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What Not to Hook a Media Pitch to, Ever

June 18, 2013
URL: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/229007

PR people talk a lot about how hooking your company, product or expertise to a current trend or news item can help you earn a little media love. That sort of approach can go much further than the standard “Hi, I’m so-and-so. Here’s my product. Will you cover it?” pitch. However, there are certain situations in which this tactic is a bad, bad idea.

Startups and, perhaps more often, big brands make the mistake of pitching around something -- be it a trend or news story -- they shouldn’t. And the results can be disastrous. In the spirit of business preservation, here are a few things to avoid hooking your pitch to:

Public tragedy
It’s mind-boggling that this ever happens, but making a pitch in the wake of a massive tragedy is a death warrant. Imagine a junk removal service saying, “Hey Reporter: Those tornadoes left quite a mess in Oklahoma! We have 10 tips on how folks can sift through what’s what...” How ideas like this ever see the light of day -- and believe me, they do -- is truly fascinating. So don’t even think about it. If you must insert yourself or your company into a tragic situation do by donating dollars. Even then, do it quietly.

Related: 6 PR Tips for Generating Publicity for Your Startup 

Competitive hardship
Imagine a competitor encountering something difficult. A data breach, a flight of staff, a flight of users... you name it. Something like that seems like a perfectly teed up chance to pitch the media on how different (better) you and your company are, right? Wrong. Not only is it bad karma, but taking this tack opens you to a bigger risk -- that is, becoming known as someone who preys on other’s misfortune for the sake of publicity. When a competitor hits hard times, ignore it and focus on welcoming in their defecting customers.

Related: 5 Ways to Land Press for Your Startup From Your Dorm Room

Holidays or seasons that blatantly make no sense
When dating sites pitch Valentine’s Day-related stories, that makes sense. When personal finance sites attempt to hook into Tax Day, that’s logical. Ecom products pitching holiday shopping tie-ins are thoroughly appropriate too. However, there is such a thing as stretching too far -- and doing so can land you in a reporter’s “Guess I don’t need to open emails from this person ever again” bucket.

What exactly constitutes stretching too far? Here’s a hypothetical example: a cat food company pitching a 4th of July-related story about how the right cat food can help your cat be less skittish during loud fireworks. Every reader right now should be thinking, “C’mon. That’s more than a stretch.”

Related: 4 Steps to Creating Buzz on a Shoestring Budget

At the end of the day, it usually comes down to common sense. Try to eliminate your bias and put yourself in your recipient’s shoes. Would you cover what you’re about to pitch? Would the recipient’s audience actually care about it? If there’s any hesitation, you should probably go back to the drawing board and think up a new hook.

What pitching strategies would you recommend? Let us know your suggestion in the comments section.