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