I recently came across a piece highlighting the “worst pitches of the week
” in Deadline Detroit
. It was about PR flacks pimping their paying clients as experts to be quoted in future stories.
For your convenience, I’ve labeled these rhetorical gems in various categories somewhere on the “Severe Desperation Continuum” between: 1) shameless sales pitches; 2) sleazy at best; and 3) just plain awful.
Those are the highest compliments I can muster.
Hard to believe that, in a profession dedicated to the art and science of communication, such drivel exists—and, worse yet, gets paid for!
Then again, I’m sure the end customers cutting the checks for their particular flavor of the 15-minute fame wagon never see the pitches actually scribed by their reps that are then sent to journalists. All they care about is:
1. whether the pitch worked;
2. what time their interview is and what they should wear (if on TV); and,
3. what their talking points are.
One of these Deadline Detroit
jewels involved a PR person offering a sports agent who would give his tips on keeping athletes out of jail for off-the-field “indiscretions” (I know. Athletes in trouble with the law— shocking, right?). Another offered a story on a 50-year-old woman’s dating tips as she wears Google Glass.
The denouement was a bit pitched by some flack repping Lindsay Lohan’s dad: The famous-only-because-his-daughter-is-infamous-kind-of-dad was being offered as an expert to comment on, of all things, Tan Mom’s latest drunken exploits
Yes, you read that correctly. Lindsay Lohan’s dad, father of an alcoholic, was offering his “expert tips” via his PR rep on the Tan Mom and her drinking. Highbrow stuff, this.
Yet, this sort of sordid PR “professionalism” is more common than one might think. Because Deadline Detroit
’s editors receive so many of these grotesquely interesting gems, they’ve decided to package them in a now-weekly feature. There are multiple others dedicated to the lack of professionalism run amok in PR, including the Bad Pitch Blog
, a Twitter feed
, magazine articles
, YouTube videos
and—need I go on? The YouTube piece even quoted a journalist as saying “the whole PR industry just isn’t necessary.” Ouch.
Now, I believe that people do everything—everything—with some sort of payoff in mind. In fact, you’re reading this because you believe you’re getting some sort of benef—well, OK, scratch that—I don’t really know why you’re reading this, but you get my point.
Yet how can these sorts of poor attempts at publicity benefit anyone? Oh, that’s right, I forgot. In today’s TMZ-driven world, fame itself is the end reward, talent be damned. Just ask Paris Hilton or, really, any Kardashian. To this group, publicity on any topic
is the entire goal. After all, there’s no such thing as bad press—just spell the name correctly, right? Well, yes, unless you’re Paula Deen
Don’t PR people already have enough of a credibility problem—currently registering about two notches below used car salesmen and four below Aaron Hernandez—without themselves contributing to the profession’s dirty little secret whereby the big agency honchos sell the account and then push the actual work down to the firm’s recently graduated minions?
[RELATED: Hear how top companies adapted to the digital PR industry changes at this August event.]
If there is so much bad PR out there, it raises the obvious question: Just who
is teaching these PR “professionals?” Other PR people?
That’s it! That must be it! Maybe, just maybe then, the pipeline of newly minted flacks all matriculated from Wassamatta U.’s Academy of Shoddy PR. If so (and at the risk of offending my fellow PR colleagues who are true pros), I’d imagine a class on “pitching to the media” went something like this:
Professor: OK class, as you’ve already seen in the syllabus, we’ve got an on-the-spot exercise today. Your charge when I call randomly on you is to pitch a story to the style section of local and national newspapers on Kanye and Kim’s new baby, named “North West.” OK, Johnson…Whaddya got?
Johnson: Great. Here’s my pitch. My expert is available to discuss why “north is more north than west.”
Prof: OK, that has potential, but it needs development. Go on…what’s the follow-up to now really hook your journalist to agree to the interview?
Johnson: Uh. Um. Ahhh. OK, OK, OK. Got it. Got it. Got it. Wait a minute, I just lost it…OK, it’s back. My expert can talk about the benefits of heading north, then west, which is what Kanye and Kim would want. I’ll do a Google search and pitch this to all magazines that have ever mentioned the word “north” or “west.” Even once.
Prof: OK kid, keep working on that, but I like how you think. Smith. Wake up. What’s your pitch? SMITH!!!
Smith: Hmmmph? Is this Algebra? Dude, am I ever huunnnng over. Oh, the answer…you want the answer? Fo sho, bro. It’s “the square root of the pie of the radius of the Google.” No…that’s not right? Then how about “the War of 1812?” No? Oh, “C!” The answer is “C!”
Prof: Sit down, Smith. Anderson, what’ve you got?
Anderson: Who, me? Oh, me. OK, let me think a bit. Got it. I’ll link cute little Northie West to the now defunct Northwest Airlines. Get it? And, OK, um my client is … my client is … my client is … oh yes, it’s Honey Boo Boo! I’ll offer her as an expert who’s uniquely qualified to provide the top 10 reasons why airplanes need to serve “ketchup and butter sketti” on every domestic flight and fly direct into the parking lots of all toddler beauty pageants south of the Mason-Dixon line.
Prof: Eureka! That’s a true “ah-ha moment” and journalists will go crazy for it! I love how you tied it all together. Now, class, That’s how you “work” the media—that’s how you get publicity. You owned that pitch, Anderson, you believed in it and it showed. I think I know someone who’s got a career in PR—get your ass to the front of the class! A-plus, son. OK, now here’s tonight’s homework: Write three New York Times headlines on Justin Bieber’s contribution to and impact on post-industrial feminist thinking.
I weep for my profession.
Doug Anter is an industry veteran based in Detroit and heads up PR and AR strategy at a Detroit-based technology company. Find him @ThePRman on Twitter or read more on his blog.