Don’t assume your client is an expert, don’t write long emails, and never call reporters.

There’s a strange continuity in bad advice that's been handed down from awkward PR blogs or books to bad bosses worldwide. These ideas are ticking time-bombs that can detonate a young person’s reputation by wasting client time or annoying a reporter.

1: Source Filing

A common PR "trick" is to find a vague peg for a client and "source file" them--pitch them as a source on a subject.

The Ideal Scenario: To position the expert to discuss an issue in the news, and make them seem intelligent and newsworthy and somehow position them and their business as "important."

The Real Scenario: Unless your client is a specialized professional--a doctor, lawyer, accountant, or a scientist--he or she is likely not much of an expert. For example, reporters regularly roll their eyes at pitches from "privacy professionals"; most aren't experts but CEOs of companies that deal in privacy. Owning and operating a client in an industry does not automatically make you an expert.

Another example is the social media expert--a "source" that feels that telling people how to tweet makes them an authority on how others are tweeting. Around the time that Anthony Weiner exposed himself to a Twitter follower, various, experts, appeared to offer identical advice: It was silly to show your privates on a public forum. Be careful with your tweets. These "experts" weren’t adding anything to the story. So remember: Reporters don’t want someone to say the same thing as other people. 

The Solution: The number one way to be useful as a source is to have either proprietary data (their own information, not research from other people) or know that they've been relevantly trained. For example, if your person did the social media management for the Obama campaign, they would be a useful source in the Weiner situation.

2: Unsolicited Phone Follow-ups

It's horrible advice to suggest that you follow up an email pitch with a phone-call to check a) whether they got it; and b) whether they're interested. Imagine if this happened with every email newsletter you received?

The Ideal Scenario: You call the reporter, the reporter says "Yes, I did! Thank you for calling!" And you tell them about your client. They love your client and write about it.

The Real Scenario: Most reporters despise the phone follow-up.

"If I didn’t answer your email pitch, it was because I wasn’t interested and don’t have the time to answer a phone call to say the same," said Andrea Smith, former Lifestyle Editor at Mashable and a former technology producer for ABC News. "Nothing is more annoying than three voicemails following up on an email pitch."

The Solution: Don’t follow up with a call unless the person asks you to. Follow up with an email at least three days later and keep it short. If it’s not meant to be, forcing the issue won’t help.

3: Putting Everything in A Pitch 

Press releases are gargantuan by pitch standards, weighing in at least 400 words, and usually spilling over to 1,000 words of marketing-focused disinformation.

The Ideal Scenario: Your pitch will snag the reporter, and the reporter will read the press release and regurgitate it onto their website.

The Real Scenario: The reporter sees a huge wall of text and deletes your email.

The Solution: Wharton professor Dr. Adam Grant blogged about the ways to get him to email you back and nails the issue: "A large number of emails were mini-novels, spanning multiple single-spaced pages. The longer the message, the longer it took me to read and respond, and the more overloaded my inbox, the less patient I was in reading them."

This is true for all reporters. While it might seem that giving all the information up front is honest and forthright, it’s frankly inconsiderate.

In the case of the pitch and any communiqué with a reporter, skip straight to the good stuff. Imagine you’re at their desk reading your stupid email, and think deeply about what would make them want to do something for you. 

Published on: Nov 14, 2013
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