5 ways pitching the media is like a first date

Just as certain behaviors can make a dinner or potentially romantic encounter sour, these pitching missteps can put you in a reporter’s doghouse.

PR pros who have their eyes on media coverage know they must properly court journalists and editors.

Though romance isn’t involved, the process of pitching and building professional relationships with members of the news media is a lot like dating. In order to successfully land your story, you have to impress—and avoid bad behaviors.

These common dating foibles can decrease your chances of a callback or second meeting—both in matters of the heart and in PR:

1. You aren’t listening.

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Many bad pitches are a sign of not listening, most often to submission guidelines posted by a publication. However, there are a multitude of ways to show that you haven’t done your research on the reporter or editor you are soliciting and are not paying attention before hitting “send.”

Here’s an example of a pitch I actually received:

Based on some of your past work, I think this might be of interest to you.

[Site redacted] is a first of it’s kind Marriage Only Relationship Site I Just Launched…

I still want to know which of my past articles would make a marriage-only relationship site of interest to me, much less for readers of PR Daily.

Here’s another:

I wanted to follow up on my email about our savings guide on pet care (please see below). If you are not the right person to contact, could you please direct me to someone who’s responsible for addressing this?

There are times when your pitch doesn’t exactly fit in a reporter’s wheelhouse, and that reporter might be willing to pass your pitch or information along to a journalist or editor who is better suited to your story (if it’s timely, relevant and interesting).

However, there’s a difference between being slightly off with your targeting, and emailing a completely irrelevant pitch (what does pet care have to do with public relations?).

In a case such as this, asking to be forwarded to the right contact shows an unwillingness to research the right member of the news media to contact.

2. You only talk about yourself.

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Talking only about yourself can quickly kill a date or a pitch. It shows you are not interested in the other person’s interests or goals, but are only conversing to get your needs satisfied.

Here’s an example, via a pitch that was sent to me several months ago:

I have your e-mail address from my friend [name redacted], who told me that you are a journalist, so I thought you’d find my story interesting.

My name is [redacted] and I developed a device – a car mount that would reduce road accidents, and after almost two years we are ready to hit the market.

The concept is simple: while other phone mounts are placed in the vent or on the windshield, my device – [redacted] is mounted on the sun visor, exactly at the eye level and comes with an app [redacted] that would make answering calls very easy.

I will not go too much into details with this email, but you can find more information on our site [redacted] and here you can find a press release (click).

We launched on Kickstarter on [date redacted] and your feedback would be highly appreciated.

This is the same pitch, rewritten to show how it comes across to reporters:

I got your e-mail address from my friend [redacted], who you don’t know but told me that you’re a journalist, and I thought, great! I’ll barf up my pitch to her.

My name is [redacted], which is irrelevant, and I developed something that you don’t care about that does something not at all related to your publication, and after almost two years we are ready to hit the market. (I’m not sure why that’s different than any other startup, but I think you should know!)

I’m going to explain the concept, because I think this totally irrelevant pitch is for you (jk, I just want you to help me out): blah blah blah blah blah [product name] blah blah blah blah blah [product site/app/whatever] blah blah blah blah blah blah.

I will not go too much into the details with this email, but you can go to our site, because you definitely have nothing better to do, and view our press release here, which is PACKED with more exciting jargon and information a total of zero journalists care about.

We launched on Kickstarter on [date redacted], along with roughly 457,000 other companies, and your feedback would be highly appreciated, but only if you like it and want to cover it. Please cover it. I said it’s interesting to you, so now you have to cover it.

PR pros, remember that adding a sentence that reads, “Your readers will be interested” or “This will make a great story” does not make it so.

Instead, ask yourself what the reporter cares about, and then write your pitch focused on helping them succeed at their job. You can add additional information that serves you, your organization or your client—but don’t lead with it.

3. You’re so vain.

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There are several ways that a date can be vain, and similarly, there are several ways your pitch can betray vanity—which will turn off reporters.

Talking only about yourself, flagging your email message as “high priority,” embargoing non-news (such as an expansion or new client announcement) and using exaggerated language to promote your organization or its products/services are all behaviors that make reporters cringe.

Instead of a lengthy paragraph or two about your organization or client, find news or a trend that ties into your pitch, and start there. Ditch grandiose language (such as “our product is revolutionary”) and leave the analysis up to the reporter. Also, skip including a headshot, unless submission guidelines call for it.

4. You play the field a little too much.

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Here’s an example of a PR pro drastically decreasing the chances of a response:

My apologies for a mass email but based on your background, I figure (and hope) you are the right person to pitch. And if you’re not, please let me know and sorry to bother you.

Similar behaviors include adding journalists to email lists that they didn’t sign up for or copying and pasting a template pitch that obviously has been sent out to a long list of news media members.

Reporters understand that PR pros are looking to land media coverage, which means pitching several publications. However, taking the time to tailor your pitch (even if that’s just ensuring that it’s the right beat, the reporter’s name is spelled properly, and your opening sentences are angled to the publication) can make a dramatic difference in media relations success.

The few extra minutes per pitch you spend shows that you’re thinking of the journalist and his or her readers, which goes a long way in landing your pitch.

5. You don’t take ‘no’ for an answer.

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When a reporter says your pitch or press release is not a fit, don’t argue with him or her that it is. Reporters know their readers—as well as their publication’s angles and writing guidelines.

PR pros should also not continue to follow up if there’s no response. It can be frustrating not to get an answer on your pitch, especially if the pressure is on to secure media coverage. However, take radio silence as a “no,” rather than an excuse to follow up for the fourth time.

What lessons would you add to the lists, PR Daily readers?

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