The danger in pitching news that isn't news (And 4 ways to break the cycle)

The danger in pitching news that isn't news (And 4 ways to break the cycle)

I write a lot about media relations. Why?

One reason is that I often see reporters posting on Twitter that they got another non-news pitch -- basically a junky spam pitch. Take this for example:

“Why are so many of the pr pitches i get so bad?” -@fmanjoo

He goes on:

“I appreciate that your random CEO has thoughts about Google’s earnings but no i don’t want to talk to him” -@fmanjoo

And:

“I should write up a rule for pr pitches: 1) if i’ve never heard of your company chances are I won’t go to its party." -@fmanjoo

Now, Farhad Manjoo is a well-known journalist at a respected publication, The New York Times. I’m sure he receives loads of pitches every day.

This got me thinking — is he right? Is our industry just a bunch of PR flacks pitching junky non-news stories to journalists who are hungry for real news?

Let's look at what happens when we pitch a story that isn't newsworthy:

  • We waste the journalist's time -- which is more valuable than ever -- by clogging up their inbox with a pitch we know, if we're honest in our heart of hearts, they would never cover.
  • We hurt our credibility in their eyes, which damages the longer-term relationship and potentially, opportunities we might have in the future to actually get them to take us seriously.

  • We take our profession down a notch by joining the ranks of media relations folks who are willing to send out junk. That isn't good.

Complacency isn’t getting us anywhere. So, what can we do to start to fight back against this ugly cycle?

We can begin by:

1. Remembering that it's okay to tell our clients "no" sometimes

As in, “No, this ISN'T a story worth pitching -- but let's think about what is.” It's okay to say, “While I don't think this is news, this could be.”

Or, to suggest brainstorming some ideas that could be turned into story pitches.

2. Beginning to spend more time thinking about who we pitch—and what we’re pitching them

This means spending more time researching our pitches and carefully crafting our story ideas. And, let’s also remember that we can't pitch every story every time to everybody.

3. Stop sending pitches we KNOW aren’t a fit

Moment of truth: We’ve all had those experiences when we knew we were sending a pitch that wasn’t a fit to a reporter whose beat didn’t match up. Just stop.

If possible, let’s try to figure out how to avoid sending those pitches. Come up with another strategy that will meet the client’s needs. After all, sending the pitch isn’t the goal -- securing coverage is.

So, if we know what we’re doing isn’t going to work before we carry it out, why are we continuing to do it? It may make for some conversations that take you out of your comfort zone, but it can be worth it.

4. Remembering that change won’t happen overnight

Let’s be in it for the long haul. We are seeing changes in the collective mindset. Things seem to be moving in a “less is more” direction, with more targeted pitches sent to hand-picked reporters. Even so, it took us a long time to get here, so we won’t dig ourselves out of this hole overnight.

Now, one bad pitch does not a ruined relationship make -- but, repeatedly sending "nuisance" pitches CAN affect whether journalists open and/or read what you send. And, it affects the PR industry at large.

When we bring up the level of pitching by carefully thinking through the pitch before we hit send, we all win.

And the Farhad Manjoos of the world will thank us.

You'll find Michelle Messenger Garrett at the intersection of PR, content marketing and social media. As a public relations consultant, content creator, blogger, speaker and award-winning writer, Michelle’s articles and advice have been featured in Entrepreneur, Muck Rack, Ragan’s PR Daily, Meltwater, Spin Sucks, Freelancers Union and others. She was named a Top 100 PR Influencer by Onalytica. Michelle was also recently appointed to the board of Women in PR USA.

Photo: Screenshot via Farhad Manjoo's Twitter account

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