Six Pixels of Separation - The Blog
February 26, 2009 9:45 PM

Attention PR People: Here's How To Pitch A Writer

You would think that after the countless years of Bloggers calling out PR professionals on bad pitches that things would change. You would be wrong.

In the spirit of trotting out another dead horse: could PR pitches be any worse? The boatload of emails that are not personalized or relevant to the content being published is almost laughable. On top of that, the new trick of sending emails that say, "I'm not sure if you saw my last email, so this time I am also attaching some graphics, a PDF white paper and some spreadsheets" aren't winning your clients any friends either.

It's not hard to pitch a writer.

Here are 9 simple rules to pitch a writer:

1. Create a real targeted list. There's no reason to stray or send something on a hope and a prayer. You should know the best media outlets and the types of stories that this specific writer covers. If you're not sure, most Blogs, websites and print publications have a general email address for press releases and pitches that they never look at and will ignore just like the pitch you're spamming the wrong writers with.

2. Personalize your message. Don't be overly pitch-y and don't act like you've known the writer for years (unless you have). If you've been following the Blog, Twitter or Facebook of the writer, it's pretty easy to know how they like to be approached.

3. Don't pitch right away. Before doing anything, send a quick note letting the writer know who you are, and ask them for permission to send them pitches, information, etc... You might even want to take that opportunity to ask them how they prefer to be contacted and if they're looking for any stories in particular.

4. Don't send attachments. Ever. If the writer needs more materials, like a Word document of the press release, photos, white papers, or whatever, they will either ask, or you can ask them if they require any additional information. Some writers are on the road most of the time, and there's nothing more frustrating than wasting time waiting for your email to download because some PR flack attached four megs worth of photos that you never asked for. This is even more frustrating for those working with iPhones or a BlackBerry (data charges apply). You can always include a simple link in your email to a Social Media Press Release where the writer can grab, download and get anything additional they need/want.

5. If you don't hear back, do not follow-up. If the writer is interested they will reach out to you. Even if your email might have been flagged by their spam filter, they will eventually find it and decide if your pitch is worthwhile to them. If they don't respond to your first attempt, take that as a sign of not being interested.

6. If you do hear back, it doesn't mean that they always want to hear from you. Just because one pitch turned into a story does not give you carte blanche to barrage the writer with pitches. Relationships take time to build. Be sensitive and respectful of this process.

7. No one needs a PDF version of the Press Release. No one. Ever. Do not attach it. No one cares.

8. Let them unsubscribe. If the writer agrees to receive emails from you, always include a line at the bottom of all of your communications that makes it simple for the writer to unsubscribe from your emails. Even if you're not using an email marketing system, just let them know that they can simply hit "reply" with the word, "remove" at any time and that you will respect their wish.

9. No bulk emails. This is tied in to #2, but if you're sending a message do not send it to everyone as a BCC. Send each message - one at a time - to each writer. Even if all you're doing is a simple copy and paste (not recommended), it's way better than a mass e-blast. It's also less likely to get caught in a spam filter.

Here's the problem with these 9 simple steps: it takes time, it takes effort and it is not as easy as sending a press release out on the wire.

What rules would you add to this list?

By Mitch Joel


Comments Comments Feed
  • Posted by JP Holecka
    Mitch Joel

    Nice list. It's about time that this was published.

    I guess that I would add that maybe no pitch at all and collaborate with the writer on the project from the get go. If they are an expert and own the space they should be able to assist you in reaching your PR goals in an organic and authentic way.

    Reply
  • Posted by laura
    Mitch Joel

    If the writer does invite you to pitch, make sure your pitch is extremely short and to the point. Writers are super busy and if you are concise you win points. Be grateful and help out with their story even if they can't use your quote or your company. Always offer to connect them to someone else. In my experience, they always remember you and mention you in a story when they can.

    Reply
  • Posted by Jeremy Porter
    Mitch Joel

    #5 is a classic - if you don't hear back, they're not interested. Don't call and ask "did you get the release I sent you? Did ya? Did ya?"

    Reply
  • Posted by CT Moore
    Mitch Joel

    I think that you should ALWAYS send a PDF, .DOC, .WPS, .TXT, .PPT and .RTF. You never know what technology your target is running.

