For reasons I can't fathom, entrepreneurs, executives and authors continue to hire publicists in the hopes of getting some positive media coverage. However, hiring a publicist is a waste of money because most of them have no idea how to pitch a story.

In the past 24 hours, I've received email pitches from at least three publicists, all of whom were presumably paid to write and send them. The pitches were almost identical, consisting of 1) their client's marketing message and 2) a statement that their client is available for an interview. Here are a couple of example of this type of pitch:

  • "XYZ LTD is helping companies manage their business relationships. Would you like me to set up an interview with Jane Doe, VP of Sales, to discuss how companies can better manage their business relationships?"
  • "We're excited to announce that Jane Doe, author of Leadership Enablement: 10 Ways To Do Business Better is available to be interviewed. She can address how the enablement trend is changing the way companies are doing business."

Those pitches don't pique my interest (or probably of any other business reporter) because:

  1. Marketing messages are almost always biz-blabby cliches that are exceedingly boring to everyone except (maybe) the people who write them. (And I have my doubts even then.)
  2. The "available to interview" clients are C-listers who aren't newsworthy. For example, I recently got a story pitch for a "workplace guru" whose main claim to being newsworthy was that he "worked for Staples for 20 years." (Yawn.)

When publicists send reporters these pitches, they're asking the reporter to take the marketing message--and whatever musings the client might provide in an interview--and turn it into a story that somebody might want to read.

What publicists don't seem to understand is that, to be interesting, a story must have a plot, a time, a place, an event, some people, some drama. While business stories aren't as elaborate as movie scripts... but must still have those elements.

Marketing Messages (dull):

  • "Jane Doe's new book shares how companies can manage business relationships."
  • "Businesses today want to manage their business relationships more effectively."

Potential Stories (maybe interesting):

  • "When XYZ LTD was outed for backing an unpopular cause, they took three unusual steps to limit the damage."
  • "Social media can be deadly to business relationships. For example, a big client of XYZ almost canceled a million dollar contract because one of their interns tweeted..."

Can you see the difference?

Publicists also don't seem to realize that unless a reporter is writing an investigatory article (think Ronan Farrow), it's not an efficient use of the reporter's time to sit on the phone and listen to some executive bloviate. Especially if they've been trained to stay "on message."

When a publicist asks me to interview a client, they are essentially asking me to spend my valuable time figuring out if there's a story somewhere and then crafting it out of marketing messages and a phone meeting, a process for which I have neither time nor inclination.

The root problem here is that most publicists aren't professional writers and have never worked for a publication. As such, they lack the experience to know what's likely to pique a reporter's interest.

Therefore, while you may very much want to get some positive press coverage to promote yourself or your business, hiring a publicist isn't going to make that happen. As such, hiring publicists are only a way to waste marketing dollars.

Entirely by coincidence, as I was writing this column, I received a story pitch that started a follows:

"Have you heard about the concept of single-tasking? Your listeners/readers are going to be obsessed when they learn what best-selling..."

Rather than just ignoring the pitch, I decided to respond: "Your entire pitch depends on my potential interest in a new buzzword. What's the STORY here? It's got to be something more than buzzword plus bio."

The publicist replied as follows:

There are many angles here, but the story that will likely be most interesting to you is related to productivity and how to leverage technology to lead a more efficient and happier life."

At the risk of sounding snarky, isn't "leverage technology to lead a more efficient and happier life" the marketing message for every consumer electronics product for the past 40 years? The publicist then explained that her client

"...would be a great voice to help you tell this story. She's a wellbeing expert with many useful insights and can talk about how she strikes a balance as a mom, wife, business owner."

Again, I don't mean to be critical, but "wellbeing experts" are dime-a-dozen as are women who've achieved some degree of work/life balance. Why would I want to feature this particular expert, especially since her advice is highly unlikely to be original.

Please don't think that I'm coming down on this publicist in particular. It's just that her pitch epitomizes the problem. She clearly has no idea what constitutes a story or why I'd want to quote her client.

Now that I've told you what doesn't work, I'll tell you what does. This:

  1. Create a story with character, plot, setting, movement, and drama. For example, the well-being expert might go with something like "social media was ruining our family time and killing my personal productivity. But making this one tweak turned everything around."
  2. Explain why you are a newsworthy, appropriate expert. For example, "in my TED talk, which has over a million pageviews..." or " my new book which [incredibly famous person] says is the best she's ever read..."

If that sounds too hard, then you may need to face the fact that you, your project and your company simply aren't newsworthy, in which case trying to get free publicity from media coverage is a lost cause from the get-go.

Published on: Sep 26, 2018
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