15 ways to doom your pitch and tick off journalists

Launching a new product or service? Announcing some guy’s recent promotion? Is your ‘best-selling’ ‘guru’ available to share ‘thought leadership’? None for me, thanks.

15 pitching mistakes

Dissecting PR pitches is one of the duties editors least enjoy.

PR people are typically pleasant to deal with—and many are excellent at what they do—but a lousy few make the story pitching experience, er, let’s say suboptimal.

Here are certain types of pitches we receive all too often—and promptly heave into the deleted hereafter:

1. The new product or service announcement. I have no doubt that your revolutionary, game-changing gizmo will absolutely shift the corporate paradigm or whatever.

Unfortunately, our readers do not care; ergo, nor do I.

2. A company merger or someone getting promoted. Sounds like great fodder for your corporate newsletter!

Better yet, instead of annoying your colleagues with boring, mindless slop-copy (not to be confused with Sopchoppy, Florida, worm gruntin’ capital of the world), why not try telling more robust, vivid and emotional stories through a brand journalism approach?

3. Anything tied to a somber or serious event. Be judicious about newsjacking. Tying your news to a current event can be timely way to grab a reporter’s attention, but this can also be a tacky tactic that quickly backfires.

4. The bait-and-switch. Your subject line says one thing; your email lede says another. Alas, when I click on your story or survey, it’s something entirely different from what you promised. You sneaky rascal!

You’ve gotten a click, but you’ve burned a bridge.

5. The copy-and-paste. One nitpick that editors notice in pitches is font choice. Many pitches we receive use one kind of font in the body text and another for the salutation. Some even paste in different colored text. This is a subtle giveaway that you:

  • Did not show meticulous attention to detail
  • Probably sent this exact same email to dozens of other journalists

Meticulously formatted, well-designed pitches move to the front of the line.

6. The irrelevant expert. No, I don’t want to “hop on a call” with your best-selling author and sought-after keynote speaker guru. I’m sure Dave’s a swell guy, but we’re not doing an infomercial for his cutting-edge, world-class, earth-shattering ideations.

7. The typo-filled mess. Everyone makes mistakes, but do try to spell the editor’s name correctly—and, for the love of Pete, don’t misspell the publication you’re pitching. (You’d be surprised how many submissions for “Regan.com” and “Reagan.com” we receive.)

8. The bad stab at humor. For heaven’s sake, don’t ever do anything like this (warning: NSFW language).

More pitching pet peeves

Here are a few more pitching tactics that chafe Ragan’s editorial team:

Rob Reinalda:

I abhor the chummy salutation: “Hi Rob!”

These people don’t know me and are only putting the arm on me to get something.  Delete.

Ted Kitterman:

My new least favorite is the “nice to e-meet you” greeting.  We haven’t met and most of the time it isn’t nice for me.

Beki Winchel:

I hate this move:

“If you’re not the right person, please send this to the right person.”

“If you’re not the person in charge of these decisions, please connect me to the right person.”

Yeah, no. I’m not doing your job for you, especially if you emailed me about Ragan’s “printing needs.”

Winchel adds one more quibble:

Another annoyance: embargos. Most of the time, these are entirely pointless … literally, no one cares. They act as if it’s an “Avengers: Endgame”-level spoiler alert. It’s not.

Russell Working:

Allow me first to start by expressing my sympathy with the poor, beleaguered PR pros who are trying to reach their monthly quotas. PR can be especially maddening when you are pitching a terrific story—one you believe in, one you might have written up back in your own journalism days—and the very editors who once gobbled up your work as a journo now treat your news judgment as akin to a bad smell in the elevator.

I also realize PRs have their own lists of grievances against reporters, starting with that tone of contempt they often get from members of the press.

That said, here are some bugaboos for me:

  • Pitches without URLs. There are occasions in which I might not write a story but would be willing to tweet about it. Still, it must have a link to a web page. While you’re at it, have a tweet button on the web page.
  • Irrelevant or off-topic pitches. It’s not that hard to find out what Ragan covers. I once got a 5,327-word, 11-page press release about why a writer needs a publicist in today’s market. They said I was “welcome to use” the piece in our publication. No.
  • “For immediate release” announcements of corporate gibberish. Here’s one I once got: “For Immediate Release: Announcement: Opportunity for PR Leaders to Elevate Stakeholder’s Thought Leadership.” Thanks, I think this can wait till hell freezes over.

So, what does catch our collective eye here at Ragan.com and PR Daily?  We’ll reveal those mystical secrets next week.


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