    Spray and pray, baby. Swoosh!!! That's they way you do PR.

    And if you ever get caught in a lie, lie baby lie. Stick to your guns, 'cuz if there's anything that America can appreciate, it's a desperado... Areba...

    Reply
  • Posted by Duane Brown
    Mitch Joel

    You know Mitch, this is one of the reasons I like being a smaller player in our industry. I don't get bad pitches.. hell I don't get any pitches and I'm ok with that.

    Having a background in PR I feel your pain as I always felt the bad PR people made me look worse when I was always looking to do things right and "legal". It would be interesting to see how these PR people felt if the tables were turned on them. None of us are that mean, but it would be interesting to see how they like it.


    @JP Holecka Not the first time someone has written a list like this and won't be the last.

    @CT Moore Still cracking some jokes I see... keep them coming.

    Reply
  • Posted by Dave Fleet
    Mitch Joel

    Good post, Mitch. As you mentioned, it's one that many people (including myself) have written on over the last couple of years.

    I'm going to play the contrarian here, and take issue with a couple of your points.

    Re: #5 - I hear what you're saying; however a lot of people will tell you that lots of stories do get buried in inboxes. I get several hundred emails some days. There's no way I manage to check them all, and I'm not a reporter receiving pitches from people. Many PR people will tell you that it's the phone call that often leads to the story.

    Re: #8 - I don't see any situation under which I would use an email system to pitch someone. Mass emails preclude customization, which is part of what evolves from building a relationship and getting to know journalists.

    I do agree with the majority of your points though - target carefully; personalize; build relationships; don't send attachments; don't presume interest in everything; don't spam people. I'll second all of those.

    Reply
  • Mitch Joel

    I like the point Laura added to your fantastic article Mitch:

    "Be grateful and help out with their story even if they can't use your quote or your company. Always offer to connect them to someone else."

    No matter how big a person might be on his/her turf, little pointers towards potentially useful/beneficial information or contacts is always welcome. Of course, they HAVE to be relevant to their interests.

    A very valid point you have added Laura. Good on ya! - Edward

    Reply
  • Posted by Lorenzo
    Mitch Joel

    5. If you don't hear back, do not follow-up.

    Well, this seems a bit drastic. If we could be sure that they received the email, read it and decided that it was no relevant, then it could make sense not to follow up.

    Unfortunately, this is not the case and as Dave pointed out, an email can always get buried under hundreds of others.

    A simple, quick and polite call is a good follow up for any situation.

    -Lorenzo

    Reply
  • Dave and Lorenzo, if you followed the rules, you would know by #3 if that writer wanted to get a follow-up call as part of how they would like to be contacted.

    We all get hundreds of emails, but it's amazing how we do all get to the ones that matter most to us. Keep in mind: what's important to you and your client may not be as urgent to the writer.

    Follow the rules and you'll know if following up by phone (email, or whatever) is an acceptable part of how the writer wants that relationship to work.

    I guess this leads to an additional rule:

    #10 - make sure you complete rules #1 through #3 long before you ever need to pitch them anything.

    Reply
  • Posted by Canadian PR Gal
    Mitch Joel

    I've been doing PR for almost 20 years now (where did the time go) and must say the rules of engagement have never changed more rapidly than in the past few years with the introduction of bloggers into the media outreach mix.

    In a perfect world I would have the time to reach out to each and every blogger, develop a relationship, determine his or her needs and requirements and then carefully tailor my outreach per these parameters. But there are simply more and more bloggers coming on-line each day and I would spend all of my time doing research without ever getting to my PR strategies - which I don't think would fly with my clients, who are small high-tech start-ups with very limited budgets.

    I can only assume there are a lot of bad PR people if they are sending attachments and doing mass email campaigns, but hey, there are duds in any profession.

    How about this compromise: if a blogger receives an email that is completely off the mark, he or she can take 30 seconds to ping the PR and tell them to cease and desist. That way the loop is closed and you will not be subjected to a follow-up call.

