If you’ve been in PR for a while, you’ve probably run into a smug journalist or two on Twitter.
Journalists are the most verified profession on Twitter, making up about one-quarter of all verified accounts, and most are daily users. It’s common for journalists to take to Twitter with screenshots from their inbox, scorning the worst PR pitches they’ve received, tarring them with the hashtag #PRFail.
Even though the relationship between journalists and PRs can be contentious, a survey of 1,300 publishers found that nearly four out of five writers and editors agree: PR pitches are a valuable part of their workflow.
So, how can you learn from others and avoid the PR Wall of Shame on Twitter? How can you increase your open, response and placement rates, while building mutually beneficial relationships with journalists?
Here’s what not to do, straight from the journalists’ tweets:
1. Using a mass email template
Ryan Wood (@RyanWoodDFW), an executive producer at Tegna, reminds PR pros to check their autofill before pitching. Someone sent him an email addressed to “Joel.” Not even close.
Check your auto-fill before you send out pitches.
My name is Ryan. Not Joel. pic.twitter.com/KbFSNRd8uR
— Ryan Wood (@RyanWoodDFW) May 6, 2015
PR pros have many tools at their disposal for sending pitches, most offering the option to write a pitch template that automatically fills in fields like “First Name” and “Website Name.” Using a templated email pitch is problematic on its own, but failing to double-check that your autofill has the correct information is a rookie mistake that can damage your reputation.
2. Pitching a personal email address
Lylah Alphonse (@WriteEditRepeat), managing editor at U.S. News & World Report, concedes that finding an unlisted personal email address might be resourceful, but it is definitely not appreciated.
— Lylah M. Alphonse (@WriteEditRepeat) October 6, 2017
With the exception of freelancers who might not have an official work email, most writers and editors do not give out their personal email address and prefer to get pitches on their work email only. Make the extra effort to find their work email; it will go a long way.
3. Sending irrelevant pitches
David Mack (@DavidMackau), deputy director of breaking news at BuzzFeed News, tweets that he will not respond to PR pitches that are irrelevant to his audience.
there is a reason
i didn’t respond
to your PR pitch
it is because
it is bad
and has literally nothing
to do with me
or anything i have ever written about
or would ever plan to
you do not need
to follow up
— David Mack (@davidmackau) October 4, 2018
Before you send a pitch, ask yourself: Does this writer cover this topic frequently? If the answer isn’t yes, don’t pitch this person. There is data to back this up—in a survey of 500 publishers, writers highlighted a preference for “content relevant to my audience” when asked what qualities the perfect piece of content would have.
4. Weak personalization
Joel Beall (@JoelMBeall ), a staff writer at Golf Digest, tweets that email personalization will go a long way.
I understand PR folks work in high-volume correspondence and can’t personalize every email…but c’mon buddy, make an effort pic.twitter.com/C2oa5kt8ls
— Joel Beall (@JoelMBeall) September 18, 2018
“I read your story on golf” is a sad attempt at personalizing an email pitch to a writer at golf magazine. What else would a staff writer at Golf Digest be writing about? When you fail to make an honest effort to connect with the person you’re pitching, it sends the message that you don’t care about them or their audience.
5. Ignoring feedback
Another great tip from Alphonse is about paying attention in your correspondence with a journalist.
Her: Are you interested in Will Smith’s marriage, Cardi B takes Kris Jenner’s advice, Celeb’s with silicone-free a booty, RHOA star accused of…
Me: We don’t do celebrities, or celebrity gossip.
Her: *Sends anyway*
Me: *blocks #PR firm’s domain name*
— Lylah M. Alphonse (@WriteEditRepeat) October 16, 2018
If a writer takes time to politely decline, listen to what they say and respond accordingly. Failing to heed feedback could get you a spot on the publisher’s email blacklist.
6. Making inaccurate claims
Kurt Marko (@KRMarko), writer at MarkoInsights and contributor to Diginomica and Tech Target, tweets his annoyance about unverified claims.
PR people, when your pitch claims that a product is the world’s “first and only” to offer a particular feature or capability, (a) it’s probably not true and (b) if I know for certain it’s not true, you’ve just lost all credibility. #PRfail
— Kurt Marko🤔🇺🇸 (@krmarko) October 23, 2018
Not only is making false claims unethical, but it can also damage your reputation and scuttle your future pitches.
7. Not offering useful or unique information
Katie Roof (@Katie_Roof), a reporter at The Wall Street Journal, addresses the common annoyance that comes from receiving pitches on a topic she has already covered.
Hi, reaching out to see if you’d be interested in writing another story, just like the one you already wrote. #prfail
— Katie Roof (@Katie_Roof) July 21, 2016
Yes, your media target’s coverage area should in the same vein of what you’re pitching, but don’t pitch an identical story days after they’ve covered a given topic. If you fail to identify your unique and newsworthy angle, your email will end up in the trash.
8. Asking for a plug in a story you didn’t work on
Claer Barrett (@ClaerB), personal finance editor at The Financial Times, tweets about an appalling but not uncommon occurrence: a PR person asking her to change a story she has published to include a press mention or link for their client.
What is it with PR people emailing after articles are published, asking you to add an unrelated plug for their client? Stop it! #prfail
— Claer Barrett (@ClaerB) January 12, 2017
If you didn’t have a hand in the original post, you’ll have better luck pitching that writer a related story idea, rather than asking them to amend a post that’s been published.
9. Not taking “no” for an answer
Maggie Fox (@MaggieMFox), senior writer at NBC News, tweets that even when she has taken time to decline a pitch, sometimes the PR pro won’t relent.
Dear PR Professional. Reason #9,674 that we do not answer your e-mails: I politely say no, and you immediately write back asking if I have a colleague who might be interested. #wealreadythoughtofthat
— Maggie Fox (@maggiemfox) October 15, 2018
It’s discouraging when no one responds to your emails. When a writer does take time to decline your pitch, thank them and remember their feedback the next time you reach out. If you’re too aggressive, they’ll stop responding.
10. Wasting a journalist’s time
Beki Winchel (@BekiWeki), PR Daily contributor, covered a pitch she received but was annoyed that the PR pro failed to check her coverage before bothering her with a follow-up.
Editors love getting emails asking when they’re going to publish a pitch that went live 1-2 weeks ago. Thanks for not reading! #PRFail
— Beki Winchel (@bekiweki) August 4, 2016
If you’re far enough along that a reporter agrees to cover your story, get an estimated publishing date and follow their archives until that date. It takes minimal effort to avoid damaging your reputation by following up when the story has clearly been published.
Domenica D’Ottavio is the brand relationship manager at Fractl.