Before I got into PR, I did some freelance writing work for a well-known homebuying site. This was years ago, and I still get probably three to four pitches a month from account execs at large PR firms you’d all know who want to tell me about a new water softener or paint color or bathroom fixture. Leaving aside the fact that these pitches typically read like a marketing brochure (for the love of God, please just write like a normal person!), it’s stunningly clear that the PR firm bought a list with my name and email address on it or subscribes to a SaaS solution that has swept my contact information into an (incorrect) database of home improvement writers. A cursory Google search or review of my LinkedIn profile would tell the account exec handling the pitch that I’m not a solid target.
Generally, mass pitches don’t work. They just don’t. Why? Reporters can sniff them out instantly. They aren’t personalized, they’re generic, and they smack of laziness. There are some exceptions to this (i.e., “Hi everyone – I’ve attached a release about XYZ Company’s latest earnings call as an FYI to guide your coverage on ABC…”), but generally, mass pitches backfire.
Start by getting to know the reporters who might cover what you’re pitching. If I don’t have existing, solid relationships with reporters – meaning we’ve emailed or talked on the phone a minimum of a dozen times or worked together on other stories – I spend time reviewing their coverage over the last few months and checking out their social media profiles. Do they invite tips by DM on Twitter? Are they actively engaging with sources and media relations folks on LinkedIn or other platforms? Put in the time up front so you’re not wasting other people’s time later.
Create your own media lists. This takes time, of course, but it’s the only way to ensure you’re truly targeting reporters accurately. I’ve tried some of the paid services and software targeted to PR pros in the past that promise to create these lists for you and I always find them to be inaccurate and incomplete. (And because I’m a control freak, I’d always end up going through them name by name anyway, worrying that I’d inadvertently pitch a retail story to someone who hasn’t covered retail for two years.) Many of these services also have mass-pitching capabilities that purport to save you time and get you noticed by journalists. Every reporter I’ve talked to who has been on the receiving end of a SaaS-generated pitch has told me they can tell the pitch is auto-generated. **Hits delete.**
Talk like a (grateful) human. Pitches should read conversationally, not like a list of talking points. Greet the reporter. Note what they’ve been covering over the past few weeks or months. Mention who you are and what you do, and then get into the meat of your pitch. Be brief and get to the point. And for the love of all things holy, thank them for their time!
BTW: Don’t (solely) rely on wire services. Posting releases on wire services gets you SEO and should not be a core component of your media relations strategy. I’ve seen friends get sold on PR firms who promise they’ll be featured on Yahoo! Finance. This is a telltale sign your press release will be posted on a wire service and be syndicated. This is not earned media coverage, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
If you’re working with a PR firm, or if you’re bootstrapping your communications efforts and pitching journalists yourself, take the time and energy to thoughtfully curate your media lists and tailor individualized pitches to the specific outlets, beats, and reporters you’re engaging with. And if you’re a reporter and you have a story about mass pitching gone wrong, I’d love to hear it!
Holly Amaya is co-founder of Story Imprinting, a full-service training and communications firm dedicated to teaching companies the art and science of storytelling through corporate training, executive coaching, and communications strategy. She has enjoyed a multifaceted career as a journalist, attorney, and communications strategist, but she’s been telling stories professionally since she snagged her first newspaper column in the Evansville (Ind.) Courier & Press at age 11. Her C.V. includes stints at Harper’s Bazaar in New York City, The Arizona Republic in Phoenix, in the office of a U.S. senator, and as general counsel of an international retail services provider.