As I write a column on Inc, wrote for Forbes and have written elsewhere for the best part of 12 years, I have continued to be form-pitched. Form-pitching (also known as mail merging or "spamming") is when one sad public relations person sends out the same email to ten, or twenty, or a hundred or more reporters at once. I'd put a conservative estimate that 75% of PR agencies do this, and it's the laziest, most abominably inefficient and insulting way to do business. It's done by getting a database of names in Excel, connecting it to Word and using a term (%Firstname, for example) to put after "Hello" to feign addressing the person like you actually care.

To put it bluntly: They sell their 'expertise' at getting "media coverage"--and do so by writing one email and sending it to a bunch of people at once, then replying to said email in the hopes of getting coverage. To justify this problem more directly: These are agencies paid from $2,000 a month, per client anywhere up to $35,000 a month. Possibly more. And they still get business. It's a racket. I can open up my email now and search for four random medium-to-large agencies and guarantee I'll see one form pitch from the last 12 months.

This exercise is not just insulting to the client--it's insulting to reporters. In a conversation with Computerworld's Matt Weinberger, he framed the problem as more tolerable with larger companies that the media "needs"--on the level of a large cell phone or tech company (the former of which I have regular evidence of form-pitching in the most lazy, unpersonalized manner). However, for a startup that has proven to a reporter exactly nothing other than that they exist, sending a form pitch is the equivalent of saying "Hey, you're important, you're not important enough to send a real email." All-over, Weinberger finds the process disappointing rather than offensive--"Sending a good pitch is easy. Or at least it should be."

It's not just PR people who do it too: It's startup founders. Weinberger remarked that few can describe what they do in two sentences or less--and that this was a clue that they didn't understand their own companies well enough. If you can't describe what problem you're solving in two sentences, you're probably on the wrong track.

I will confess that in the first two years of my PR career, I form-pitched. They were bad pitches, too. I was bad at it. I learned through the fires of being told how stupid I sounded and personally working it out. I feel awful, and I publicly apologise for ever having done so. However, I learned how to turn sending the same bad pitch 100 times into sending out less than 100 personally-written ones in an entire week, and got 10 times the amount of coverage. Here's how.

1. Understand what a pitch is for.

If you're emailing a reporter about a company, your goal is either to get them to write about said company, use said company or talk to said company. This isn't the same as an elevator pitch. It's a statement that should say "This is the thing. This is why it matters. This is why it is good. Would you like to talk to them?" Note that this will be different for each reporter. An app reporter is not the same as a business reporter. You will have to give them different reasons your thing matters. Hence why your form pitch is so utterly stupid.

2. Build a good skeleton.

Form pitching is stupid. Learning how to nail a statement is not. If you can describe your client or company in a concise and interesting way, you should not re-invent the wheel every time. Yesware is a good way to store basic templates for each thing you're pitching. You can then edit said template once it's in your email and add/tweak things to make it fit the right person. There's no shame in doing this. It's disingenuous to say otherwise.

Published on: Nov 12, 2014
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