Why your PR pitches are destined to fail

Leading journalists receive—and delete—dozens of pitches every day. Here’s how to ensure yours survive the newsroom gauntlet.

PR pitches often get lost in the newsroom shuffle. Thanks to today’s always-on news cycle, many journalists now file multiple stories and field hundreds of emails daily.

“I’m not alone when I say I get upwards of 25-30 emails an hour,” says Daniel Cooper, a senior editor at Engadget, where he covers consumer tech. “That means I’ve got a high noise-to-signal ratio to struggle through.”

Here are his tips for ensuring your pitches stand out from the noise:

1. Avoid common “bad” pitches. Certain pitches are almost guaranteed to never be accepted. Three types destined to fail:

  • The “Shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted” pitch. These usually read something like, “Hey, I saw that you covered a Bluetooth Walrus polishing kit. My client released a similar Bluetooth sea mammal polishing kit five months ago. Would you like to cover us, too?”

Cooper’s response to this type of pitch: “Probably not,” he says, “because the first one was a bit of a stretch, and unless you’ve got some really different features, you should have pitched us months ago.”

  • The “My nobody CEO has an opinion about something nobody cares about” pitch. This type of pitch usually reads something like, “Hey, I saw that you wrote up the IDC numbers about Walrus Polishing Gadgets. My client is the CEO of FinanceGlobalCorp, who once read an article about Walrus Polishing Gadgets. Here’s his opinion that you can put into a story.”

Cooper’s response: “Just…no,” he says. “It’s the same response if you want me to interview this unrelated person for no discernible reason.”

  • The “Startup funding rounds” pitch. These usually read something like, “Hi there, someone you don’t know and don’t care about managed to convince some rich old people to give them several million dollars!”

Cooper’s response: “If it was Elon Musk, or Google or another technology personality people have an interest in, then send it over. Otherwise, don’t bother.”

He feels the same way about prefunding pitches. “I’m always leery of companies that need to prefund before they go to Kickstarter,” Cooper says. “That’s when they should be having a meeting with their bank manager. They don’t need the charity.”

Register for PR Daily’s Feb. 16 “Consumer Tech Pitch Tank” webinar for more tips from Engadget’s Daniel Cooper, Damon Beres at Mashable, David Freeman at NBCNews.com, Lisa Johnston at TWICE and David Hamilton at the Associated Press.

2. Pitch early and embrace embargoes. “The best time to pitch a product is weeks, even months, ahead of launch,” Cooper says. “A heads-up, even a ‘Hey, we don’t have the press release, but this is what’s coming in the future’ ahead of time, is wonderful thing.”

Cooper welcomes embargoes. “They enable us to write about your new product, service or stuffed toy in a more considered way,” he says. “Having that lead time is important, because it enables writers to dig in and place the story in the right context.”

Cooper adds that most high-tech journalists respect embargoes. “Everyone at Engadget is drilled to respect them,” he says, “and I’m certainly very good at keeping my mouth shut.”

The reason: “Background research, interviews and trying the product before it comes out are all privileges and responsibilities I take very seriously,” Cooper says. “It also dovetails nicely with my personal work philosophy, the 7 Ps, which stands for ‘Prior preparation and planning prevents piss-poor performance.'”

3. Read what target journalists read. Journalists often tell PR pros to read the target outlet before pitching, but you should also be reading the same stories your beat reporters are reading.

Even better, follow them on social media and click through to any articles they tweet, comment on or share. This will give you insight into trends, topics and issues important to them, as well as their personalities.

So what does Cooper read other than Engadget?

“After Twitter, the first site I check each morning is The Guardian, swiftly followed by The A.V. Club and Football 365,” he says. “As much as I may pretend to be a cool, elite, urban hipster who is ‘Above Such Things’ (TM), I also have a secret soft-spot for Buzzfeed.”

4. Be able to answer “why.” “It’s important to get your message right before you pitch,” says Cooper. “That means that you must be able to explain what’s going on as if you’re talking to a child and, more important, explain the why.”

He was once pitched on a project involving someone who wanted to crowdfund a video billboard to get the attention of Hollywood execs at a film festival.

“When I asked why they were doing this, the PR person was left spluttering about the community,” Cooper says. “Being able to answer why is far more important than anything else you do, although that particular project wound up getting cancelled, probably for good reason.”

Brian Pittman is a Ragan Communications consultant and webinar manager for PR Daily’s PR University. Daniel Cooper at Engadget, Damon Beres at Mashable, David Freeman at NBCNews.com, David Hamilton at The Associated Press and Lisa Johnston at TWICE will share more tech trends and pitching tips in PR University’s Feb. 16 webinar, “Consumer Tech Pitch Tank: Editors Share New Story Trends and Placement Secrets.”

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Topics: PR

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