3 ways to screw up your pitch

Journalists don’t want follow-up emails or calls, for one thing. They have plenty else to do. Avoid these common pitfalls that can get your pitch deleted and land you on the ‘blocked senders’ list.

No matter the size, location or niche of a publication, journalists working on a deadline dread an encounter with a poorly pitched story.

An overly aggressive PR pro is even worse.

Improve your media relations prowess with busy reporters and editors by avoiding the following mistakes:

1. The unnecessary “follow-up”

In the minds of many journalists, PR pros share one itch—a desire to follow up on everything.

If you’ve sent an email and a journalist has replied to let you know your pitch is on his or her radar, let the journalist take time to consider it. You’ve achieved your first victory by receiving a confirmation of receipt—relish it.

Although it’s good to show an interest in a reporter’s process and want to assist in whatever additional information he or she might need, once it’s pitched, there’s not a lot of good that comes from bombarding inboxes.

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While working for a local newspaper, I was responsible for far more than writing stories. I had to take original photos, compile a calendar of weekly happenings and spend a good deal of time driving around town to cover live events.

It was rare that I’d be at my desk for longer than a couple of hours at a time, so the last thing I wanted to encounter after responding to a pitch email was receiving another email an hour later with more information to consume.

Drowning in a sea of pitch emails was preferable to fielding a series of 20-minute phone calls, but the inundation still hurt more than it helped.

To avoid sending three emails when one will do the trick, provide your availability and contact information—including your email addresses, office numbers, cell phone number and company website—up front. By doing this, you find a non-needy way to save the journalist time.

No one likes a middleman. If a reporter decides to move forward with your pitch, he or she will know exactly how to get a hold of you or the sources you present.

2. Sounding promotional

Buzzwords, jargon and saying the same old thing in a pitch can cause a reporter to hit “delete” before even reading an email.

Not sure what I mean? Here are a few examples:

“First ever event,” “Never before seen,” “This will be an amazing event,” “We’re excited to announce,” “Latest trend,” “Market influencer,” “The most innovative,” “Consumers will love it.”

When it comes to writing press releases or giving a journalist a quick quote for a story, be descriptive.

Using words like “consumer” and “excited” make journalists think you’re being lazy or are not taking the time to target your pitch to their audiences. Leave that to the advertising department, and give journalists descriptive quotes.

For the sake of a better story, don’t offer journalists the “what.” They already know; it’s why they agreed to write the story. Next time you’re expected to give a quote, offer the “why”:

Don’t say this: “We’re excited to announce the opening of our company’s downtown location.”

Do say this: “When looking for a space to open a new location, our company wanted to find an area that reflected our brand’s customer, attitude and sense of style.”

Your stories and sources should be something journalists (and ultimately, you) want to read. PR pros can fall victim to being too close to their own products or organizations, which deters from their ability to be interviewed without sounding like a promotional ad for their brands.

Spend time on the angle for your pitch, as opposed to using words that sound exciting. Rather than telling a journalist that the CEO of your company is “the most innovative professional of his time,” lead with a recent example of his innovative. This enables the journalist to determine whether it’s interesting.

This goes for titles/headlines, too. Capital letters don’t highlight an important-sounding title; they distract from its meaning:

Don’t write: “John Doe does great work as the Chief Officer of Innovation and Digital Technologies for Microsoft.”

Do write: “As a chief officer, John Doe has implemented key strategies for Microsoft’s digital technologies department. Here’s what they are.”

3. Not knowing who it is you’re pitching

It doesn’t matter whether you’re pitching to an editor from The Wall Street Journal or a local reporter from your neighborhood newspaper, take the time to research whom you plan to target.

I’ve been pitched plenty of strong story ideas that were completely irrelevant to my position. It’s important to develop an understanding of how your pitch will be used. In doing this, you’ll be able to target the people within an organization who will find it most useful.

A former colleague of mine is a wire editor for Tribune Co., the parent company of the Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times, and he regularly receives pitches for stories. The pitches are generally well worded and include contact information for experts ready to be interviewed, but this editor looks at wire stories all day. He doesn’t assign stories or ever do original reporting of his own, so a pitch sent his way is a wasted effort.

He sometimes directs PR pros to the proper newsroom contacts, but he often deletes such emails without blinking an eye.

If you are targeting a large organization, spend time on its website reading staff bios and recently published stories. Distinguish between reporters and editors, as well as where within the organization your story idea could get traction.

If you’re targeting journalists for small news groups, their Twitter handles can be easy to find with simple Google searches. Pay attention to stories they tweet or what types of news interest them. Take the time to tailor your content to that reporter. If the reporter you want to engage has a “beat,” make the connection between your content and their section, so they don’t have to.

After you know whom you’re pitching, your pitch will be better. Journalists might even start to like you.

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Topics: PR

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