Okay, I know what I’m about to say is blasphemy in our world, but I agree with the recent reports of journalists blacklisting PR professionals. (Go ahead, grab your pitchforks and light your torches.) I agree because I’ve had enough reporter-pals share these SPAM-pitches with me to know how frustrating it is. Pitches with all caps shouting ad messages; misspelled names; identical emails sent to 5 people at the same publication; a technology story sent to someone on a real estate beat…it goes on and on.
For those who might be unaware of the uproar, there has been a flurry of reporters to officially blacklist individual PR pros and, in some cases, entire agencies because of this kind of activity. The most recent complaints have come from Gina Trapani, editor of Lifehacker, who published a PR blacklist of domain names from firms that had sent her SPAM-like pitches. Blogger Matt Haughey also joined the fray, complaining about an endless stream of PR SPAM and Wired magazine’s editor-in-chief, Chris Anderson, shared similar frustrations last year. Todd Defren of PR Squared, one of the blacklisted firms, published an open letter of apology to Gina and other offended journalists hoping to get back in their good graces.
So, here’s my inevitable two cents on the subject. Media pitching has always been a delicate art, made even more so by the explosive number of targets and tactics available to us. It’s so easy to forget that for every one reporter, there are thousands of us vying for their attention. Seriously, think about how often you pitch reporters, now multiply each one of those emails and phone calls by oh, I dunno, 50,000 and maybe you get an idea of the numbers we’re talking about.
So, here’s my advice to avoid the SPAM-pitch.
Think like a writer. So often we forget that reporters & bloggers are writers. And, what does every writer need? Characters. Conflict. Resolution. Emotion. Every story has these. How did the company leaders meet? What problem does the product solve? What challenges were overcome to get where they are now? There is a story in there, I promise. Find it and pitch that instead of the company or product.
Think like a reader. So, you’ve got your characters and story-line. Now ask yourself, is this something I would read? Would this capture my interest? If not, go back to the beginning and find out why; what’s missing? Where is the heart? What was the ah-ha moment that started it all?
Tailor to your target. Know what your target media writes about and tailor your story to them. Blasting out a bunch of press releases or the same pitch to hundreds of reporters will never get you a real story. Maybe, at best, you’ll get a couple of minor hits. But, if you want a real narrative, you need to make it personal.
Be Brief! This is especially important when considering the volume of pitches media get. The goal of a pitch is to get a reporter’s attention not to provide an epic thesis on every possible angle or idea relating to the product. You want to simply demonstrate the potential for good ink. Journalists & bloggers know their craft and they can read between the lines of your pitch to see the bigger picture.
It’s not always about you and your needs. Our job is to make reporters’ jobs easier and sometimes that excludes our clients. When I hear about a story that I know Joe Journalist will love, I tell him about it. It doesn’t matter that it has no relation to any clients on my roster. I am building a relationship with Joe that will pay off in the long run. These guys get enough self-serving emails/calls every day. Toss them something that serves only them and they will remember you for it.
So, let’s redeem ourselves here folks. Get creative. Get writing. And remember sell the story, not the product.