As we've discussed in past blog posts, it's not easy to pitch journalists. They receive hundreds -- if not thousands -- of pitches every day, which makes it easy to understand why they have to ignore most. So while it's inevitable that your pitches will end up in journalists' trash bins every now and again, there are still some ways to increase the odds that your pitch captures journalists' attentions -- and even warrants a response! One of these ways is to stop making sloppy pitching mistakes, which can be detrimental to the success of your pitch. To help you, we've gathered 5 awful examples of real-life pitches to demonstrate what NOT to do in your media pitches. We're sure these pitches went straight to the trash; learn from their mistakes so you can avoid the trash bin yourself. (Note: We've changed the information within brackets to preserve privacy.)
Example 1: It's Vocus' Fault!
This pitch was just your regular, run-of-the-mill email. At the bottom, it read:
This press release was sent through the Vocus PR platform. Should you no longer wish to receive these communications, please unsubscribe through the link in the footer. If you do not want to be listed on the database, please contact Vocus directly to request for your details to be removed: [PHONE NUMBER]
Sure, many public relations professionals use databases like Vocus or Cision to get in touch with media professionals. It is also a great resource to gather more information about a journalist and help you build a relationship. But it is also interpreted by many to be a way to spam a lot of journalists in a short period of time. When using software to gather a list of names and email addresses, put some additional thought and research into it. Gather more personalized information about the journalist. What has he or she written about in the past? It's fine to use information you source from your software, but it's still important to make it a personal pitch.
Example 2: Acting Casual
i work with [XYZ] university school of hospitality in miami, a leading business school in the country specializing in the hospitality and tourism industry (with graduates living & working all over the world as business owners - everything from hotels, resorts, restaurants, catering operations, to special events logistics companies to department heads in major hospitality corporations- marriott, hilton, W- as front and concierge desks, human resources, accounting, housekeeping, beverage & revenue management departments, etc.)
and was hoping we could work together on a story about what happens after graduation-
as you know, high schools & colleges are graduating a lot of students come this april and may, and i would love to work with you on a story that would answer one of these 2 questions:
a). does an internship lead to a job? is it worth working for free? b). what's next- how to look for a job.
as you know, i work with [XYZ] School of Hospitality in Miami, a leading hospitality school in the country,
a) and i can introduce you to students who are interning, and students who have gotten jobs as a result from their internship,
as well as employers who work with interns as well as with employers who have hired their interns.
and one more option: an interview with someone who got a job with another employer as a result of a recommendation from the employer they interned for.
b). and if you wanted to work on the 2nd idea, i can connect you with graduating seniors and academic advisor at school about tips she would have to land a job in this economy.
Even if you have known a journalist for years, you should never be this casual in a pitch email. Pitches need to be professional and demonstrate your value as a resource. There should be no grammar, punctuation, or capitalization errors -- especially not an entire, long-winded, rambling email full of them. Yes, bulleted or numbered lists to get your points across is a best practice, but it should be a concise, organized list. You may know everything about your company or cause, but the journalist does not. Make your pitch clear, succinct, and organized.
Example 3: Mail Merge
Hi FIRST NAME, I represent a major potato crisp brand that will launch an exciting new contest on Monday with a popular late night TV host. Readers of [your company] can win big including a chance to showcase their comedic talents and a trip to NYC. Our brand is as serious about blogger relations as we are about taste, so before sending you any details you could live without, our policy is to first ask for your opt-in. If youd like more information, just let me know and Ill shoot it your way Monday morning. Please let me know if you would like to hear more. Thanks!
Of course, the FIRST NAME error is obviously bad. But that's not necessarily the main offense in this pitch. The problem here is lack of originality. The pitch is vague, and it doesn't even include a compelling call-to-action. There is no reason why the reader of this email should opt-in to the offer, given he/she has no idea what it's about. Even if you don't want to reveal the full campaign, you need to give the journalist a reason to ask for more.
Example 4: Kind of a Stretch
Sinus Problems, Cancer Stand in the Way of Healthy Valentine Lips Nation's ENTs Urge Patients to Keep Lips Kissable
Alexandria, VA- What's a Valentine's Day without the kiss, and what's a kiss without your lips? This year, the nation's ear, nose, and throat doctors offer a reminder that healthy lips are the key to a memorable Valentine's Day experience; unhealthy ones can indicate serious health conditions.
"Healthy lips are certainly important on Valentine's Day," said [Bob Smith], MD, member of the American Academy of [XYZ]. "Dry, cracked lips, which aren't good for kissing, can be the result of sinus problems and nasal blockage from septal deviations and other causes. Those sinus problems can also result in snoring, which will take the romance right out of that Valentine's night."
Cracked lips can occur when a person with a blocked or stuffed nose is forced to breathe through his or her mouth. The flow of air decreases the moisture in the skin, and causes the lips to crack and peel. As a side effect of nasal congestion, stuffiness, or obstruction of nasal breathing, cracked lips add to the real discomfort of nasal congestion. The discomfort is one of the most common complaints seen by otolaryngologists.
"Cracked lips are just the tip of the iceberg when we discuss lip health," Dr. [Smith] warned. "Perhaps most concerning is lip cancer, which can severely impact one's quality of life, and in some cases, lead to death."
Lip cancer usually appears as squamous cell cancer and/or malignant melanoma. Most squamous cell cancers occur on the lower lip, and can be caused by tobacco usage, UV exposure, or alcohol use. They may look like the more common, and less dangerous, basal cell cancers, and if caught early and properly treated, usually are not much more dangerous. If there is a sore on the lip or lower face that does not heal, consult a physician. Malignant melanoma classically produces dense blue-black or black discolorations of the skin. However, any mole that changes size, color, or begins to bleed may be trouble. A blackish spot on the lips, face, or neck, particularly if it changes size or shape, should be seen as soon as possible by a dermatologist, otolaryngologist/ear, nose, and throat surgeon, or at least by a primary care physician.
"Before you wind up with lip cancer, it might be a nice Valentine's present to your loved one to give up those cigarettes, cigars, and smokeless tobacco," [Smith] added. At the very least, make sure to protect your lips from sun exposure with a UV-rated sunblock, just as you do the rest of your skin, he said.
It's great when you can leverage the timeliness of a current event or holiday in your pitch, but it's not great when that connection is unnatural and forced. Using Valentine's Day as a way to talk about lip cancer will just make journalists feel uncomfortable, and it might even be offensive to some. Instead of talking about Valentine's Day, research a few fundraisers for cancer that your business may be able to participate in. Sponsor a support group for cancer patients and their families. The key is figuring out other ways to connect your business to the cause. To top it off, this pitch is obviously just a press release, and it's extremely long. Most journalists would've quit reading after the first sentence. Don't just repurpose a press release as a pitch. Entice journalists with the interesting nuggets that get them asking for more information.
Example 5: Press Releases
Please consider the press release below for publication in an upcoming issue, either on-line or in print.
Please let me know if you have any questions. Thanks in advance for your consideration.
We started hinting at this in our last example, but let's elaborate. In the past, a lot of journalists depended on press releases. What many people don't realize is that, unless you accompany it with a compelling pitch, your press release will be ignored. Instead of sending something like the above, tell them some of the exciting news that your press release contains. Outline some of the main points into a list. Consider including information that the press release does not contain to show why it's awesome. But do not rely solely on the press release.