The relationship between journalists (and bloggers) and public relations professionals can become a little strained. What should be a symbiotic exchange of information and coverage can turn nasty—vindictive emails, agency blacklisting, and more.
Sometimes it’s the writer’s fault. They don’t return emails or answer their phones, and they don’t always see what public relations has to offer.
Sometimes it’s the PR professionals’ fault. They send poorly targeted pitches, “follow up” on email conversations that never took place, and, most egregiously, fail to learn about the person or publication they’re trying to pitch.
Every writer and every PR pro is different. As a writer who briefly worked on the agency side, I’m more sympathetic to the junior PR associate’s plight. I know you have to send emails and make follow-up calls. With luck, though, your higher-ups will read this post and reconsider making you do those annoying things.
You should know that, as a writer, I have deadlines and other time-sensitive tasks. You should know I get a thousand pitches a week and that it’s hard for me to remember many of them. Because I’m telling PR professionals what I think is inconsiderate, I promise to do a better job of responding to your emails and phone calls. I promise not to send sarcastic responses to silly pitches.
There are some times when you should never send a pitch. For example:
Don’t send me a pitch or news release solely to me to follow you on social media.
That includes Facebook, your blog, Instagram, Twitter, or any other channel. That’s not newsworthy, and you know it. These have gotten more common in recent months. The same goes for telling me about a contest on your Facebook page. Who is going to write a story about that, unless it’s a massive, wildly successful promotion?
Don’t send pitches without proofreading them multiple times.
As an editor, I have an eagle eye for misspelled words, poorly punctuated sentences, and grammatical errors. It’s embarrassing to misspell your client’s name or add needless apostrophes. A well-written pitch is the best way to ensure a response. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wanted to get out a red pen, correct the errors in a pitch, and send it back.
Don’t forget about the subject line.
I’m probably not going to open your email if it doesn’t have an interesting subject line. For example, “Timely summer story” tells me nothing about what you’re pitching. “How to prevent heat stroke in summer” is much more descriptive, and it provides value in the first five words.
Don’t send me the exact same pitch more than once.
Even if you’re just following up, change it up. Resending identical information makes you look lazy. Even more annoying, don’t include a “RE:” in your subject line. That trick doesn’t fool anyone. It’s also lazy to include the words, “Any interest?” at the top of a copied-and-pasted press release. Ask me if I’m interested, and tell me why I should be.
Pitches save me sometimes. I work with some excellent PR professionals who are great at their jobs. Here are things that you can do to land your pitch at the top of the pile and, ultimately, get some coverage for your client.
Do some research.
I want to shout this from the mountaintops: Research my site. More than that, target your pitch to me. If you’re pitching a tech product, say how it can help my demographic. Don’t just carpet-bomb everyone in your Vocus database and cross your fingers; researching and targeting will pay off.
Do pay attention to details.
The thing that drives me the craziest is being called by the wrong name. I’ve been in my current role for a year, but I get pitches daily addressed to “Elizabeth,” even from people I’ve worked with before. That implies laziness and makes me think that you don’t value the relationship that we’ve cultivated.
Do follow up, but cautiously.
Calling me the next day about a pitch that you sent is a bad idea. There’s no way that in the last 24 hours, with everything else on my plate, I’ve had time to think about your clients and where I’m going to place them. Everyone is different so why not ask writers how they like a follow-up? Some want a phone call, others (like me) never want you to call them. Learn your writer, her methods, and how to keep her happy.
Do send your pitch in the middle of the day.
This is just anecdotal advice, but I think it’s best to send your pitch midday. For whatever reason, I seem to have a lull in email at that time (particularly from PR professionals) followed by a deluge of email pitches when I’m in the office the next morning. Overnight used to be the best time to send an email, but now that Groupon, Living Social, and every other website on Earth have chosen to send emails then, sending yours in the middle of the day might keep it from getting lost in the heap.
Do provide value.
As often as I say, “provide me with value,” it will probably be inscribed on my tombstone. I constantly look at pitches and wonder: Why should my audience care about your new smartphone app? I don’t think I’m the one who should be putting two and two together; you should tell me why your client is so valuable to my audience.
Amy McCarthy is the former content and community manager at Parenthood.com.