Stop Bitching About Pitching: Offline and Online

Like a rabid dog with a with the mailman’s leg, I just can’t seem to let go of the whole hand-wringing scenario about media and public relations “professionals” doing bad pitches. In the old days, I have noted, as a young buck in the PR agency side of things, I reporters would screen my calls or just hang up on me. And it was over. I’ve been rejected more times than Kate Moss at Weight Watchers meetings (and I won’t even get into my dating life back in the day).

Now you have things like the “Bad Pitch Blog,” designed to bitch-slap mostly junior or clueless individuals who don’t know how to pitch properly. The tag line is “read our wrath.” That’s telling. I won’t mention any of the creators by name, but you need to get over yourselves. Has anyone keyed your car? Stolen your iPod? Assassinated your penguin? You don’t kill a fly with a sledgehammer, and this site reeks of new media hubris. Bad karma. I loved Jason Falls’ “Friday Frustrations” post in which he stated:

“A-list bloggers have an awfully bad habit of blowing smoke up each other’s asses. I’m probably guilty of it, too, though I don’t consider myself an A-lister, but for chrissakes people, you’re not celebrities so stop acting like them.”

Amen, brother.

I swear this is the last time that I am going to say this, but somehow, I am not that irritated by bad pitches. I either ignore them or have even created a folder in my email programs that pick up on key words, stores them there and I go back and read them when I have time. Maybe I am a softy in this regard because I have been both the pitcher and the pitchee, but I think that most people complaining about this just need to get over themselves (see above).

But in the spirit of “can’t we just get along?” here are just a few fundamental tips that I would provide to people who pitch either in the offline or online environment. Good communication is good communication if it’s a ten page fax or a 140 characters.

  1. Identify your target audience. If you are looking to reach a target audience via a publication or blog, your first step should be making sure that the outlet matches up with the audience that you are attempting to influence. Otherwise, as Shel Holtz calls it, it is just “shovelware.”
  2. Think about your objectives. Why are you communicating with this audience? I know that in the agency world you are communicating because your client thinks that he/she should be above the fold in the Wall Street Journal, but if you spend some time thinking about the benefits NOT to your client or organization but to the people receiving or potentially reading the information, you’ll go a long way towards happy, shiny people reading what you have to say. And if you work for an agency, the best consultants know when to say “no, this will be a waste of your money.” Courageous conversation for sure, but things will end up better.
  3. What messages are your target readers likely to want? Knowing this will make you happy and, provided that you select the right people to pitch, it will make the writers/bloggers happy too.
  4. List the types of questions that individuals may ask or additional information they may want. This is how your are going to write your pitch, your press release, or if you are doing it right, putting together your interactive press release. Answer these questions in advance and reflect it in the way that you present your information.
  5. What do you want to achieve? Think about this in two ways. If you send a pitch to a blogger or print reporter, what is the action that you want he/she to take? Visit a link with more info (good call). Read an attachment (bad call: Esther Schindler has correctly noted that “attachments merit the death penalty”). If you have spent all of the time and money getting something placed, I am no fan of the statement “raising awareness.” In the age of interactivity, there has to be some action that people reading your information can take besides merely processing it.
  6. Surmising that you accomplish your objectives, then what? If a reporter calls you back, you had better have your act together (no “ummm, uhhh,” or putting reporters on hold while you look for your cheat sheet with talking points on it) . And for God’s sake, list your cell phone number on your voicemail. If a reporter/blogger calls you back and gets your voicemail, it drastically reduces your chances.
  7. Push vs. pull. Regurgitating information all over people who may or may not want it can work, but a largely ignored pitching vehicle is simply putting information where you want reporters or bloggers to get it. Think: ProfNet, SEO, Peter Shankman’s “Help a Reporter” listserv and Web site. If your information is waiting for people who want it, your chances go up dramatically.

I could go on and on, but given the fact that I keep promising that this will be my last post on bad pitches, look for my next post on bad pitches.

Mark

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Comments

  1. How do you feel about cold pitching vs taking the time to try and establish a relationship before the pitch?

  2. Mark Story Says: July 20, 2008 at 7:52 am

    Patrick,

    First of all, thanks for reading. I think that establishing relationships with members of the media is great in theory, but honestly, it depends upon who you are and which medium it is.

    For example, if you the media relations director for a Fortune 100 company and want to make nice with a certain business writer in case your earnings statements don’t go well, it’s a good idea. Writers who like you will tend to call you for a quote or at least go easy on you when times go bad. If it’s me calling Fortune magazine, I won’t get the time of day.

    As for the blogosphere, I think it’s easier because most blogs have comment boxes. A kind word or intelligent response to a post will enable most folks to begin building a relationship.

    Your point though, is a good one. When I used to teach crisis communications, the first (and most overlooked point) it to establish and maintain good relationships with the media.

    Thanks again for reading and posting.

    Mark

  3. I’ve been stewing on more of this topic a bit this weekend and, as you know I agree with your points, we seem to be saying the same things only with too many words. What you and I both are preaching about pitching is simple. Pay attention. Take care in your work. Respect those you are pitching. If we all did that, the issue would cease to be one.

    Great pointers, as usual. Will pass them on!

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