    I think we all need to play nice the sandbox and the trashing of my profession has to stop. I could write a pithy article entitled Attention Bloggers: Here's How to Respond in a Courteous Manner, but what's the point?

    I'll get off my soapbox now, but leave you with one last thought. The rules of engagement between journalists and PR pros were set for many years and while the hacks and flacks sometimes disagreed, there was also a level of respect and decorum between the professions. Now, we have become the whipping boys and it seems perfectly acceptable to take pot shots at the entire PR industry without any thought to the people behind the pitch.

    Journalists follow a code of ethics - can the same be said for bloggers?


    Reply
  • I'm not sure I agree with you "Canadian PR Gal."

    I've been both a Journalist and PR professional since the late eighties, so I have experience on both sides of the fence. If a PR pro is doing Media Relations, than spending time building your relationships is the primary job. I think applying the "spray and pray" model to any type of writer (be it Blogger, Journalist or both) simply does not work anymore.

    Yes, there are tons of Blogs coming online everyday, but not all of them need to be on your media hit list. The model has shifted away from "how many" people are on your list to "who" is on your list. 100,000 e-blasts will never be as strong as twenty real and substantial pick-ups of the story. So, why not work the twenty relationships that will really count and help your clients?

    I don't think a Blogger has to respond back to anything because they never gave their permission in the first place to be contacted (see rule #3). And, if they don't respond after that first email intro, please see rule #5. Do you respond back to all of the unsolicited email that you get?

    This isn't about thrashing the PR profession at all. Why should anybody be courteous and responsive to someone who is simply using them like they're a part of a cattle call?

    The rules of engagement have changed, but they've changed because those initial rules were abused. PR professionals abused the ease and speed of the technology to e-blast their messages to anyone and everyone with an email address, so the writers have revolted.

    Journalists do follow a code of ethics, I think Bloggers do as well: they want to be treated like individuals, with respect for their time and if PR professionals followed the rules listed above, my guess is there wouldn't be a need for someone to write these rules up.

    How would the bulk of your professional peers feel about agreeing to and signing a code of ethics that was based on the above rules?

    The other option is that all writers simply hit their "delete" button or create a rule that sends all emails from your company to their spam filter, and you'll never even know. How does the PR profession benefit, learn, grow and mature if you're not getting feedback?

    Reply
  • Posted by Canadian PR Gal
    Mitch Joel

    Okay, I take your comments and agree with most. I wasn't implying a spray and pray model - it's certainly not something I subscribe to or agree with, but I was simply saying it's very difficult to stay abreast of the blogs and bloggers when so many are joining the conversation.

    Yes, I know to tier and target my lists, and yes, I think that the cattle call model being employed these days is deplorable. I send personalized emails to each outlet/person. This is time-consuming but I do it out of respect for the journalist/blogger at the receiving end of the message. Do I sometimes get it wrong? I'm human, so of course, but a quick email back let's me know and learn from my mistake.

    You state bloggers wish to be treated like individuals, and that's simply all I'm asking for for my profession: treat us as individuals and don't damn us all for the actions of a few.

    I have a degree in PR, have professional accreditation, and continually try to stay current, as do many of my peers. I think the large agencies certainly take a different approach than sole proprietors such as myself, but hey, I could be wrong.

    I can only apologize for the ignorant and uneducated in my field, and hope we can reach a truce whereby PR pros and bloggers live in happy co-existence - my PR spin for the morning : )

    Reply
  • Posted by Karen
    Mitch Joel

    take yourself seriously much? ever heard of "delete"? i still believe the best way to get coverage is by making a phone call. It's less difficult to say "no" when you're talking with someone.

    Reply
  • Posted by Kevin Grossman
    Mitch Joel

    These are dead on. Some interesting twists we always run into with our clients is that they don't understand the difference between a search-optimized Internet wire release (PRWeb for example) and hitting our entire database of media outlets. In fact, too many times I've seen clients talk as though there the same kind of distribution no matter how many times we whack them.

    There continues to be a pervasive "throw as much spaghetti against the wall as you can to see what sticks" mentality. Junior PR and marketing professionals have an inordinate amount of pressure on them to score media hits, and so they're not given any training and told by executive management to hit anything with a pulse.

