Time Magazine editor at large Harry McCracken has recently been posting PR pitches from hapless PR people on his Facebook page. To protect the guilty, he chopped off the signature line – but left the name of the client being pitched.
Being “named and shamed” by a journalist has long been a nightmare scenario for PR pros, but it can be even more devastating for a business owner who is trying to learn the art of promoting a business through public relations. Luckily, bloggers and journalists aren’t shy about telling us what they want, and we can all learn a lot from social media postings like Harry’s that point out the PR roadblocks we may be creating for ourselves.
Here are five common roadblocks that are easy to avoid if you don’t want to wind up in a post by the next journalist who decides enough is enough and speaks out against those who abuse their list of media contacts or media database by sending a flood of inappropriate pitches.
Don’t Confuse PR & Sales Pitches
The art of PR pitching isn’t always intuitive to entrepreneurs or business owners. While it seems similar to pitching a product to a client or pitching your business to an investor, the process is actually quite different.
In a PR pitch, you’ll earn yourself a fast trip to the recycle bin if you go with the hard sell approach. Asking a journalist to help you introduce your product to his audience is usually a turn-off, too. Sure, bloggers and journalists know that when they write about a product or company they’re helping that company sell products – but no one wants to be reminded of that.
PR pitches have to focus on the story, and why it’s relevant to that writer, that publication (magazine, newspaper, blog, TV station, talk show, etc.). And those reasons may be quite different than the reasons people buy your product.
Narrow Your Target List
MyPRGenie has a media database of more than half a million contact names, and our press release distribution service can deliver your press release and pitch to thousands of contacts in seconds. But if you use our media database to blast email your company’s information to thousands of irrelevant contacts just because you have access to a list of media contacts, you’ll quickly discover that not targeting your release carefully is the worst mistake you can make.
Miranda Tan, founder of MyPRGenie, says it simply and clearly in her short video The Worst PR Mistake You Can Make, “If you’re not targeting the right people, you’re wasting time and money.”
There’s really no excuse for not targeting PR pitches to the right people these days, since social media make it easy to like or follow the top editors in your industry or your home town. What are they tweeting about? What does LinkedIn say about them? What are the last five articles they published? Google, Bing, and Yahoo know the answer to all of those questions, and it takes just seconds for you to find out, too.
Read the Writers You Target
Fortune blogger @shelisrael recently tweeted this: Ancient complaint but why do PR folk think I should write about their clients when they don’t take time to read my writing?
He’s got a point. It was one of the things that Harry McCracken complained about on Facebook, too. Yes, to a certain extent this roadblock is similar to the problem of a too-large target list, but there is a difference.
When your list is too big, you can’t possibly craft personalized pitches to key journalists or bloggers. But when you haven’t read anything by the writers you do pitch, you’re risking an even bigger problem: turning a neutral name you got from the press release distribution service into someone who actively dislikes you or your brand because you didn’t bother to read anything they’ve written before you pitched them.
This is especially true if you are targeting freelance journalists or bloggers. Bloggers and freelancers don’t have a salary, and their expenses aren’t being paid for by a media company. They blog about what they love, and sometimes they do it after putting in a full day at another job. So if they take time to cover an event, try a product, interview an expert or write about your company, they’re doing it on their own time.
But don’t ignore bloggers or freelancers. More and more, even the most prestigious publications like Forbes fill their online pages with the work of freelancers who are compensated at least in part based on the number of readers they attract to the site. The more articles they publish, the more these talented, savvy writers get paid. They’re always looking for the next story that will drive traffic – and if that story comes from you, and you help them draw readers by tweeting and posting links to their story – then you both win.
Make it Easy to Say “Yes”
A short, well-written pitch that includes all the information a writer needs to cover your product or story will always get a better reaction than even the cutest “teaser” pitch that makes extra work for the person you’re contacting. For instance, if you mention a person in your pitch, explain who they are and link to a bio and photograph of that person – don’t expect them to look up your CEO or your “celebrity” spokesman.
Great graphics and images are another way to make it easy for a writer to say “yes” to your pitch. Take advantage of the image hosting that comes with a press release distribution service like MyPRGenie. Add several good quality images (at least 640X480 in size) that can be downloaded and used without copyright concerns, and include the link to those images in your pitch. Pro tip: Bloggers are usually happy to accept reasonably sized attachments, while many corporate networks at larger media outlets will strip attachments. That’s why a press release distribution service that hosts your images for you can be a big help.
One blogger told an audience at a PR conference recently that she gets images with less than 5% of the pitches she receives – and great images really boost a PR person’s chances with her blog. Of course, make sure that you have the right to distribute any images before you submit them – signed model releases and a clear copyright that allows you to use the image in your public relations campaign are a must.
Proofread, Edit, and Persuade
Journalists and bloggers make their living with words. They take grammar, spelling, and typographical errors seriously – and if you’re lucky, they’ll simply delete a pitch after the first couple of mistakes. If you’re not lucky, they’ll share the pitch with all their friends, with your name and company’s name attached.
No matter how interesting you think your story is, edit it down to no more than five short paragraphs (less than 300 words). Put your supporting information in a PDF they can download if they want. Offer additional details on request.
Make your case clearly and persuasively. A weak and disorganized PR pitch is almost as bad as one targeted to the wrong person or publication. For more information on writing persuasive copy, check out our recent article 7 Steps to Writing More Persuasive Copy.