    The second reason is, that I think we need to flip that bond between press and PR to Press and Client. The association of quality content provider should be solely with the client name and not the PR person delivering it. I try to cut as much name association between myself/my firm and the press as possible and replace it with Client X.  It does mean reinventing the wheel at the start of new clients in the similar space but the long term impact and resulting client satisfaction makes the extra work worth it.

  2. Joshua Kail Thank you Joshua, for a thoughtful comment.  I completely agree with you. In so many ways this “personal branding” movement has muddied PR and moved PR to the front when really our job is to help other people articulate their ideas.

  3. LouHoffman

    Allow me to be even more pessimistic.

    This problem, which by the way hurts the entire profession, even the PR folks who do “slow down,” will never change.

    Why causes me to say this?

    problem existed when I entered the industry in 1983 and the problem
    exists today. There’s no “sign” much less data that suggests the
    trajectory will change.

  4. LouHoffman If I might take liberty to tease you in good nature, I’d say re-arranging the type set in 1983 must have added friction!  In all seriousness, there’s no doubt in my mind you are right. It does hurt the entire profession.

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