Media relations is known for being both an art and a science. It's little wonder, then, that so many public relations professionals come across as if they're using a 99-cent watercolor set and grade school chemistry kit when they're pitching editors.
I had the opportunity to attend a recent high-tech trade show as a press representative for a trade magazine. I registered with the show and gave my credentials and magazine information. The organizers added my contact information to a list that was made available to exhibitors so that they could contact me prior to the event in hopes of scheduling a briefing or otherwise securing media coverage.
I received 165 email pitches, invitations and news releases from media professionals around the world, and very few of them got my attention for anything other than being great examples of what not to do.
Nothing is all bad, though—it can always be used as an example of what not to do. In that spirit, here are a few guidelines and lessons that might benefit us all as we try to break through the clutter with truly artful and strategic media pitches.
Don't be overly familiar with editors
Being familiar is fine for friends and even people you've previously met, but not for a complete stranger. Although being overly formal can be just as bad, phrases like "I hope this note finds you well," "wanted to touch base with you," and "anyway, if you'd like to schedule some time" are much too casual for someone you've never met.
Lesson: Be polite, but not chummy.
Understand that not all editors are experts
One pitch used the acronyms IP/MPLS, VPN, DSL and VoIP in the second sentence. Another noted that "updating power systems is often an afterthought." Well, for a non-expert, certainly. And another, "The next big thing in enterprise-level network storage is iSCSI…." Okay, if you say so.
Lesson: Don't use technical jargon.
Errors can be the death of your pitch
One pitch misspelled mammoth (mamoth), their (thier) and knowledgeable (knowledable). Another had the email sent by Sandrea, but signed by Mike. One left out the "to" of an infinitive in the very first sentence. And three spelled my name incorrectly.
Lesson: Proofread and spell-check.
Don't assume that the editor is interested
Several pitches ended with lines like this: "Please let me know your availability for these dates." One simply said, "We are holding briefings at the booth." If you give editors a reason to visit your booth, you can invite them to schedule a time—but don't take for granted that they're going to visit you.
Lesson: Invite, but don't presume.
One invitation asked me to "please consider" even as the author noted that I was "probably up to my ears in interview invitations." Another noted that if I had "a few minutes to spare" he'd "offer a briefing." But perhaps my favorite reluctant invitation said, "I work for ACME's PR firm. They asked me to contact you to see if we could set up a meeting at which they would like to brief you on a major new product."
Lesson: A simple invitation is good. Begging is not.
Please personalize the emails
Two messages were sent to several hundred editors, who were all listed on the "To:" line of the email. This exposes email addresses to unscrupulous posers. But to add insult to injury, the messages began, "Dear Valued Editors and Analysts." How valued can they be if you couldn't be bothered to sort through the list and send notes individually? Many emailing programs allow you to personalize messages to individuals on a list.
Lesson: Treat each editor as if she or he were the only one on your list.
Do your research
An email asked directly, "Do you cover telecom equipment and technology news?" My publication and Web site were listed on my contact information—perhaps you might check it?
Lesson: Understand the magazine and what it covers before pitching it.
Make certain you have news
One pitch simply invited me to attend a press conference—or, rather, a Press Conference—without giving any information about the topic. And another of my favorite pitches, which was sent twice because "the power failed and we lost telephones and email servers for three days," announced that the company would have "NEW PRODUCTS TO ANNOUNCE AND TO REPORT PROGRESS ON." The first thing on its list was a "corporate branding makeover."
Lesson: Remember that editors are looking for news, not fluff or mysteries.
Don't try to bribe editors
It's usually not a good idea to bribe editors, especially out in the open. One pitch invited me to "grab my morning coffee while taking a peek at Acme's product line." Another offered a "no-sell cocktail party" where I could "meet the founders and technical wizards." No-sell, eh? Another offered a backpack and the chance for "one lucky press visitor and guest" to win a trip to Aruba. And one invitation blatantly offered "a free gift box as a shameless incentive."
Lesson: Convince editors of the value of your news, and you won't have to bribe them.
* * *
Media relations is simple enough to understand, but needs serious strategy to make it effective. Several of the 165 pitches I received were well written and considerate, and put real effort into convincing me that visiting the company would be worth my while.
No doubt that the rest of the companies are wondering why so few editors responded. Well, except for maybe the company offering the trip to Aruba.
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