PR professionals make mistakes every day, especially when it comes to pitching stories to the media. But in our line of work, we can risk public humiliation for even a trivial error if a cranky reporter decides to post about a bad pitch. Given the stakes, a small screw-up can be a disaster.
That’s why understanding certain nuances of the media outreach process can mean the difference between a fixable flub and a misstep that compromises the entire pitch or even the team. Repeat offenses like misfired or irrelevant pitches is a quick way to see your email domain blackballed, making your job twice as difficult. This post outlines six common media relations mistakes and ways to avoid them.
A common error is badly timed pitches, especially when it comes to reactive response. That happens in the case of a breaking news development with ramifications in a relevant business sector. There’s an art to timing of a pitch and things get sensitive if the news event is a tragedy, or if a story breaks on a holiday. Knowing when to contact or respond to press — and when not to — is a highly developed skill. Examples of ill-timed outreach include things as innocuous as sending pitches ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday, or as thoughtless as a lighthearted pitch in the wake of a weather disaster. Badly timed pitching means reporters might call you out in a snarky email, or worse – shame you on social media.
Solution: Read the room. Stay informed, keep an eye on the news and be aware of what’s happening in your industry and the world. Make sure your pitch is relevant and timely, and if it’s not, wait until it is.
Being a straight shooter when arranging embargoes and exclusives with reporters is crucial to maintaining credibility and keeping media relationships. For example, don’t promise a collection of reporters an embargo and another contact an earlier exclusive simultaneously. This is the quickest way to sow distrust, alienate reporters and tank your campaign. An irate reporter could also reach out directly to a higher-up in your organization (or the client in the case of an agency team).
Solution: Be transparent, careful and attentive at every step of the pitch process. Be straightforward about deadlines and exclusives. Never give reporters mixed signals.
Once your exclusive or embargo runs, however, you have to get the word out broadly. You’ve updated the pitch, prepped a media list, and are ready to pull the trigger on a mail merge for wider, day-of coverage on your announcement. Seems simple enough, right? Actually, this is probably the most important time to be careful and attentive because once you hit ‘send,’ any mistake can be seen by the folks on your list.
Leaving placeholders in your pitch (i.e. “Hi [First_Name]); including more than four people from a given outlet; emailing general information handles multiple times; typos; forgetting a subject line altogether before sending the merge – all can undermine the pitch and even your reputation for competence.
Solution: Once upon a time, you could rip the ethernet cord out of the wall and stop a typo-ridden mail merge in its tracks, but no longer. So keep your eyes peeled, re-read your pitches, and triple check your lists.
I know some journalists tell PR people not to follow up with them, but failure to follow up on a pitch can mean a missed opportunity. We all know media get a huge number of pitches on a daily basis, and many are poorly tailored to their needs. That means they’re more discerning about responding. This makes proper follow-up paramount, especially ahead of a major announcement or launch. If you did the work, got a positive response and then failed to follow-up, your efforts will be for naught. If the response to a well-timed and relevant approach is radio silence, you should follow up, and a regular cadence of touching base is an excellent way to build media relationships.
Conversely, too much follow-up is a mistake. Sometimes silence is the feedback we need to understand a pitch isn’t resonating or a media target isn’t correct. And if a reporter responds and doubles down on their disinterest – take the hint.
Solution: Follow up after you’ve pitched a story ahead of any news or proactive pitches planned. If you haven’t heard back, and the story is relevant, reach out once more. If you don’t get a response after a follow-up note or two at the most, readjust the pitch and target list for relevance.
Generic mass email pitches are a surefire way to be ignored by media contacts. They can also derail your ability to deliver results and drive wins that build momentum. The media landscape is already cluttered with more PR folks than reporters (there are approximately 6.2 of us for every journalist out there).
Solution: Find ways to punch up the story and give reporters more to chew on by folding the pitch into the narrative organically. You can strengthen pitches with recent data and statistics, industry anecdotes or analyst assessments around the state of the specific sector, for example.
The cardinal sin for any PR person is misrepresenting the company, technology or other aspects of the story you’re packaging. PR teams have an ethical responsibility to rise above hyperbole while creating a compelling narrative and being transparent about the nuances of the pitch process.
Solution: Substantiate and frame any assertions with accurate findings and background. Also, be transparent about your pitch practices – the more respect you have for the journalist’s process, the better you can build the relationships you need to succeed.
The PR industry can be a minefield of potential mishaps. But paying attention, honing your intuition and being respectful of those with whom you work should be the baseline for any PR team. A respectful approach will help navigate thorny issues and burnish the reputation of PR people among often jaded journalists.
Looking for more PR guidance? We can help. Contact us to learn more about working with our B2B tech PR agency.