Public Relation professionals do the darndest things.
Some background first: I practiced journalism, worked in communications and did a stint in a PR agency before shifting full bore into marketing and communications. My journey (which includes this Blog) has also brought me back to journalism part-time (I do a bi-weekly column for the Montreal Gazette and Vancouver Sun along with a column, Media Hacker, for The Huffington Post). Because of those columns, I’ve found myself on the hit list for a whackload of PR professionals who pitch an array of endless and useless press releases (more on how I feel about that here: Attention PR People: Here’s How To Pitch A Writer).
There’s something very wrong happening here.
PR professionals are making a big mistake in assuming that every person who is published in a newspaper or magazine (print or online) is a professional journalist with a regular and consistent beat. It’s not easy to know if a writer has a specific beat or if they’re just riffing on something they find interesting unless you spend a handful of minutes actually looking through their work and trying to notice if there are any trends, rhymes or reasons. While all of this is basic stuff, it’s the kind of stuff that is still often forgotten in an attempt to "spray and pray" a media list in hopes of a few extra hits. The latest blunder is when a PR professional hits you up with a "story idea" that is an exact duplicate of a story that you just published.
I can’t tell you how often this happens.
I’ll have a story published about crowdfunding and the next day, there will be ten pitches on crowdfunding. I know the drill: PR professionals are using tools like Google Alerts (or something more sophisticated) to track the main keywords for their own clients, and the minute anything hits the radar, they spray that author, journalist or writer with some new opportunity. I’m sure there are a lot of PR professionals that are nodding their heads in agreement with this tactic, but it is severely flawed. Here’s why: if I just published an article on crowdfunding, do you really think an editor (or my audience) is going to want another article on that exact same topic only about your company now? More often than not, writers do not have beats. They write one piece about something new and interesting and then it’s done and on to something else. Those same PR professionals are probably reading this and saying, "fine, but because you did write about crowdfunding, should that topic come up again… now you know about my client." Maybe I am now aware of your client, but you’re actually harming their chances of getting into a future column on the exact same topic, because all I’m thinking as the writer is: "why would they pitch me a story about something that I just wrote about… it’s more than a little after the fact."
Yes, the PR world is extremely cut-throat. Yes, the PR world is full of challenges – especially when it comes to media relations and getting "ink," but wise up. These traditional blitzkrieg tactics are not only getting old, but they’re getting tired. Build relationships (the kind that take time and effort to build… the real kind). Yes, technology makes it easy to blast every writer with a pitch, but remember that technology makes it even easier to mark your company’s domain as spam and have everything you ever send (from anyone in your organization) to a permanent spam folder. That’s what I do. And, in talking to many of my writer friends, they all do the same thing. In the end, your clients who may be worthy of ink may be getting relegated to a spam folder for the prior sins of your colleagues and other clients. You may think that it’s the writer’s loss then, but it’s not. In a hyper-connected world, the real cream does rise to the top and we’re often informed by our peers and community who is interesting to cover.
This blunder seems like something so simple to fix. Instead of emailing the writer with a story pitch that is exact/similar to the one they just published, why not leverage the moment to send them a thank you note? Something like, "Hey Mitch, I work for PR Company XYZ and I saw your article yesterday on crowdfunding. We have a crowdfunding client to, so I wish I had known that this was an area of interest for you. In the future, would you mind if I connected to you when I have similar clients with a relevant story to tell?" It’s basic, it’s simple and who knows, you just might get a response. And, if you don’t? Simply read this and move on to your next possible opportunity. Ultimately, you don’t look smart pitching a story on a topic that was just published. You look desperate… and somewhat amateurish.
Or am I being too harsh?