    I've had conversations with CEO's who expect a Wall Street Journal land within month one, and when you tell them nobody cares about their product and it will take time get them to, they balk and walk.

    And its one thing to address proper media relations, but blogger relations is even more sensitive. Subjectivity aside, if you send a pitch to a blogger that's completely off the mark (and we get plenty to our own blog), then you're not reading their blog. End of story (and yours), and they are not obligated to respond. No one is.

    Reply
  • Posted by Lorenzo
    Mitch Joel

    Mitch,
    thanks for taking the time for answer.

    I certainly agree on your answer when your rules are taken on a chronological order.

    On the other hand I imagined rule #5 on the very first contact.

    I doubt your advice is to "walk away" whenever your first attempt is not successful.

    -Lorenzo

    Reply
  • Posted by Dave Fleet
    Mitch Joel

    I take your point about the follow-up calls Mitch; given that, though, perhaps #5 is a bit too much of a blanket "don't do it" statement. Maybe that should read "Only follow up if you know they want it." Even then, that's hard to follow 100% of the time.

    There are thousands of journalists in Canada and while we'd build a good relationship with all of them in an ideal world, that takes time and we won't always be able to do that for every pitch in a real, imperfect world.

    Reply
  • ... then the impersonal blasting of pitches and press releases continues :(

    I'll get my "delete" finger back into shape.

    Reply
  • Posted by Jacquelyn
    Mitch Joel

    Ack! The dreaded calls. I wonder how many bloggers actually *want* a phone call. I find it hard to believe... but perhaps this is due to my own email-y preference.

    "It's less difficult to say "no" when you're talking with someone."

    The problem that I would have with this is that you're not *really* trying to get a commitment. You're attempting to force someone's hand. Surely this isn't the ideal situation...

    Reply
  • Mitch Joel

    Ouch. You're killing me, Mitch.

    Posts like these pain me and should pain anyone else who cares about the PR industry and who actually DOES take the time to build relationships, do the research and try to understand the needs of the person behind the by-line, mike, or blog post.

    I don't want to be painted with the same brush, so those of you who are still blitzing, cut it out for god's sake.

    Reply
  • Posted by Dave Fleet
    Mitch Joel

    I hope that last response wasn't in response to my comment, Mitch, but as it was directly below mine and was un-addressed, I'll have to assume it was.

    If you've read my comments or anything I've written elsewhere on the topic, you'll know that I'm 100% behind a tailored, customized approach.

    It's way too easy to just agree with everything in posts like this without questioning it. A blanket statement like "If you don't hear back, do not follow-up" does both your client and the journalist a disservice, especially when you acknowledge that some people do appreciate the calls.

    You can throw out pithy lines about your "delete" finger; I'd rather have a constructive conversation.

    Reply
  • Dave,

    You said, "There are thousands of journalists in Canada and while we'd build a good relationship with all of them in an ideal world, that takes time and we won't always be able to do that for every pitch in a real, imperfect world."

    This leads me to believe that you then think it is ok to just e-blast everyone. I'm glad to hear that I took that comment the wrong way. I apologize.

    As for "following-up," I think it's a disservice to do so if that writer is not someone you know or who has agreed at a earlier time to get your messages, pitches and press releases in the first place.

    Remember, I'm now writing for three highly-visible publications and there are way too many PR people "following -up" with me. On what? I'm not exactly sure. They never asked if I was interested in hearing from them and they don't even look to see if what I cover is related to what they're pitching. So, now they're spamming my voice mail along with my inbox. You can call that "following-up" all you like.

    Reply
  • Posted by Dave Fleet
    Mitch Joel

    My earlier comment that you quoted was related to following-up, not to emails. I thought that was clear, as my whole comment was on that issue. Regardless, thank you for the apology - gratefully accepted :)

    You clearly aren't looking for a debate on this, so I guess we'll have to agree to disagree. I think there's a middle ground and we're likely both in there; I just can't verbalize it. That's fine - we can't always agree. Sending my respect your way, either way :)

    Reply
  • The cool thing is you can "follow-up" with me anytime Dave. Why? Because you took the time to get to know me and what I write about. We've connected. I even consider you a friend. I think we're both saying that following-up is fine as long as the writer has either given you permission or expressed interest in what you're pitching.

