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The Do’s and Don’ts of Not Annoying Journalists with Your PR Pitches

By November 29, 2021 November 30th, 2021 No Comments

Crafting PR pitches is an art form, but many PR pros miss the mark. According to data from Propel, just 8% of pitches to journalists result in media coverage.

You may be thinking to yourself, “How does so much work equate to so few results?” The answer— annoyed journalists.

Every day, journalists across the globe take to Twitter to vent their frustrations with the PR industry, commiserating on what they view as one of the worst aspects of their jobs. Despite these annoyances, PR and journalism are inextricably linked, and PR pros certainly serve a necessary function as journalists chase stories on a deadline.

So, how should PR pros make sure their pitches don’t end up in someone’s trash folder? We’ve assembled some gripes (and praise!) from journalists for the PR industry to keep in mind as you try and land a coveted spot in the next news cycle.

Pitching: Do's

1. DO utilize the subject line of your pitch email

“Top tip: The most successful PR pitches are those with a catchy suggested headline in the subject line. Just received the most intriguing one and opened it straight away. Great angle, case study available, good detail but not too overwhelming. Going to pitch to editor today.” @JournalistJill

Even the best PR pitch is useless if a journalist never opens the email to begin with. As freelance journalist Jill Foster noted, a catchy subject line that makes a journalist want to learn more is the best way to generate interest in what you have to say. Instead of trying to use a vague or generic subject line, be sure to include the name of your client/product upfront and find a way to tie in the specific angle you’re pitching.

2. DO incorporate humor when appropriate

“‘It’s that pesky Friday afternoon PR guy…’ I appreciate some humor in a PR pitch” @ReporterClaudia

When used at the right time and place, humor can be a great way to build camaraderie with journalists and help your pitch stand out. Making a light joke can also help acknowledge the elephant in the room: yes, having an inbox flooded with pitches is annoying, BUT some of them are diamonds in the rough!

3. DO personalize your pitch with references to the journalist’s work

“Advice to PR Peeps who pitch me: Reference a recent article of mine, or where you found my work. TYSM.” @Onecurioustrvlr

No one wants to receive a message they know was sent verbatim to dozens of people. Instead, starting your email off with a brief personalization lets journalists know that you did your research and put thought behind your pitch. In addition to referencing a recent article, you can also reference a recent Twitter or Instagram post from the journalist.

4. DO keep your pitches brief and focused

“Something’s wrong when your pitch email is essentially the length (and content) of the story you’re trying to get the reporter to write….” @Imkialikethecar

When pitching, it’s important to remember that you’re not writing the article for the journalist. Instead you’re setting up the article by providing framing and critical background information. What problem can your client/product solve? Why does that matter to the journalist’s target audience? What data or testimonials do you have to back that up? Keep your pitches concise enough to be read relatively quickly— journalists are busy!

5. DO be sure you’re pitching journalists who cover relevant topics

“Curious how this PR person connected this pitch to Politico!” @Katherineefoley

Politico journalist Katherine Ellen Foley receiving a pitch for an article on ghosts is funny, but an example of a much larger problem. One of the biggest complaints journalists have is that they constantly receive pitches that have nothing to do with their beat. Before you hit send on that email, be sure you’re pitching a relevant media outlet and the right journalist.

6. DO make sure you’re pitching at the right time of year

“I’m getting so many #Thanksgiving #PR pitches this week but all my stories related to the holiday were due a few weeks ago. We’re already onto late December-early 2022 (or later) for digital stories, spring ‘22 or later for print.” @Kelseyogletree

If your pitch is centered around a specific holiday or time of year, it’s important to understand that most journalists who cover relevant topics work way ahead of the calendar year. While we’re still celebrating the end of summer, some journalists are already assembling Christmas gift lists! Be sure you get your pitches out months in advance of the holiday or specific time of year you’re connecting your client or product to in order to avoid being too late to the draw.

Pitching: Don'ts

1. DON’T forget to personalize pitch templates

“Always nice to have that little personal touch on PR pitches” @Rileysnyder

Utilizing a template for pitches is acceptable, but every template should be customized for individual journalists. If a journalist receives an email that starts with, “Dear [INSERT NAME],” your pitch will likely never see the light of day. Always check your email thoroughly before hitting send.

2. DON’T pitch journalists at their personal emails

“Fellow writers, do you have an effective way to ask PR agents to stop sending pitches to your personal email? Blocking them used to be efficient but they keep piling up & making my personal account a hellscape” @Melisssaleee

Having your work email flooded with pitches is frustrating enough, but journalists hate even more getting pitched at their personal emails. Would you want to receive an email from a client at your personal email? If you can’t find a journalist’s work email, try asking them for it on Twitter or join a service like Muckrack or Cision that catalogues contact info for journalists.

3. DON’T send the same pitch to a journalist across multiple channels

“Pro-tip for the kind and gentle PR people who are just doing their jobs by emailing me stuff: if you send a pitch a couple times and i don’t reply you should definitely NOT slide up in my DMs with the same pitch goodness gracious please no what on earth.” @Austinlouisray

If your pitch doesn’t land after a couple of emails, don’t take to other communication channels to try pitching the same thing. Following up with a pitch on social media will only make the journalist feel, at best, annoyed and, at worst, harassed. Instead, assume the journalist is not interested and reflect on how you can improve upon your pitching so that they are interested next time.

4. DON’T mass pitch journalists

“Man, just got a PR pitch from someone who put the email addresses of 36+ journalists in the ‘To’ field. Getting ready for bloodshed.” @Dylanljmartin

Sending the same email to numerous journalists is acceptable if you’re distributing a press release or media advisory, but even then, emails should be included in the BCC line, not the CC line. Every pitch you send should be customized, meaning it inherently can’t be sent to multiple people at the same time.

5. DON’T rely on overutilized industry jargon

“Imagining a beautiful time where every PR pitch email is free of the terms ‘thinkpiece’ and ‘thought leader’ and ‘industry disruptor’” @Gracie_je

There are certain words that are so overutilized in PR-speak that they have become essentially meaningless. Is your client really an “industry disruptor?” Unless they’re the next Elon Musk, they’re likely not. But, that doesn’t mean they don’t have great ideas or expertise worthy of news coverage. Avoid using eye-roll-worthy terms and phrases in your pitches to help your client/product stand out in a sea of “thought leaders.”

6. DON’T create inauthentic connections between your client/product and current events

“Some PR pitches really are like ‘have you been watching squid game? Well cybersecurity companies are battling it out in a deathlier competition: the phish game’” @Rosaliechan17

While the advice to tie in your pitch to current events and trending topics is solid, this only works if there’s an authentic connection. Journalists can see right through contrived pitches, so think twice before you try to pitch a connection between your client’s new pharmaceutical drug and the latest season of The Bachelor.

Still looking for additional guidance?

Cerrell’s expert public relations team can work with you to land targeted media placements, craft compelling narratives, and ultimately achieve your communications goals. Contact us today.

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