A Los Angeles News Radio producer reveals: I won't respond to your pitch if...

A Los Angeles News Radio producer reveals: I won't respond to your pitch if...

These mistakes will get your pitch sent straight to the trash.

It ain’t easy being in PR. I mean, let’s face it; you get in to work, sit at your desk and chances are that, by lunch time you’ve already been cut off, hung up on, and sent a handful of emails with just one disappointing word in the subject line: “UNSUBSCRIBE.”

It’s not that journalists dislike PR folk. Every newsroom knows that they’re a valuable part of the news ecosystem. Though the best pitches will make the editor and producer’s job just a little easier, bland pitches sent indiscriminately have the opposite effect--we sigh heavily, roll our eyes and hit delete.

Come on. It’s 2014; there’s a better way for publicists to get their calls taken, emails read and guests booked. Much of an agent’s success comes down to having two important tools: the right guest and a personal approach. Unfortunately, this is easier said than done, as is evident by my packed inbox. So today I’m going to break it down--journos, feel free to add on. 

First, let’s talk about your guest.

I probably won’t respond to your pitch if:

  • Your guest uses the word “guru” in their description. 
  • Your guest wrote a book that is self-published. Everyone has wanted to be an author at some point in their life. Self-publishing a book is about as cool as being “signed” to your own record label. 
  • Your guest has only one Google result: their website, which, strangely enough, reads a lot like your pitch. 
  • Your “celebrity’s” highest achievement is being the extra on a show.
  • Your guest is a “writer” for a major publication, but upon further inspection, he is a “contributor” or “blogger.” Almost 99% of the time, this is not an actual job, and does not substantiate competence.
  • Your guest was on one show, one time, and now you refer to them as “CNN’s go-to expert” or a “CBS correspondent.” You can get sued for making bogus claims that jeopardize an organization’s reputation. Minus 10 points if you put a network as your employer on Linkedin.
  • Your guest happened to be on the couch in the next room while history was going down. All right, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but no, we don’t want to speak to the least important person in the room when something important was happening.
  • Your guest changed their last name to a luxury brand just to sound more legitimate. 
  • Your expert teaches a class that’s not a legitimate college course. Extension classes are not classes. 
  • Your expert is a social media anything. Really. I don’t care. Honestly, no one cares. I know social media is one of the fastest growing industries, but honestly, if I wanted to talk social media strategy with anyone, I’d go to a professional firm first, and a web celeb second. Maybe web celeb first. I assume they might be a more interesting/quirky interview.
  • Your business expert is located in Canada/Australia/any of Great Britain’s former colonies. Now, hear me out. I produce a business program in America. Your expert may be terrific, but the market is different in America. Granted, an intriguing accent can make a guest sound a hundred times more legitimate, but if the product your guest is pitching just doesn’t appeal to the tastes of American audiences, you’ve wasted your time reaching out to me. 
  • Your guest wrote an autobiography… and she’s 30 or younger. No one is buying this.

Of course there are things that you may be doing wrong too...I probably won’t respond to your pitch if:

  • Your email starts with, “Hey friend!,” or, “Hi there!” I don’t know you. Cut the courting, sailor.
  • You call without prior arrangement.
  • Your email address is a Gmail, Yahoo or AOL. This just smacks of illegitimacy. What, are you sitting at your kitchen table in slippers right now too?
  • Your email address domain has numbers in it.
  • Your email contains a photo of your guest, and your guest is giving finger guns. Just...no.
  • You have earth-shaking new survey data conducted by your company…and nobody has heard of your company.
  • You show up in the lobby with your “expert” completely unannounced. This just ends awkwardly for everybody.
  • You throw a bunch of abbreviations at us to make your guest seem more legitimate. I don’t care if he’s the CEO of the GWE at the U of HSK. Yes, I can use letters too. What do they stand for? Nothing. This is obviously a tactic to impress green and gullible producers, but again, no.
  • Your company name sounds exactly like the name of a much more legitimate company. I know imitation is the greatest form of flattery, but riding on the good reputation of a legitimate organization will cause us to bring the integrity of your guest into question. 
  • You subject-bait. This is similar to link-baiting. Nobody likes to be tricked.
  • You don’t tell the whole truth. Journalists can see through tricks that the average person might not. For example, saying a guest is “Harvard-trained” is a fancy way of saying she spent some time at the institution, but received no degree. It’s not what you’re saying that we pay attention to-it’s what you’re not saying. 
  • You call without prior arrangement, I say “no” then you send me a separate email with the words, “Following-up on our conversation…” Resilience is admirable, but this is about as pathetic as a guy getting rejected, but asking for a girl’s number anyway. 
  • You’re your own PR agent. “Book me, I’m awesome, I swear!”

With that said, here are some things that will probably spark our interest:

  • Your author is published by a major publishing house. If someone else believes in them, chances are we might too. 
  • Your guest is the professor at a university. Bonus points for department heads. Triple bonus if she’s Ivy League.
  • Your guest is a multi-millionaire or billionaire. Success is as good as a doctorate in my book. Not always, but often, if you’ve made a ton of money, you know something about something.
  • You include YouTube clips of your guest in an interview. This will always give your pitch an edge. If I have to choose between two specialists and one is more exciting, I’ll choose the exciting one.
  • You genuinely believe in your guest. I understand that PR people don’t always get to choose their clients. Because of that, they’re often forced to talk up a dud. There’s no shame in doing an honest job, but I would recommend you track down and build strong relationships with weekend talk show producers--they’re much less picky, and you still get paid. 

