That harsh assessment can be a hard pill for PR pros to swallow, but bad pitching—along with equally bad press releases—perpetuates that opinion and ensures your story will never see the light of day.
Knowing what sets reporters and editors’ teeth on edge is the first step to ensuring your pitches are well received.
BuzzStream and Fractl asked more than 500 reporters and editors for their worst pitching peeves. Here are five lessons you can learn from the survey:
1. Not getting to the point.
The best pitches sum things up in 20 words or fewer.
Pitches that force a journalist to wade through paragraphs of text to understand a story will not elicit email responses. Most reporters and editors won’t get through the opening spiel before sending your pitch to their spam folders.
Being clear and concise is even more important when your story has complicated subject matter.
Before using jargon or adding to your pitch’s length, consider this advice from Mashable: “Explain it to me in a sentence or two as if you were telling your grandmother, before getting into specifics.”
2. Ignoring a journalist’s or a publication’s focus.
“I receive more than 500 emails a day,” says a Los Angeles Times editor, but that’s not the bad part. "An astonishing number of them are pitching topics that neither I nor my staff has ever covered—sent by people who’ve either never read our publication, never read our coverage, or never noticed what bylines go with what stories."
Pitching journalists without understanding what they cover—or even glancing at the publication’s site—will not only annoy the recipients, it’ll also ruin your chances that future pitches will be well received.
Compounding that mistake only exacerbates things. Your persistence will be regarded as a nuisance.
“Sending irrelevant material multiple times doesn’t make it any more relevant,” says a Yahoo writer.
3. Not attempting to build a relationship.
Dorthy Crenshaw recently offered a reminder to put the “public” back in public relations. One way to do this is by getting to know your media contacts.
You don’t have to be best friends with a writer or editor to have your pitches heard. Rather, do things that show your interest in what they cover by looking at their writing, following them on Twitter or sending an email asking for guidelines.
Above all, don’t offend your contact with your pitch. A female Popular Science writer shared this gem: "I am deeply annoyed by press releases that assume I am a man because I work at a science and technology magazine. And a shocking number of press releases perpetuate other gender stereotypes. There is a press release in my spam box right now that says, 'Rein in Your Girly Thoughts.'"
4. Picking up the phone.
Journalists and editors are busy and often do not have time for a phone call, much less several calls.
A succinct email—sent after you’ve introduced yourself to the journalist and started a relationship—will go much further than telephoning and trying to get them to listen to you.
“The phone is intrusive,” says an AARP Magazine editor. “Email lets me see how you write, lets me forward your pitch to colleagues for consideration and lets me ask follow-up questions or send a quick ‘no thanks’ without getting dragged into a 20-minute conversation.”
5. Wasting time with non-news.
A writer from Yahoo shares this warning: "If it’s a bald appeal for publicity without much substance, don’t bother because you do more harm to your reputation than it’s probably worth (unless of course the client is paying enough to [justify] trashing your reputation)."
PR pros, beware. Make your news worthwhile to more than just your CEO, including tailoring it to your media contact. If you’re not willing to do this, save yourself the trouble—and potential blacklisting—and don’t bother pitching it.
“Above all, don’t navel gaze,” says a staffer at The Guardian. “You may be excited about your new product range or securing a juicy new contract, but will anyone else be? If in doubt, wait until you’ve got a better story.”
Want more advice to hone your pitching prowess? Check out Fractl’s Media Relations Guide on Etiquette.