I posted a query in the popular Help A Reporter newsletter, or HARO, as it's commonly called, looking for great examples of small business social media strategies. I figured a lot of people read that, and it might give me some good leads for story ideas.
I was right. And wrong.
As of writing this, I have received more than 60 -- 60! -- pitches from that single query. Some of them were good, many were terrible. Surprisingly terrible. So let me now take a moment to relay six easy ways to ruin your chances of getting free publicity (and this goes not just for HARO but really any pitch you send):
1. Be blatantly self-promotional.
I can't tell you how many pitches I received that were so bloviated, they would have made Alec Baldwin jealous. "I'm a social media expert as seen on <CABLE TV STATION>."
And that was it. That was supposed to be the story.
By now, everyone is some kind of social media "expert." So what's new about you?
2. Be mind-bogglingly confusing.
Many of the pitches I received were down right convoluted. Some of them had two or three different fonts, which told me that the author was copying and pasting from several sources and didn't particularly care about customizing the pitch to my needs.
Typos and run-on sentences abounded. And at the end, I still didn't get what exactly the "pitcher" was trying to sell me on.
If you don't take the trouble to proof your pitch, pore over every word, move words, sentences, possibly move paragraphs around before it reads in a cohesive manner, you're asking for trouble before you've even hit "send."
Given that you might have to reach out to media/bloggers with whom you don't have much of a relationship (if one at all), that first impression can make or break your pitch.
3. Be more vague than the Twilight Zone.
My query made it clear that I wanted examples of success, and how it was being measured. But many of the pitches I received included words to the effect, "so and so can discuss ______, let me know if you want to interview them."
If you want more than a hope in hell of being a possible source for an article, you have to reel the reporter in. This means actually giving them what they'll use in the article before it ever gets to the interview stage.
If you're too lazy -- or uninformed -- to give them the basis of what they need to determine whether or not to include you in the story... well, all I can say is, good luck.
4. Go MIA.
After I painstakingly read each and every pitch, I sent the promising ones to my editor. She and I went over them, and narrowed the list down further. I then started reaching out to folks we'd identified as possibilities.
Of those I responded to, you know how many got back to me?
Three. Just three.
If you have taken the trouble to reply to a media query, the least you can do if the reporter responds to you is to reciprocate. If you don't, you can kiss your publicity opportunity goodbye.
5. Be so disorganized, you're a candidate for "Clean Sweep."
There were quite a few pitches I received that were sent to me more than once. In one case, the publicist had clearly gone to the trouble to find as many email addresses as she could for me. In another, the business owner sent me the same pitch a couple times over.
And in a third, I received pitches for the same business... from a bunch of different people.
Folks! Decide who's doing the pitching. And let them do it. There's nothing more irritating than receiving a pitch for the same story/business from a slew of different people.
6. Write in ALL CAPS.
Do I need to explain this one?
A final word
Getting publicity these days is tough enough in an over-crowded marketplace. Don't make it any tougher than it has to be.
Image: leosaumurejr via Flickr, CC 2.0
Shonali Burke is Principal of Shonali Burke Consulting where she helps turn businesses' communication conundrums into community cool. She opines on PR and social media at Waxing UnLyrical and is considered one of 25 women that rock social media.