Lessons learned from 40 years in PR (and the surfeit of painful pitches I now get because my blog has made it onto someone’s media list.

I learned on my first job with a PR agency owned by two ex-newspaper folks: as a PR person, your job is to turn what isn’t hard news into something that would be valuable and interesting to the readers of the publication and particularly the editor you’re pitching.

Eleven PR Rules

  1. Read what they write, pitch to their demonstrated interests, and make the pitch personal.
  2. Don’t pretend you know the person if you don’t.
  3. Invest the time, energy, and money to get to know them in person so you establish credibility with no quid pro quo implied or stated.
  4. Be professional…no “hey there,” or “Hi!” (“My name’s BRITney!!!!).
  5. Don’t use exclamation points unnecessarily. As Tish, the editor at Beverage Media once told me, “God gave you three: One for your birth announcement, one for your obit, and one to use during your life. Use them wisely.”
  6. Cut to the chase…open with an insight that speaks to their interest or something they just wrote, then pitch your idea’s value relative to that. “I just read the piece you did about e-commerce and was intrigued by your ideas. Here’s a different perspective on the subject you might find interesting.”
  7. Follow up with a reason why their particular readers would find the story of interest.
  8. Don’t ask them to do anything (“let me know if you want some more information, photos, etc.”). That’s your job.
  9. Don’t follow up with an email asking, “Just checking to see if you got my pitch email.” If you must follow up, I’d rather get a phone call than an email…these days it’s more personal.
  10. Find a creative way to get the answer to the question you’re really asking: “are you going to write anything about the subject I sent you.”
  11. Lastly, recognize that journalism as practiced in the prior millennium is a dying craft. Those still employed are getting paid a pittance, and they’re clinging to a belief that what they do matters to the paying subscribers of their rapidly expiring publications. PR folks need to acknowledge and respect that.

And Beyond The Eleven PR Rules

So much for the lecture and the eleven PR rules. For the “and more,” let’s turn to the fun stuff.

Some egregious examples of real pitches I’ve gotten:

1. Sounds like a plot line for a porno film (but at least they said “Please”).

Subject: Please Cover: New Tech Product—Jumpstart Emergency Phone Charger Can Be Hung, Like a Charm, From Cell Phones.

Hi Steven,
Please let me know if you are able to cover or feature the following. Digipower is officially announcing today two of their coolest products to hit the tech accessories market called the “Jumpstart” and the “Jumpstart Sport.”

2. We’ve already decided what you are; now we’re just quibbling over the price.

Subject: Advertising and PR

Hi, I’m contacting you regarding your site at http://XXX.blogspot.com/YYYY is a digital PR and marketing agency currently representing several clients that would be very interested in gaining some exposure on your site.
I’m writing to ask,
a) If you accept press releases and what you [sic] policy is regarding these
b) If you accept paid editorial and the costs and terms associated with this
c) Your advertising rates

3. Anything else I can do for a perfect stranger?

Subject: Blog Question

Hi there, I am looking to get some information about your blog. I work for a PR agency in Chicago and am building a media list for one of our liquor clients. I am wondering if you might be able to tell me the number of hits your blog receives each month?
NB: I’m sort of anal about useful analytics. Some wag once told me “Hits” stands for How Idiots Track Success.

4. Should I be flattered or insulted, you want me to republish your content?

Subject: An article on Label Profile: Canadian Club by AskMen.com

Hi, My name is [name withheld to protect the clueless] from AskMen.com—a unit of FOX Interactive Media. As the world’s largest men’s web portal, AskMen.com attracts more than 7 million readers each month.
I wanted to take this opportunity to let you know that AskMen.com recently published an article entitled “Label Profile: Canadian Club” that I think would be of particular interest to your readers [good windup, so now, the pitch].
The article takes a look at everyone’s favorite whiskey label; well at least it’s my favorite label. Canadian Club whiskey has been around since the 1800’s, believe it or not, and they are not showing any signs of slowing down. I’m sure you know everything there is to know about liquor, but check it out anyways [Swing and a miss].

5. Aren’t You Going to Buy Me Dinner First?

This one’s my favorite; again, hiding the name to protect the clueless, but what was particularly aggravating is this came from a competitive beverage alcohol industry PR agency with which some of our clients currently work. Makes me wonder who’s minding the store.

Hello. Would you mind telling me how many unique pageviews you get per month?

Unique pageviews? That’s sort of like a question I got some years ago about this “Interweb” thing…they got the concept, but are a little sketchy on the specifics.

6. From the “Totally out of the blue department.”

Hello. I’m the webmaster of http://www.uti.biz [example]. I wanted to know if by any chance you would be interested in doing an unbiased review of our site http://www.uti.biz on your blog?

Turns out the site sells a cure for urinary incontinence. Now that’s relevant content.