The Bad Pitch Breakdown
Positive editorial coverage is invaluable, as it’s essentially an unpaid endorsement of your product by a print, television, radio, or online media outlet. One part of a public relations professional’s job is providing information about a client’s products to reporters who might be able to use it to create compelling stories. And it all starts with a pitch.
A pitch is a communication to a reporter (typically an email) that identifies the elements that make a product newsworthy, provides persuasive evidence of that newsworthiness, and offers to provide additional information or images that reporters might need to cover the product thoroughly and accurately. Many pitches also offer an interview with another company representative, like the CEO or head of product development.
Sometimes the best way to learn how to pitch successfully is to learn how not to pitch. Bad pitches can be fun to read when reporters and bloggers post them online for public consumption (as they’re doing more and more frequently!) but a bad pitch can damage a product’s reputation and the reputation of the PR professional behind it. Here are the biggest bad pitch qualities to avoid:
The poorly targeted pitch
Dear Highlights for Children staff writer: Would you be interested in writing about my client’s new tax return software?
A media outlet may be listed under the “Family” category in your database, but that doesn’t mean that you should blindly add that outlet to your planned contact list for the family-friendly product you’re promoting. The first step before writing and sending a pitch is to research the outlet. Know what the magazine/TV show/blog’s writers have covered in the past and anticipate their needs. Once you’ve determined whether your product or story is a good fit, the knowledge you’ve gained about the outlet’s history and demographics will help you tailor your pitch precisely, resulting in greater success. Pitches are never one size fits all.
The excited, adjective-ridden pitch
Dear Jennifer: We are thrilled to share with you this amazing news about the launch of our new industry-leading, groundbreaking product. This product is game-changing, and we think you and your readers will agree!
Hyperbolic adjectives without substance for support will bore your reporter. If your product is truly amazing and industry-leading, concrete details about its benefits and components will make that clear.
The too casual pitch
Hey, man—We’ve just released a new product, and OMG, it’s AWESOME.
Friendly and familiar can be fine, but this is still a professional communication, not a text to your BFF.
The way too intimate pitch
Hello Jack, I see you live at 1313 Mockingbird Lane. I saw your house on Google Street View, and I love the shade of blue you chose for the exterior! Speaking of houses, would you be interested in writing an article about my client’s new line of doorknockers?
Researching your contact before you pitch is a good idea. Internet-stalking your contact is not. While it’s a great idea to reference the writer’s previous articles, you might be going too far by revealing that you know the names of the writer’s family members, the play he starred in in high school and his recent purchases on Amazon.
The impersonal pitch
Dear Reporter/Blogger/Producer: Your blog/magazine/television show might be interested in learning more about my product.
Don’t mass pitch. Don’t send an email to 100 reporters at once, even if you use the bcc function to hide their email addresses. Send individual emails and address reporters by name. Give evidence that you know which outlet they work for. It’s worth the extra time.
The phonebook-length pitch
Don’t expect the reporter to read an essay. Two short paragraphs is fine. One paragraph is better. Boil your message down to its most engaging, important points. If the writer wants more information, he’ll ask for it.
The pompous pitch
Dear John: I’m pleased to present you with the chance to write about our exclusive new product. Consider this a gift to you and your readers. If you’re one of the first five reporters to email me back, I’ll give you access to the information you need.
A reporter does you a favor by providing editorial coverage of your product. Yes, you offer free content when you pitch, but the reporter knows that you benefit from the exchange as well. Don’t try to convince reporters that you’ve sacrificed something by “letting them” write about your product, or that they are part of an elite group you’ve selected to receive the “gift” of your information. They know better!
The entitled pitch
Dear Jill: I’m following up to see why you haven’t written about my new eco-friendly line of car air fresheners. I sent the press release to you a month ago, and I haven’t seen anything on your site yet. Can you give me an idea of when a post will appear? If I don’t see a post soon, I may have to remove you from our contact list.
It’s PR 101: There are no guarantees, even when your pitch is perfect. A reporter is not obligated to write about your product.
When a reporter does choose to write about your product, you will have limited control over what will eventually appear in print or on television. Do not ask to review copy. Do not complain if you’re unhappy with the results, unless you see serious, damaging inaccuracies. When the reporter is developing the story, it’s up to you to provide accurate, clear information that hits the main talking points. Trust reporters to know what they’re doing from there.
Never threaten to remove a reporter from your contact list if they don’t write what you want them to write. You should only remove a reporter from your list if they continually publish inaccurate or inflammatory content, if they no longer cover the topic that relates to your product, or if they ask you to remove them from your list.
The “too soon” pitch
Reporter David Weigel from Slate received this pitch in his inbox in June:
Along with any coverage you might be planning around the Anthony Weiner photos, I thought you might have interest in featuring this item….[Company name redacted] is a private photo sharing website that allows users to have control over their digital photos…Had Weiner used a site like [company name], it could have prevented the widespread viewing of his photos…Let me know if you have interest in more information. Thanks!
Don’t try to capitalize on current events if you aren’t sure that you can do it appropriately. While many people may believe that these kinds of pitches will make their product seem timely, the PR professional and the product may come out looking insensitive by using them.
The pitch that no one proofread
Hi Jimm, I thought you’re readers mite be interested in lerning about…
It happens all the time: a PR professional misspells his or her contact’s name, the outlet’s name, or the name of the company or product represented. While those mistakes are a worst case scenario, even a misspelled connecting word or a misplaced comma can undermine your message. Nothing can discredit a pitch (and the product behind it) faster than a poorly proofread email. If grammar, spelling and punctuation aren’t your strong suit, begin working to improve those skills. In the meantime, have a trusted colleague check your work.
Respect is at the core of a good pitch: respect for the writer’s intelligence, time and abilities. You won’t go wrong by being concise, honest, professional, personal, and by letting the product’s benefits speak for themselves.