If you do a quick search on Twitter for #PRFail or cruise the dead account of @DearPR, you’ll get a glimpse into a deep well of journalist frustration. In most cases, the errors that earn the PR practitioner an unwelcome shout out on social media could have and should have been avoided through vigilance, attention to detail and common sense.
Though bad writing can reflect poorly on the company or client you represent, it ultimately damages your reputation and credibility. No error is small or insignificant when you only have a couple of short paragraphs to grab a journalist’s attention. Keep your pitches fumble-free by avoiding these all-too-common mistakes:
1. A misleading subject line
The subject line is your first chance at piquing a journalist’s interest and standing out in a crowded inbox. With so much pressure riding on a single sentence, bettering your odds with an underhanded tactic might seem like a good idea at the time, but don’t do it.
Sensationalizing or making an untruthful claim in your subject line might get a journalist to open your email, but if the meat of your pitch doesn’t align or support the claim, then a journalist is unlikely to go any further with the story. If your subject line reads like clickbait, you’ve gone too far.
Similarly, you might think you have a better chance of getting a read if a journalist thinks you’re following up. Phrases like “Re” and “Checking in” might get them thinking that they’ve missed something, but journalists are journalists for a reason, and they will call your bluff.
If you employ either of these misleading tactics, you’ll likely find that not many journalists are eager to work with you. No one appreciates being tricked.
2. Botching the opening
If you received an unsolicited email that greeted you with any of the following, would you read it?
- Wrong name
- Misspelled name
- A nickname
- A shortened version of your name
If your answer is no, then it stands to reason that neither would a journalist. You don’t have to be ultra-creative. A pleasant “hello” and the journalist’s first name is all you need—but you do have to be ultra-careful.
How does an email that opens with “Hello PR person,” sound? Not great. Referring to them as “blogger” or “journalist” makes you sound like a robot and instantly cues them that you don’t know who you’re pitching to.
If you don’t know their first name at all, reevaluate your list.
3. Wasting time
Journalists are busy people, and it is guaranteed that your email is just one of hundreds in their inbox. A pitch email is not the time for chit chat. Present the story angle, why it’s newsworthy and why it matters to their audience in as few words as possible.
You don’t need to write the whole story. This is the teaser trailer. Get them hooked. If there’s background information that they’ll need, let them know you have it. A couple of short paragraphs and maybe some bullet points are all that’s needed.
4. Making it about you
Before you write, take a step back and reset. The media is not there to highlight your CEO, spotlight your new product offer, or sell things for you. They are a news service that wants to provide timely, relevant, important and interesting information to their audiences. This applies whether they’re a tech magazine, high-profile blog or a regional newspaper. It’s about what your brand or client has to offer that is of value to the journalist’s audience.
5. Missing the point
Apart from getting the contact’s name wrong, the fastest way to the trash bin is sending an irrelevant pitch. Journalists do not have the time to try and decipher why they and their audience should care about what you’ve sent them. They also don’t want to be fielding your pitches. If you don’t know who is best to receive your email at an outlet, do more research or invest in a media database if you don’t already have one.
Research is such an essential part of the process. Getting to know journalists often starts with following them on social media and checking out their websites. Read what they write and pay close attention to what they cover. What’s their niche? It’s not enough to know that a journalist covers sports. What if they only cover semi-pro hockey and you’re trying to pitch a professional golf story? Research will only help you write stronger pitches.
If you haven’t found the sweet spot for your pitches yet, analyze, agonize and then evolve. Only through trial and error will you learn what journalists do and do not respond to. But by following these five tips your trials will be more likely to succeed and keep you from being a #PRFail.
Joy Knowles is a marketing content strategist for Agility PR Solutions.