Journalist Offers PR Pitching Tips

Ragan’s PR Daily recently ran an article titled, “Five Tips for PR Professionals from a Journalist.”

The author, Amy McCarthy, is a content strategist and editor in Dallas. She’s had a lot of PR pitches thrown her way, and some of them haven’t been very pretty:

“Reading pitches from publicists is part of my daily life as a content manager and Web editor, and sometimes they’re just cringe-worthy. When PR is bad, it’s really bad,” she writes.

Here are Amy’s top five pitching tips:

1. Do your homework. If you’re going to pitch me, it’s probably worth getting a little more information than that little blurb that Vocus gives you. Go to my site, look at some of my content, and see what we’re sharing! If you’re not a good fit, nothing that you can say is going to make you a good fit.

2. Do not mislead me. I know that every PR pro reading this blog is going to say that they’d never do something like that, and the majority wouldn’t, but there is a serious lack of disclosure in the PR industry. If a brand sponsors your expert client, you need to make that clear to me. My site isn’t for shilling products; it’s for providing value to my readers.

3. Understand that I am busy. I’m running an entire website and am extremely busy. There are plenty of things I could (and need to) be doing other than uploading your content to my site and making sure that your client’s name is properly italicized. Be respectful of journalists’ time. If you wouldn’t want them bugging you to death, don’t do it to them. Emailing me daily to ask whether your article is ready isn’t going to get it published any faster.

4. Check yourself. I can’t tell you how many times I get pitches with my name misspelled, horrible grammar, and other crimes against English. Spend a little time going over your release and making sure everything is correct. I know this sounds like a no-brainer, but if I were to take you on a tour of my inbox, you’d believe that a significant portion of the public relations industry hasn’t met spell- or grammar-check.

5. Provide me with something good. As a publicist, I know you’ve got to say that everything about your client is magical and wonderful. Unfortunately, as a journalist, that really doesn’t do much for me. I don’t want to hear about your “new and improved this or that,” but I would really like to hear about how your “new and improved this or that” is helping families save money, or how your “new and improved this or that” showers its purchaser with the finest jewels. Give me value, and I’ll give you coverage!

Good tips, Amy! Thanks for sharing them. There are probably many others that could be added to this list, but here’s a final tip written from my perspective as a former journalist:

6. Make my job easier. Because I’m so busy, the more you can provide me with relevant, factual information that is meaningful and targeted to my audience, the more I’m going to appreciate you and quite possibly reward you with coverage. And when I see a pitch from you in the future, I’ll take it seriously because I know you’re a credible PR person.

Don Beehler provides public relations consulting services to advertising agencies and businesses.

Non-profit’s Response to Negative Article Is Model for Ad Agency PR

 “The first to present his case seems right, till another comes forward and questions him.” – Proverbs 18:17

Let me state up front that I don’t have first-hand knowledge of the facts related to the PR issue I’m about to discuss, so I don’t know which party is right and which is wrong—or whether the truth lies somewhere in between.

What I can say is that Soles4Souls’ response to a negative front-page story about it in The Tennessean newspaper, which was also picked up by USA Today, is a model for how to fight back when you feel you’ve been unfairly portrayed in the news media.

Soles4Souls is a non-profit charitable organization. According to its mission statement, “Soles4Souls collects new shoes to give relief to the victims of abject suffering and collects used shoes to support micro-business efforts to eradicate poverty.”

While the details are too involved to go into here, The Tennessean article makes Soles4Souls appear deceptive in some of its practices. “Millions of pairs of used shoes donated to Soles4Souls…don’t go directly to the impoverished people the charity says it is helping,” the paper states.

Soles4Souls’ statement about the article, which is posted on the non-profit’s Web site, was thorough, factual and measured, with a minimum of emotion or defensiveness attached to it.

Here’s a sample from Soles4Soul’s response:

•       “The gist of the [Tennessean] micro-enterprise article is that Soles4Souls has not talked openly about its micro-enterprise program.  In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. We are proud of our micro-enterprise efforts, which have enabled us to increase the number of people we serve and is consistent with social enterprise undertaken by the US government and [the] nation’s leading nonprofits.   In 2009, we discussed the program in an article published by The Tennessean! Although the article no longer appears on The Tennessean’s website, you can read it here on our site where it has been since it was published.”

Hmmm, I wonder why that 2009 article is no longer available on The Tennessean’s Web site, especially in light of the extensive story the paper did questioning this non-profit’s integrity?

There’s a good lesson in all this: When it was caught off guard by accusations about its practices, Soles4Souls didn’t panic, nor did it roll over and play dead. It took the paper’s accusations head-on, set the record straight and raised questions of its own about The Tennessean’s ethics in the way it handled the matter.

The Internet and social media have opened up effective new ways of fighting back and telling the other side if your organization or client is misrepresented.

You owe it to your stakeholders to tell the truth, admit to mistakes on your part (if applicable) and correct reporting errors. Stakeholders can be valuable goodwill ambassadors to help you set the record straight IF they know the facts.

And never, ever be afraid to take on the news media if they get out of line. Accountability, after all, is a two-way street.

Don Beehler provides public relations consulting services to small- and medium-sized advertising agencies and businesses.

Ad Agencies: Avoid Confusing News Release Headlines

During my days as an editor for a healthcare magazine, I received some interesting mail.  Here’s a news release headline a well-meaning hospital PR executive sent me one day:

CDH TO HOST LAPAROSCOPIC HERNIORRAPY PRECEPTORSHIP

Huh? I’m guessing one in a half-million or so people would have a clue what that headline was about.  And ask yourself: how much interest does it generate?  The release itself was fairly well written, and once I read the first few sentences I realized the hospital was hosting a seminar about advancements in hernia operations.

Trouble is, most reporters wouldn’t get past the headline – the release would end up in the recycle bin before the first paragraph was read.  Why not just say in the headline, in simple terms, what the seminar is about?

Headlines are vital to attracting interest and getting people to read the release or article, similar to how the wording on a subject line can make the difference between you reading or deleting an e-mail.

If you are handling your ad agency’s PR, make sure your news release headlines are compelling and readable, or risk having the releases discarded before they even gets read.

Don Beehler provides public relations consulting services to small- and medium-sized advertising agencies and businesses.