In public relations, it’s not always obvious what constitutes a good story.
It’s important to differentiate between legitimate story ideas and self-serving fluff. It also requires a balance of diplomacy and backbone to tell a boss or client that their idea won’t pass media muster.
Avoid the following pitches if you want to stay on good terms with media contacts:
1. Low-level personnel announcements
Unless it’s an editor’s job to report on changes to the organization chart, don’t bother with this pitch. Even high-level management changes are often not significant news.
This rule also applies to office moves and, our personal favorite, a website launch. Trust us, it isn’t news.
2. Re-packaging a story that didn’t work the first time
Don’t beat a dead horse. A colleague tells the story of a client who was enamored of a particular story angle. The agency backed it up with facts and started pitching it. For whatever reason—timing, competition, relevance—it failed to catch fire.
The clients didn’t want to “waste” the idea, but they also didn’t want the agency to change it much. Consequently, when the team went to pitch the re-packaged idea, it quickly died. It was a good learning opportunity, however. Subsequent pitches went through more rigorous vetting.
3. Honors awarded by media outlets
At first glance, awards might seem newsworthy, but tread carefully. Last year our agency helped a client receive honors from three publications.
Your first inclination might be to crow about these recognitions, but a publication probably will not tout an award sponsored by a rival. Be judicious about where and how you pitch such news.
4. Your company newsletter
Even if your newsletter is the crown jewel of your communications empire, that doesn’t make it worthy of a press pitch. Rather, read through the newsletter and see whether you can extract a newsworthy nugget.
Developing a nose for company news that has external relevance is essential for garnering points with reporters. If analytics show that a newsletter is outperforming industry competitors, or if there’s a dramatic upsurge in readership, that might be a story for specific niche journalists.
5. A frivolous or irrelevant product
Why would reporters care about a product or service that doesn’t fit their editorial mandate?
At the outset of a product launch, the agency and client should discuss features and benefits of a new product, line extension or a tweak to an existing item. Do the changes warrant promotion?
Again, it may be smart to selectively—and softly—reach out to reporters who could benefit from the tip.
6. A lackluster personality profile
Not every executive has a compelling enough story for The New York Times’ Corner Office. Experienced PR people can spot key attributes in a client’s backstory and size up their potential for coverage. Not everyone has the narrative arc to make it.
In the beginning of a client-agency relationship, it pays to interview the CEO and other execs. Look for what obstacles they’ve overcome, what risks they took to get to where they are, interesting tidbits like quirky hobbies (alligator handling, anyone?), unusual backgrounds or an inspiring triumph over hardship.
We use these elements to package a compelling pitch—and sometimes you just can’t force it. In those cases, it’s better to avoid pitching the top-tier pubs and go for specific industry sectors with lower editorial bars.
The bottom line: Know your contacts and outlets before you pitch. Find out what a publication covers, and learn who writes about what. Thorough research will help you become a trusted PR pro that journalists love to hear from.
A version of this post first appeared on the Crenshaw Communications blog.