In public relations, it’s not always obvious what is and isn’t a story. It’s an important skill to differentiate between story ideas and angles that will make news and those that will make it into the email trash folder. What’s more, it takes PRs with diplomacy and sometimes backbone to ferret out the “good stuff” and tell a boss or client that their idea won’t pass media muster. Based on our experience, we’ve identified examples of when NOT to pitch that will help make clearer the line between self-serving nonsense and the stories journalists need.
Avoid the following pitches, and make media contacts look forward to your ideas or contact you when they need an assist.
Low-level personnel announcements.
Unless it’s an editor’s specific job to report on moves or changes to the corporate org chart, he won’t appreciate your clogging an in-box with pitches. Even high-level management changes ought not be pitched to B2B and other writers, but could be communicated in an FYI. Following this rule shows your desire to keep your contacts informed about a company and industry on their radar, but not in a way that shows blatant disregard for what they cover. This rule can also apply to office moves, and, our personal favorite, a new website. Trust us, it isn’t news.
Re-packaging a story that didn’t work the first time.
As in many other circumstances, it’s not wise to beat a dead horse. A colleague tells the story of a client who was very enamored of a particular story angle. The agency backed it up with current newsy facts and set about pitching it. For whatever reason – timing, competition, relevance – it failed to catch fire. The client didn’t want to “waste” the idea, but they also didn’t want the agency to change it very much. Consequently, when the team went to pitch the re-packaged idea, to use another animal analogy – it was viewed as “lipstick on a pig” and died. It was a good opportunity for agency and client learnings, however. Subsequent pitches went through a more rigorous vetting process.
Honors awarded by media outlets.
At first glance, this may seem innocuous, and even newsworthy. But let’s dissect. Last year Crenshaw helped Small Town Brewery receive three honors, from three different publications – Beverage World Magazine’s 2016 Alcohol Power Players Award, Cheers Magazine’s 2016 Growth Brands Award for the year’s fastest growing beer brand and Cigars & Leisure Magazine’s 2016 “Reader’s Choice Award.” Your first inclination might be to crow about these recognitions, but chances are, no publication will tout an award sponsored by a rival. The best course is to be very judicious about where and how you pitch such news.
Your company newsletter.
Sure you’re proud of it, and your open rate with opt-ins is above 20%. Those aren’t great reasons to send it as a pitch to industry press, however. Rather, read through the newsletter before it goes to your list and see if there is something newsworthy to draw out and discretely pitch. Developing that nose for company news that has external relevance can be key for gaining an audience with a specific reporter. If analytics show that a newsletter is outperforming similar ones in the industry, or there’s a dramatic upsurge in readership, that might be a story for a very niched journalist.
A frivolous or irrelevant product.
Reporters do not appreciate wasting their time demo-ing a product or service that doesn’t fit their editorial mandate. It’s pretty simple to avoid pitching irrelevant products or services to media. At the outset of a product launch, the agency and client need to discuss features and benefits of a new product, a line extension, or a tweak to an existing item – to see which media warrant outreach. Again, it may be smart to selectively – and softly – sound out some reporters who may be interested without overpromising on the product attributes.
A lackluster personality profile.
Sadly, not every company executive has a compelling enough story for The New York Times Corner Office, or other high-level media outlet. Experienced PR people can spot the attributes in a client’s backstory and size up their potential for such coverage. Not everyone has the narrative arc to make it. In the beginning of a client-agency relationship, it pays to take the time to interview the CEO and other C-suite types. We’re looking for what obstacles they’ve overcome, what risks they took to get to where they are, and interesting tidbits like quirky hobbies (alligator-handling, anyone?) unusual backgrounds, or childhood hardship stories. We use these elements to package a dynamic pitch – and sometimes you just can’t cobble one together. In those cases, it’s a much better idea to avoid pitching the top-tier pubs and go for very specific industry verticals whose editorial bars may be lower.
The bottom line is something we have written about before, know your media before you pitch. Take the time to read what a publication covers and who writes about what. Thorough research will prevent most blunders so you can be the PR person media love to hear from.