"I just got a PR pitch that started by asking if I've been following coronavirus," journalist Arielle O'Shea recently tweeted.
"Are we allowed not to?" While staying relevant to current events is a great way to make your media pitch stand out, it's also a quick way to get you and your brand laughed at (or even worse, ignored and blocked by the journalist completely).
I just got a PR pitch that started by asking if I've been following coronavirus. Are we allowed not to?— Arielle O'Shea (@arioshea) March 16, 2020
From poor relevancy to creepy outreach, let's explore three major fails in media pitches and what you can learn from them.
PR software platforms like BuzzStream and Vocus let PR professionals manage thousands of media contacts. While sending out a mass email can save you time, it can also easily cross over into the dreaded spam category. And nothing will get your media pitch deleted faster than a journalist realising that he's just one of the dozens that you've contacted.
A sure giveaway is when you forget to change generic placeholder text like "INSERT NAME" or "ADD STORY TITLE" to your emails.
For example, while mentioning a journalist's past work can show you've done your research, writer Ben Dickson got a media pitch where the PR pro wrote: "I was inspired by your article, POST NAME, and hoped we could create an original piece of content for your site."
Oops, looks like someone failed to actually add in one of Dickson's past article titles.
Even worse is when a PR pro forgets to add a name to the name field ("Dear INSERT NAME" is hardly a great opening line), or uses the wrong name (which is exactly what happened to journalist Ryan Wood).
#PRFail— Ryan Wood (@RyanWoodDFW) May 6, 2015
Check your auto-fill before you send out pitches.
My name is Ryan. Not Joel. pic.twitter.com/KbFSNRd8uR
How to Make It Better:
Consider avoiding the use of mass template PR emails. The best media pitches are always customised to the outlet and personalised to the journalist.
If you're using a PR outreach template, make sure you've personalised or removed any placeholder text.
Check, then DOUBLE CHECK, that names and other personalisation fields are correct.
There are lots of tried-and-true methods for making your media pitch stand out, like referencing a shared history, highlighting a recent article that the journalist wrote, or mentioning a mutual friend.
But when it comes to doing your background research, an under-researched media pitch may do far more harm than a completely generic pitch.
Case in point: New York-based writer Caitlin Kelly's Twitter feed for much of the first half of 2020 was about her mother passing away. Unfortunately, PR pros still sent her media pitches about mother's day. Even just a cursory check of Kelly's social media would have warned PR pros to stay away from that angle.
And Fox reporter Jeremy Hubbard received a media pitch that included some personal memories about his time at Colorado State University. There was just one tiny problem: Hubbard never attended that university.
Just had a PR person pitch me a story by reminiscing about our college days together, when we both went to @ColoradoStateU! What a wonderful stroll down memory lane!— Jeremy Hubbard (@JeremyHubbard) April 4, 2019
Except I didn't go to CSU.
How to Make It Better:
Do your background research on the author, especially if you're taking an emotional or personal angle to your pitch.
Make sure any personal details you include are accurate (review the author's website, LinkedIn, blog, Twitter feeds, etc.).
Be cautious: Over-personalisation increases your odds of messing up.
Don't be creepy: Ask yourself whether or not the personal details you're including will help the journalist to do her job better. And definitely never reach out to a media personality via their personal email address (which recently happened to Pete Schroeder) or their personal social media accounts (Sara Belcher recently got a PR follow-up via a direct message on her private Instagram).
extremely cool getting cold-call PR pitches to my personal email— Pete Schroeder (@peteschroeder) March 10, 2020
The more seasonal and timely your pitch, the more a journalist may pick it up. But some PR pros take it a little too far when they try to leverage current news, an upcoming holiday or a recent event.
For example, a reporter at the New York Times once received a Valentine's Day-themed media pitch...about cancer. "Sinus Problems, Cancer Stand in the Way of Healthy Valentine Lips," reads the pitch headline. "Nation's ENTs Urge Patients to Keep Lips Kissable."
The Times kissed that story goodbye.
More recently, journalists have been complaining online about a never-ending stream of terrible COVID-19 PR pitches.
Many brands are using the current coronavirus epidemic to pitch everything from eyeglasses to cocktail recipes. One journalist even got a PR pitch trying to link artificial grass to the pandemic.
no no no NO NO NO I just got a PR pitch for "this weekend's cocktail special: The Quarantini, a regular martini that you drink at home, alone."— Beth Demmon (like “Lemon” not “Demon”) (@delightedbite) March 13, 2020
Bonnie Moon, an executive producer for NBC, wrote: "When I get a PR pitch trying to sell a product/person with a coronavirus angle that clearly doesn't have anything to do with COVID-19 response - the sender's email will get filtered to my trash folder forever. (just deleted 4K emails from last week)"
New email rule:— Bonnie Moon (@bonniemoon) March 15, 2020
When I get a PR pitch trying to sell a product/person with a coronavirus angle that clearly doesn’t have anything to do with COVID-19 response - the sender’s email will get filtered to my trash folder forever.
(just deleted 4K emails from last week) pic.twitter.com/pK0PvHm3gq
How to Make It Better:
Connect your pitch to a relevant event, cause or seasonal item. Emphasis on relevant. It's readily apparent when you're stretching that connection a little too far.
If your pitch isn't relevant, make it relevant before pitching it. For example, in the cancer pitch we highlighted above, the PR team could have donated to a cancer fundraiser and made that the focus of their pitch instead.
Don't over-stretch the relevance of your pitch. If it isn't authentic, it will make journalists uncomfortable (and potentially ban your PR agency or brand from the outlet forever).
Bad PR pitches from around the world get a lot of buzz, but not the type of buzz that you're hoping to create. Learn from them before your brand goes viral on Twitter for all the wrong reasons.
If you want to be a source for journalists who are actively seeking new story ideas, join SourceBottle today. The media wants to hear your story.