As a final word of advice, I suggest that every PR person take the time to get to know the people whom they’re pitching. Get to know their needs. This takes time, but can result in strong working relationships. A sign of true PR excellence is when the journalist calls you. It's rare, but it happens.

I’ll close with a quick shout-out to some marvelous PR folks whom I wouldn’t hesitate to call: Jen Jones at ASGK, PRSA-LA President-elect Erik Deutsch and Lolo Siderman, founder of Gypsywing Media.

Austin Cross is a Los Angeles Radio Producer. All views are his own.

Photo: Trash icon via Shutterstock

9 Comments

M Domagala   •   2 months, 2 weeks ago

Austin, please, don't say that out loud by being so obnoxious! Invite only rich and famous, disregard 99 percent of humanity, keep the game going, that's supposed to be our tiny secret, right? (Sorry for my English, fellow journalist from a different continent here)

Dave Rice
Dave Rice
Dave Rice

Writer for @sdreader, husband, father, OBecian, FC3S driver, Elf Doublecross/Yamaha Banshee rider, interweb news junkie, used house salesman, Padres, Chargers

Dave Rice   •   2 months, 2 weeks ago

As someone who's published on average 10x/week for three years and has a grand total three book reviews (all non-fiction and tied to my core beat of local issues) during that period, can I please stop getting fiction pitches with a subject line of "[Popular book your author didn't write] meets [Another popular book your author didn't write]?" Specifically, publicists for the 30+ authors who have written the next "50 Shades meets Twilight" blockbuster please take note...

Gail Sideman
Gail Sideman
Gail Sideman

Relentless sports publicist that practiced the craft BT (Before Twitter).

Gail Sideman   •   2 months, 2 weeks ago

In my opinion, to disregard ALL self-published books is a mistake, and I respectfully hope you change your mind, Austin. There are coaches who help people produce true value between pages, including editors and artists that help to create quality books. Many of these books are MUCH better than the dreck put out by many of the vanity publishers these days. Some publishers are also branching out and creating self-publishing divisions, so even they see the value of helping authors publish a quality product in less time than is typically experienced with the "name" mark. Why are they doing this? There are dozens of books that started self-published and vanity publishers had to pay out the ear to put their marks on them and publish themselves.

Karl Luntta   •   2 months, 2 weeks ago

Austin, great article, and good advice for PR folks -- but I do have a bone to pick: "Triple bonus if she’s Ivy League." Please don't tell me you've bought in to the illusion that Ivy League equals truth, integrity, informed opinion, or even interesting. Or that, coversely, non-Ivy Leaguers have none of those qualities. Take a look at the list of Nobel laureates who've cycled through the University of Chicago, MIT, or UC- Berkeley. To paraphrase Fredo Corleone, they can handle things, they're smart!

Jayne Ferrer   •   2 months, 2 weeks ago

Gotta love an article that imparts helpful information AND makes me laugh. Thanks, Austin.

Mary Baker
Mary Baker
Mary Baker

I write marketing copy and manage social media for small businesses throughout the U.S.

Mary Baker   •   2 months, 2 weeks ago

Austin, you are missing out on two big reasons that some authors choose to self publish. Authors can make actual profits per copy as opposed to 10% or lower royalties. Self-published books on time-sensitive topics can hit the virtual bookshelves in days instead of 8-9 months. I know there's a lot of self-published dreck, but there's also a lot of dreck from brick-and-mortar publishers. I hope that you'll give a decent book by a self-published author a chance.

Robin Monsky   •   2 months, 2 weeks ago

Come on, Austin. are you really going to ignore a pitch because of someone's email address? Half the journalists I deal with prefer a personal account on AOL, Gmail or Yahoo to communicate with me since general public comments come in to their official addresses making those mailboxes pretty full. As a freelance consultant with lots of different clients, it is easier for me to use a general Gmail account. Good thing folks at places like the Wall Street Journal, Entrepreneur Magazine and NPR aren't as closed minded as you on this point.

Mario Almonte
Mario Almonte
Mario Almonte

PR specialist and Huffington Post blogger, covering politics, technology, social issues, and popular culture.

Mario Almonte   •   2 months, 2 weeks ago

Personally, I think all the points in each of your categories are variations of the same thing: In your "Won't Respond," the guest is clearly a low-level one with no legitimate credentials; in "Won't Respond to Pitch," the PR agent is clearly rude and unprofessional; in "Will Respond," the suggested guest comes with strong and legitimate credentials. Anyway, I think you'd have written a much more affectionately tolerant post if you'd had your cup of coffee first. Or not.

Matt Small
Matt Small
Matt Small

Makin' invisible airwaves crackle with life for the Associated Press.

Matt Small   •   2 months, 2 weeks ago

Excellent post. Bonus points for the shout-out to Jen Jones -- she's awesome!

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