The Seven Deadly Sins of PR

Last Updated Aug 11, 2010 1:42 PM EDT

As a business journalist for more than twenty years, I've been on the receiving end of enough public relations pitches to crash a mail server. Most of them are abominable. That's too bad, because if you're a small company that's relying on PR to get the word out, you may very well be sabotaging yourself. How? I'm glad you asked. Journalists can be prickly, but we're also hungry for good stories and blog content (hint, hint). Insist that your PR firm, or your internal PR person, avoid these seven deadly sins of public relations and we can all be friends:
The spammy pitch. If I don't see my name in the body of the email, I'm probably going to hit the delete button right away. The pitch has clearly been sent to a gazillion other reporters, vastly increasing the chances that if I take the bait, I'll be scooped. Target your pitches to individuals, or don't bother.

Pitching off-topic. Say I put the word out on HARO (Help a Reporter Out, which we all love), or on Facebook or Twitter that I'm searching for small manufacturing companies in the southeast. Your public relations persons thinks "what the heck, I'll give it shot, even though my client runs a bakery in San Francisco." That's a waste of time for everyone. If you're tempted, just tell yourself this: God kills a kitten every time you pitch off-topic.

Extreme persistence. Re-sending the same email multiple times within a few days will get you categorized as junk mail poste haste. If we're interested, we'll get back to you. Promise. Some journalists don't mind follow-up phone calls (although I don't know any of them and I'm definitely not one of them), but please don't call an hour after you send a pitch. And don't ever call a newspaper journalist close to deadline time.

Lack of research. Most PR people target their pitches to the publication, not the writer, and that's a huge mistake. It's easy to find out what we all write about; just Google us. I'm focused on young entrepreneurs and social media these days, and I've written two books. If the first line of a pitch tells me that you know my work, I'm going to read every word to find out what you've got cooking. On the other hand, the pitch I just received to interview an attorney who is a Second Amendment advocate could not be more off base.

Poor writing. We're writers, for heaven's sake, and nothing sticks in our craw more than careless writing. If your writers are addicted to emoticons and exclamation points and don't know how to spell or use punctuation and favor run on sentences like this one, then please have someone edit them!

The endless pitch. A pitch that fills up my entire computer screen? No thanks. You need to tell me in two short paragraphs, max, why I should care about your story and, most importantly, what my readers will learn from it. And please include a link to your company's website. You'd be astounded by how many pitches fail to do this and, believe me, if I have to Google you, I'm very likely to get distracted along the way.

The one-off pitch. Believe it or not, most journalists crave good relationships with savvy PR people. I have a handful upon whom I absolutely rely. So if you've managed to get on our radar screens, keep yourself there by being helpful whenever possible. Follow us on Twitter, read our blogs, and respond to our queries, whether or not it will benefit you directly. But remember the kitten thing.

Image by Flickr user DoktorSpinn, CC 2.0