    Reply
  • Posted by Eden Spodek
    Mitch Joel

    Mitch, thank you for your post. I agree with everything you've said.

    I'd add one more point to your list - Be prepared! Have your story, your digital assets and everything you need ready before you contact a blogger. (i.e. facts, photos, graphics, links, audio, video, etc.) It's okay to ask a blogger if they'd be interested in a specific program before you pitch them but once you do, have everything ready. Don't make them wait or you may loose your chance, not to mention some of your credibility.

    Dave, as someone who blogs as a hobby (and most of us do) I really dislike follow-up prior to writing a post. It's annoying. I've heard some people say if they bug a blogger enough, the blogger will cave in and write a post. No idea where that came from. Sure I spoke to you on the phone when you pitched me but that's because we're friends - at least you tell me so. ;)

    Jacquelyn, you're right on the mark!

    Canadian PR Gal, I agree it takes two to tango, however, it's up to you to do your research and ensure your pitch is relevant before you contact me. Chances are, if you're pitch is relevant - I mean truly relevant - the odds of the blogger being interested in your message is that much greater.

    You're the one being paid to do your job. Many bloggers are blogging in their "spare" time for free. Their inboxes are full of unsolicited email. They don't always have time to reply to people who contact them, especially those who do so without permission.

    Reply
  • Posted by Dave Fleet
    Mitch Joel

    I'm a doofus. That last comment read wrong. Now that we've connected offline, I know we do agree... follow-ups as long as there's permission/interest, and *definitely* a relevant topic.

    ...and that's enough comment spam from me...

    Cheers Mitch

    Reply
  • Posted by lmkwak
    lmkwak

    Just a quick note to say thanks for the post. As a person doing some PR at work, without having had an education in it, this is the type of information that I can really learn from! Also thanks for everyone's responses, I'm learning from those too!

    Reply
  • Posted by Eden Spodek
    Mitch Joel

    Michelle, I understand your frustration.

    When I think about some of the pitches I receive, I wonder if the client has a clue of what's being sent on their behalf.

    Heck, it's one thing to put your personal reputation on the line but what about your agency or the brand you're being paid to represent.

    I appreciate some of this is new ground and people are trying to figure it all out but you should spend a day monitoring my email. You'd be mortified.

    Reply
  • Posted by Leigh
    Mitch Joel

    Here's my rule - read the about section. There is usually very useful info there that will help you personalize your email.

    For example, rather than sending me an email

    "Dear Ms. Blitherings" bc my blog is called Leigh's Blitherings...

    You will know my last name is something different.

    :)


    Reply
  • Posted by Swann
    Mitch Joel

    I'd add to try to build a real relationship. The blogger is not a website. The blogger is a person, and more than the traditional journalists, the blogger likes to be treated as someone special. And he is! Forget it and you will lose your time in your blogger relations strategy.

    Reply
  • Posted by rudy
    Mitch Joel

    I think this is great and totally agree but what about the rules for rude writers? When I get a phone call at 4:45p.m. demanding I provide them with information by 5. Just because you are writing an article doesn't give you the right to be rude to the people with access to the information you need. Yes you may be working on deadline but pr people have things to do as well.
    Yes, PR people can be annoying but no one ever says anything to rude, demanding and self-righteous reporters.

    Reply
  • Rudy,

    Tell them they're being rude and don't help them. Seems pretty basic to me. Common decency and respect should be something we all have for one another at all times.

    Reply
  • Posted by Erika Pitera
    Mitch Joel

    Great list of rules! I agree with all of them and would like to add one more thought: If a writer/blogger/journalist follows up on a pitch you've sent them and produces an article as a result, say THANK YOU. I can't believe how many PR people think it's acceptable to ignore a writer once they've gotten what they want out of them.

    Reply
    • Posted by andy m turner
      Mitch Joel

      #5 Do not follow up should be only follow up if there is something substantially new to add to what you sent first time. Nobody wants calls opening with,"just calling to check you've read my press release and to see if it's of interest." Reporters might well welcome calls saying "we have a great case study to illustrate that story I sent you" or something else relevent that adds value.

