Good lessons from bad PR pitches – January 2022 edition (2024)

The Muck Rack blog gathers ‘em, I break ‘em down.

Catch up on past editions: December, November, October

See a three-year quantitative analysis of journalists’ complaints on Twitter here.

Things Journalists Say You Should Absolutely Never Do That You Should Actually Never Do

I've seen some desperate PR moves, but this is a new low — this PR created a fake email response from me to make it sound like I had previously shown interest in this story. It's so easy to demonstrate I didn't send that email… I can't imagine why they thought this would work.

— Paul Sawers (@psawers) January 3, 2022

This was just mind-blowing. I’ve heard of PR people typing “re:” into the subject line of a cold email to misleadingly suggest to the receiving journalist that this is part of a pre-existing conversation. Don’t do that either. But this pitch took it to an entirely new level and actually fabricated an entire email from Paul, as if he had written to the PR person asking for information. This level of hubris (or blind ignorance?) is impossible to contemplate. Of course Paul will recognize he didn’t write that email! The fact he redacted identifying info is one of the grandest gestures of grace I’ve ever seen in my three years of studying journalist-complaint Twitter.

Every time I open an email that addresses me as "Mr. Zahn," I think that the sender either A: meant to email my dad; B: is from the school and something's up with my kids; or C: is dropping a crummy, irrelevant, and/or spammy PR Pitch on me.

It's usually C.

— James Zahn – The Rock Father™ (@therockfather) January 6, 2022

This one is more understandable but equally easy to avoid. Don’t use honorifics (Mr. or Ms.) in pitches. I’ve seen complaints like this before, and have never seen a journalist say they prefer to be addressed more formally. I’m guessing this particular case comes from a younger person raised with a healthy respect for authority. If that’s you, rest assured it’s okay to start your email with simply: “James,” or “Hi James.” The salutation that’s growing more common and equally inappropriate, IMO, is “Hey Michael.” I know it’s a common way to begin an online convo outside of work for younger adults. But there are still enough of us old-schoolers who find that a bit jarringly casual in a professional setting – stick with “Hi.”

Things Journalists Imply You Should Never Do That Actually Work Sometimes

Obligatory disclaimer – These individual journalists are the world’s foremost authorities on what works for THEM. They get to decide how they want to be pitched. Nothing I say below is meant to imply their personal preferences are inappropriate.

just got my first Valentine Day PR pitch. I'm still eating gingerbread from Christmas, guys. I know nature – and PR folk – abhor a vacuum, but give us a little break, eh?

— Ted Rath (@thetweetednovel) January 4, 2022

Although it’s weird to Ted to get a V-Day pitch six weeks in advance, that would be significantly too late for many lifestyle journalists at other outlets. How do you know the difference? Understand the varying publishing cadences of your targets. Ted edits a daily paper, so he’s usually only looking about 1-2 weeks ahead.

Now getting PR pitches about the brand of sunglasses Pete Davidson is wearing in public. That’s where we are, folks.

— Elahe Izadi | الهه (@ElaheIzadi) January 11, 2022

Many young PR pros saw Elahe’s tweet and thought, “Oh shoot, I send pitches like that every day!” The thing is, journalists publish stories like that every day. The other thing is, none of those journalists is the media reporter at the Washington Post. Read her coverage of newsroom downsizing and Pulitzer bequests and you see how off-the-wall a celebrity fashion pitch is to her.

Despite steadfast use of "unsubscribe" buttons, I continue to get PR pitches like "Glendale is the 12th best city in the US for licking dogs" every single day

— Richard Procter (@rhprocter) January 18, 2022

Here’s another type of pitch that gets covered all the time. Obviously not by Richard though.

man, I don't know a single editor who gets a pr pitch sent to their personal email and is like "oh NOW i'm interested"

— Oset Babür-Winter (@baburoset) January 11, 2022

I DO know a single editor who is grateful someone sent a pitch to his personal email. It’s Michael Arrington, the famously anti-PR founding editor of TechCrunch. He had missed the original pitch sent to his work email. And he responded with gratitude to the follow-up offer of an exclusive about a new software company launching. His post on TechCrunch resulted in a CNBC segment later that day on the new company. Those two stories resulted in enough inbound inquiries to fill the startup’s sales funnel for months. And when that company IPOed four years later, the PR pro who sent the follow-up email to Michael Arrington held stock options that were worth $1.4 million dollars. True story. I also know about a dozen other editors or reporters who were glad someone contacted their personal email.

Here's the difference between those and the experience Oset is sharing. Sounds like she actually saw a pitch in her work email, didn’t like it, and ignored it. And then got that same pitch in her personal email. Understandably annoying. The dozen or so success stories I’m thinking of were all good pitches targeted to the right journalist. And those journalists really wanted to cover them, and were therefore relieved and grateful that the PR pros were scrappy enough to keep trying until they acknowledged receiving them.

I keep saying “a dozen,” but that’s out of thousands of pitches I’ve been privy to. Moral of the story:

Save your outreach to journalists’ personal inboxes for those cases where you are 90-percent confident they will be grateful you’re making sure they see your news.

Things Journalists Say That Are Just Too Funny Not to Share

Weirdest PR pitch in your inbox? I’ll go first. Today someone asked me to write up “Mountain donkey excrement” as a beloved secret anti-aging product. The cream costs $45 and is almost entirely pure donkey poop.

— Bryce Gruber (@BryceGruber) January 10, 2022

How to ensure you never see another NFT PR pitch in your inbox: Open Gmail > click the settings icon > click “see all settings” > chuck your laptop off the roof, go have a co*cktail, and never think of it ever again.

— Andrew Couts (@AndrewCouts) January 14, 2022

Good lessons from bad PR pitches – January 2022 edition (2024)
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