5 lessons from failed pitches

With more than 2,000 startups at this year’s Web Summit, stumbles undercut stellar approaches. PR pros can glean insights from unsavory media relations strategies.

There’s much room for improvement for pitching and media relations.

Roughly 42,000 attendees from 134 countries gathered in Dublin this week for The Web Summit. Many attendees—along with the founders of 2,100 startups—tried to attract the attention of the 1,200 reporters and bloggers at the summit.

Though many connections were made and stories were written (including “4 nonprofit PR lessons from Movember” and “3 ways communicators can use technology effectively“), there were plenty of bad pitches to exasperate any reporter.

Here are five lessons to learn from the shortcomings of overeager technology entrepreneurs and enthusiasts:

1. Spray and pray still doesn’t work.

The Web Summit encouraged attendees to download its app, which held each person’s virtual ticket, a map of the summit and the entire three-day schedule. On top of this, app users could search speakers, startups, reporters and attendees and message them directly through the app.

What was a great way to communicate became just another vehicle for spam; excited (and sometimes desperate) entrepreneurs blasted out their messages to anyone within reach of their finger and search function.

Here’s my favorite:

[Name withheld to protect the guilty] uses individualism, engagement and inspiration to build a community then funnel consumers towards tailored goods and services. It is the shopping Google for black girls.

I’m a Caucasian who enjoys shopping for nerdy items on Etsy, so this pitch was a definite miss. The unfortunate part of this interaction is that the app enables each user to select interests and upload a bio. Minimal research on this entrepreneur’s part would have told him I was not the right audience for his message.

It’s tempting for PR pros to spray their message across every available platform to reach any journalist or blogger with ears, and then pray someone picks up their news. It’s especially tempting because research and relationship building do not provide instant gratification.

However, relationships remain the core of PR for a reason. Without them, your messages will not reach the right people and will resonate with no one. Resist the urge to shotgun your messages; doing so could damage potential connections and scuttle future opportunities.

2. Jargon confuses—and diminishes—your message.

Jargon was plentiful at this year’s summit:

Not only were the panels full of jargon—as was the pitch featured in takeaway No. 1—but the pitches that littered reporters’ apps, inboxes and personal space contained many of the buzzwords that refuse to die.

Though some of these words are intended to make people appear important, many buzzwords have been created as shorthand to explain common themes. In reality, they do the opposite.

Giving a pitch laden with jargon makes the recipient question your knowledge and your message. Journalists have to read pitches with these unnecessary phrases several times in order to understand the point—something they have neither the time nor inclination to do.

3. Paparazzi have a bad reputation for a reason. Don’t behave like them.

Several startups sent team members to an area directly outside the media lounge to intercept journalists and bloggers as they entered and left—just like a photographer for a cheesy tabloid.

On one occasion, my access was blocked by someone asking whether I wrote about drones. Once I got past the invasion into my personal space—and the uncanny resemblance the entrepreneur had to a hockey player in “The Mighty Ducks 3″—I was baffled that the niche subject was targeted in such a broad way. Wasn’t that what the app (along with Google and Twitter) is for?

Journalists are real people with interests and a job to do. Treating them as simply vehicles for your stories will not win you favors. On the other hand, PR pros who take the time to build a rapport with relevant reporters can find many more opportunities for their organizations and clients.

4. PR pros must get away from the “me” mentality.

“I’d love to give you a demo.”

“I’d like you to write a story about our new release.”

“How can I interest you in covering this?”

If those sound like the sentences you utter in your pitches, you might want to change your approach.

Successful media relations—like any winning PR strategy—is about creating and nurturing a mutually beneficial relationship. Journalists don’t want to hear how much you’d love them to cover your news. Instead, they want to know why they (and more important, their readers) will care.

When you utter the phrase, “your readers will be interested in this,” mean it. Telling a financial reporter his or her readers would love to hear about your latest virtual reality software to plan trips will land your email—and your name—in the spam folder.

5. There is a right—and a wrong—way to pitch via social media.

Though many journalists still prefer email for pitches, social media is making members of the media more accessible to PR pros and startup founders than ever before.

At The Web Summit, opportunities are even more plentiful; thousands tweeted and posted to Instagram under the event’s hashtag or connected through its app.

However, there’s a right and a wrong approach to using technology for media relations.

Don’t gratuitously tag reporters on social media in pictures that aren’t relevant to them or their readers. In like manner, check out what they’re posting and interact with them before pitching your message.

Your patience and professionalism will reap far greater rewards.

(Image via)

Topics: PR


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