Nobody sends a perfect pitch every time, just like a baseball player on the mound doesn’t throw a home-run ball each time. They screw up now and then, and so do we. But we can focus on continually improving and trying to keep certain best practices consistently included in the process.
In this learning series, Rock The Pitch, we’ll look at an actual pitch sent to a journalist (send me one here!), then have a little fun figuring out how it could have been improved and where it went wrong.
The point of this column? Making us think before we hit send the next time we pitch. Tell me if it helps!
I also suspect, as we get deeper into the volume of pitch critiques, we’ll start to see some very common themes running across all bad pitches. Time will tell.
Here is a pitch – well, actually a press release – that went to a business journal publication in late May, followed by some of the mistakes that catch my eye. (This is fun, isn’t it?)
Subject: FW: <company name removed> Expands Head Protection Line with Launch of Two New Bump Cap Styles
New hi-vis color and super-short brim options added!
View this email in your browser <insert three-line email link here >
<another long line of code that shouldn’t show up here>
<company removed> EXPANDS HEAD PROTECTION LINE WITH LAUNCH OF TWO NEW BUMP CAP STYLES
St. Paul, Minn. (May 21, 2014) – <company> has announced today two enhancements to the popular <brand name removed>, including a 30mm “micro-brim” option on the <brand and product name removed> <ugly loooooong link removed> and new hi-vis lime color option on both the <product name removed> w/ LED Lighting Technology <yet another ugly link removed> .
The new super-short brim (in addition to the current short 50mm and long 80mm brim lengths) provides maximum visibility and field of vision for workers in tight spaces. The hi-vis color addition (in addition to the current black and navy), provides higher visibility of workers for enhanced conspicuity.
The<brand and product name removed> micro-brim and hi-vis and lime option are available now while the 8960 hi-vis lime option will be available June 2014 at all authorized <company name removed> distributors.For more information, visit <company name removed><another long ugly link removed – how many?!> or call<phone number removed>.
Oh, where to start with this one. Yikes. It’s a train wreck.
1. Fugly stuff kills results, so look at what you are sending before you hit send. Every email system either has a WYSIWYG editor (what you see is what you get) or the ability to send yourself a copy of your draft, so make use of it to ensure what you are sending is reasonably attractive.
Are you using a bold typeface? That’s like screaming. Don’t do it, even for a headline. Who likes being screamed at? Nobody.
And if you are sending a press release using an email system such as Constant Contact or MailChimp, send yourself the template and check it before you send anything externally. This one is obviously full of glitches; bold where it shouldn’t be, long links where they should have been replaced with anchor text and more. It’s appalling and unprofessional; even a raw intern should know better.
2. You are pitching a writer, so write something polished. Journalists are writers, remember? So make your word choices and grammar impeccable! They care. Simple things such as the wrong number of spaces before starting a new sentence, misspelled words, grammatical errors and poor writing quality turns them off before they can even absorb what you are trying to say. So invest an extra few minutes in proofing your copy.
3. The story is missing. This is actually a press release, not a pitch… but since the journalist sent it to me as something that exemplifies a bad pitch in his mind, it’s worth comment. This is clearly a product press release touting new features or options available on a product.
I have no idea if it is a consumer product or a business product, but why on earth would any journalist care about this? It’s not a story, it’s a boring promotion.
Interestingly enough, when asked for “bad pitches,” multiple journalists sent me emails containing just a press release. No pitch. Do they see them as the same thing? Is one not better than the other? Interesting thought that might be worth pursuing…
If this went to a targeted trade publication, say a mining publication, and this is a miner’s helmet, it might have been appropriate. But this went to a regional business publication without giving a clue who the audience is and why it would be relevant to this particular publication. Clearly, it was mass blasted to a large media list with little care invested in building the list. Not good.
What reporter wouldn’t dump this straight in their trash folder?
There is absolutely nothing wrong with sending a press release to media, but there is a right way and a wrong way to do it. Don’t build a massive list of media contacts, hoping they might see it and be instantly inspired to write a cover story. Build a segmented list of very carefully selected publications, including the right contacts at each publication, and think through what their interest in your news might be. For a product announcement like this, a pitch to a few carefully chosen reporters that clearly showcases the product, how it applies to their audience and why they would care (with a link to images) would garner far better results than a big email blast.
This kind of distribution is pure laziness; don’t do it.
Better yet – don’t blast it at all. Send it individually to each reporter on your media list, along with a carefully crafted, custom pitch fitting your news to their specific publication and audience. That makes landing a placement virtually a slam dunk.
4. Nix the assumptions. Unless you are a Fortune 500, or even Fortune 50, brand – don’t assume those reading your press release have a clue what you do or what your product is. Will the reporter have any clue what a bump cap is? What “high vis” is? I don’t. After reading this entire release, I have no idea what the product actually is, what it looks like, or who the product is intended for.
Trust me, reporters will send the release to the circular file LONG before they’ll invest a few minute figuring it out.
Don’t tap dance around the point – get straight to it. Make the facts plain and clear, and focus on facts instead of spin.
While this new product change might be the latest thing since sliced bread to its manufacturer, remember the audience reading this release won’t care about the news unless you make it relevant to them. They. Just. Don’t. Care.
Our role as PR pros is to give them a reason to care.
5. This went to a regional publication that doesn’t cover the state where the product is manufactured. Sending a press release to every publication in the country is just plain silly. If you want regional coverage, tailor it to them. Do they cover the state or city where the manufacturer is located? If not, can you create a customer human interest angle with a customer who lives/works in the area that publication serves? If not, move on.
Would they care about your product? Tell them why. If you can’t, why should they stop and think about it? They don’t have time.
Connect every dot and give them the full picture. Remember, that journalist knows nothing about you, your product or your company… especially if you haven’t worked with them in the past. Put aside your own knowledge and assumptions, and think about what THEY need to know to make a decision about whether or not your story might be a fit.
If you don’t give them enough information in the first 5-10 seconds of reading your email, they are forced to delete it. That’s our fault, not theirs.
Did I miss anything? Do you have more ideas to add? Post a comment! And don’t forget to email me if you want to throw a pitch my way for an upcoming critique. I’d be grateful.