      Reply
  • Martin Ouellette

    10. Have something to say.

    I guess it should be #1. Don't disturb anyone with a non-news.

    Reply
  • Posted by Chris Houchens
    Mitch Joel

    I totally agree and hate the spam (b/c that's what any unsolicited email is)

    BUT.

    People also complain about telemarketing. It's annoying and untargeted, but it's hard for companies to stop becasue it works even after the governmental imposed speedbumps.

    So I would only assume that these bad pitches ARE working on some bloggers. The pitchers wouldn't be stupid enough to keep doing somethig that had 0% ROI. (maybe)
    The pitches will stop when bloggers stop responding to them.

    Reply
  • Posted by Doug Haslam
    Mitch Joel

    How many posts and articles about this are out there-- from the last, I don't know, twenty years or so? The thing is, the messages need to be repeated- and despite the basic common sense involved, they do. Actually, that's OK.

    I also understand, as a PR person, the frustrations of "no feedback" and the pressures of making sure we hit "all" the right targets. The only practicable answer to those concerns is "Nobody cares. suck it up, do it right."

    The other answer is for the managers: is your account executives learning? (grammar error on purpose)

    To actually answer your question, I will add:

    1A: Repeat Step 1. You know you can refine that list even better. More refining, less pitching, equal or better results. That has been my experience, and it was an eye-opener when I first started doing it that way.

    I'll also add to Eden's "be prepared" point- don't just have your stuff ready, work with your client to make everything needed easily available; materials (are you using a self-service newsroom, whether it be the "social media newsroom" model or something else? Have you triple-confirmed that executives are available?

    Also: look back on each campaign-- what worked, what got a bad reception, what was your ratio of preparation to pitching, and do you need to adjust that?

    Last: and this was suggested above in "asking permission," but I would go further-- carry on relationships-- not in a "being friends" sense, but be a helpful resource when you are not pitching. At the very least that gets more phone calls picked up and emails opened. It creates capital that you had better not squander.

    it's a lot of work, but when it is successful it is actually quite fun.

    Reply
  • Mitch Joel

    Great discussion here. I have spent 10 yrs in and around the PR industry and in this time I have been guilty of many of the sins you speak of Mitch. I think most honest PR people who have been in the game for awhile have employed bulk, spamming tactics and thrown out unresearched pitches. PR is in a state of crisis.

    Part of it is due to PR people overselling clients on the newsworthiness of their stories/product launches etc. Clients want to "go viral", "be on the front page," etc. The fact is that not everything is worthy of front page, above the fold placement and there is nothing wrong with softly managing clients to understand this.

    Our past practices as an industry and professional cadre have engendered a sitauation where saying you are a PR pro is tantamount to saying "I am a lawyer," or "I am a tax collector". We have only ourselves to blame.

    Additionally, PR people - like marketers in general - have employed hyperbole and over the top language far too liberally. Every press release talks about how a "incredibly thrilled" a company is to be launching "a game-changing" new product/service etc. Mass over-hyping has done nothing for our cause.

    It is time to cut the bull and get back to playing a one to one human game.

    If you have not read it, I would strongly recommend Brian Solis' book Putting the Public Back in Public Relations. It addresses many of the issues mentioned in this discussion in a compelling way.

    Reply
  • Posted by Glenn Garnett
    Mitch Joel

    I get pitches - daily - on topics that would have appealed to me in a role I had with the media company I work for ... in 1997! Make your lists, check them twice...or three times! I can only route so much traffic and am getting less helpful with age.

    Reply
  • Posted by Marquita Thomas
    Mitch Joel

    The take-away from this list for me is "do not follow-up". Everything else I've ever read said to do just that so that's an interesting new twist, thanks!

    Reply
  • Mitch Joel

    Totally agree with no.3. Like Gary Vaynerchuk said recently (and put on t-shirts) "Don't pitch me Bro!"...

    You have to create a connection first. Start with Twitter, answer question, create a true relation with the writer.

    Reply
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