I get a lot of PR pitches every day. A lot. Some are way better than others -- those get read. The rest end up "spiked" -- that's old-fashioned newspaper-speak for "deleted." The worst of those end up being inspiration for my #PRFail rants on Twitter (like this and this and this and this).
PR friends, you don't want your pitch to end up in one of those tweets.
Luckily, there are plenty of things PR people can do to improve the odds that their pitch gets noticed. I spent part of this afternoon with my friends at Team LEWIS, talking to their staffers about what PR professionals absolutely must do -- and absolutely must not do -- to get on a journalist's good side. Here are my notes:
The first thing you absolutely must do: due diligence
Good editors remind their reporters to trust but verify their sources, and PR people should do the same with their press lists. Make sure you do your due diligence! That means you must:
· Know the journalist: What does he currently cover? Does she still work for the same publication she did last time you reached out? Does he use his full name or a nickname? Does she prefer emails or phone calls? Is "Chris" male or female?
· Know the outlet: Take a look at their latest two or three issues, or at their website (and not just the home page! If the website has multiple landing pages or sections, take a quick look at as many of them as possible). Do they still cover the same topics or products they did before? Is your client or product a fit?
· Know what’s already out there: Who are your client’s competitors? Is there something similar already out there? What makes your client different from them?
· Know what’s already been written: Has the publication or reporter you’re pitching to written about a similar product before? If so, it’s unlikely they’ll write about your client, and may be irritated by your pitch.
· Know your product: If a reporter responds to your pitch and wants to know more information, have that info handy and reply right away. Saying “I’ll get back to you on that” is the same as saying “We’re not really ready to have you write about this right now.”
· Know your audience: Who is going to buy your client’s product? Does the reporter or publication you’re pitching to reach that audience? I wrote about parenting in the mid- and late 2000s. The babies I wrote about then are nearly teenagers now, so, no, I am not interested in your client’s range of organic, cruelty-free, hypo-allergenic, hand-curated, small-batch baby products.
Other things you absolutely should do:
· Proofread. We all make mistakes, but a silly typo in a press release can make both you and your client look bad. It makes a good journalist wonder: How much reliable information are you going to give me if the data in your press release is incorrect? How much attention to detail is put into the product if you don’t know the difference between “their, “they’re” and “there”? Also: Get my name wrong and your pitch likely will be spiked. Do it again and your email address is added to my spam list, which means I’ll never see any of your pitches again.
· Be clear. Use easy-to-understand, everyday language to describe your client or product. Unless you’re pitching a white paper to a research firm, there’s no need to use academic terms, and most reporters absolutely hate marketing jargon.
· Be brief. Reporters are busy – they don’t have time to scroll through three pages of email or listen to a two-minute long voicemail to find out what you’re pitching. Stick with who, what, where, why, and how — who you are, what you’re pitching, where it is located (if it's an event, where it fits into the market if it's a product), why it’s significant or different from the competition, and how to get more information.
· Remember that you are asking the reporter to help you out. It’s not the reporter’s job to give your client publicity, it’s your job to persuade the reporter to consider your pitch. No one wants to deal with an overly pushy or demanding PR person. Be considerate of the reporter's time; if you’re calling on the phone, the first thing out of your mouth after “Hello, my name is _______” should be “Do you have a minute to talk?” or “Is now an OK time to chat?”
· Make it easy for the reporter to get what he or she needs to use your client as a source or promote your product. This includes having your contact information visible in a sig at the bottom of your email (if you’re sending a hard copy of a press release, have CONTACT and your name, email, phone and social media handle at both the top and the bottom of the page; if you’re leaving a voice mail, start by introducing yourself and giving your callback number). Even better: Set up a media page for each client on your website, and house hi-res and low-res images, press materials, bios, and contact information there, so if the reporter loses (or spikes) your email he or she can still access assets -- and reach you -- easily.
· Offer samples or access, if appropriate. A good reporter will not write a review of or promote a product or service he or she has never tried. Offer access or a sample (and a way to return it, like a postage-paid box, if you want it back) when you make your request, but be advised that many organizations do not allow their staff to accept gifts (or keep samples) that are worth a lot of money.
Things you should absolutely not do:
· Don’t automate your pitches or blast the same exact pitch to multiple people. Not only does in increase your chance of including an error, it increases the possibility that your pitch will be irrelevant to a reporter on your list.
· Don’t rely on spellcheck. Spellcheck only picks up on words that are spelled wrong, not words that are used inappropriately. Take this phrase, for example: "Sew, adz eye rote bee four...” Not a single word in this phrase is spelled wrong but, obviously, not a single word in that phrase is used correctly. Also: Spellcheck won't tell you if you've spelled my name correctly or not. Both "Lylah" (yes!) and "Lyla" (no!) would be flagged as incorrect, while "Lydia" (also no!) would sail through.
· Don’t send anything as an attachment. In this day and age of malware, phishing scams and hacking, most emails with attachments end up stuck in a spam filter. If they get through, the chances are high that a reporter will never open the attachment. If your message doesn’t get read, your pitch is worthless. Got a large file to share? Host it on your site or on Dropbox and make it available to download. Got a video to share? Host it on your site or use YouTube or Vimeo so it can be either downloaded or embedded. The only time it's really a good idea to send an email attachment is if you're sending materials that the reporter has already requested and you know they're expecting your email -- and, even then, there's still a risk of infection from a virus or malware.
· Don’t expect them to click on links. Links can lead to phishing or malware sites, but it's also a good idea to avoid sprinkling them like confetti throughout your pitch because that's like forcing reporters to take extra steps and extra time to help you. It’s fine to offer a brief rundown and then suggest they go to your website for additional information or assets, though.
· Don’t try to flatter them. Sure, we love it when people say they love our work, but if you say you love the last product review that I wrote, and I haven’t written a product review since 2009, I know you’re being insincere (and that you haven’t done your due diligence). Ditto praising all the articles I've written on health care reform (zero in the past many years).
· Don’t be too casual. Do not start your pitch with “Hey, Beautiful,” “Hi there, sweetheart,” “Dude,” “Hey,” or “What’s up?” unless you know the reporter well in real life. This is a business relationship. A too-casual approach will make you and your client look unprofessional. (And, yes, I really have received pitches starting with all of the above greetings.)
· Don’t be cute or gimmicky. Do not snail-mail a package with confetti, perfume or glitter. Do not send cookies or candies for no reason. Do not send a card with a noisy, pre-recorded message. Do not use gifs or other animation in your emails. It’s distracting and annoying (and reporters hate it when animations or graphic-heavy emails crash their ancient computers).
· Don’t be a stalker. If no one responds to your email or voicemail right away, it’s fine to follow up a few days later. But don’t keep emailing, and for goodness sake, keep the phone calls to a minimum – not only is the writer likely fielding other pitches, he or she is also trying to, you know, write.