Pet peeves about press releases – #1

A few weeks ago, I wrote about my list of “Top 10 Terrible Ways to Pitch a Story.” The post (“Want to Impress an Editor? What Not To Do…”) was directed at freelance writers, a great many of whom apparently missed seeing it because they continue to send emails violating absolutely every one of my rules, especially number eight.

Today I’m launching a rant about press releases. The next few posts will be directed at public relations professionals and people who do their own PR because they can’f afford to hire the real deal. Whether you’re a PR pro, a publicity-seeking business owner or a parent seeking media attention for an event at your child’s school, there are effective (and not-so-effective) ways to make your pitch.

If you were sitting in a room with me right now, I would position myself at eye level and tell you to “listen to my words,” which is how I always used to make sure my sons were paying attention to me when they were small.

“I will always love you,” I would say. “You are often my eyes and ears in a very large ocean of ideas. The best of you teach me, engage my curiosity, inspire me to find creative applications for your information and generally make my life easier.”

“However,” I would add, “I don’t always like you. Sometimes you waste my time and clutter my inbox and make me crazy.”

Now, repeat after me:

I will not blanket my entire media list with press releases just because I have the snazzy technology to do so.

Nothing is more disheartening to an already correspondence-overloaded editor than seeing emailed press releases that have absolutely nothing to do with your publication or its intended audience.

I run a parenting magazine. I don’t care about luncheon specials in Maui or “industry statements” on retiring politicians or the latest on some celebrity’s quest to lose weight. Your information is getting deleted as quickly as it comes in. It is wasting precious minutes of my life and is likely getting the “mark as junk mail” treatment, which means if you ever do take the time to pitch an idea with a good fit for us it’s quite likely I will never see your email.

Even if your idea is a good fit for our publication, you can bet I’m going to give it less attention if you have included me on a broadcast list. Why do I want to undertake a story that you have offered up to every other media outlet in town?  I understand the necessity of this approach for hard news. It is essential, and only fair, that every newspaper, radio/TV station and news-oriented website or blog get equal timing and access to information from hospitals, police/fire departments and any other organization involved in breaking news events. And it’s also fine when all you’re seeking is a calendar listing to send it to everyone you can think of.

But when you’re pitching a special feature story, asking that we interview an interesting person you represent or researching a trend about which your client has relevant information, my first question will be, “Who else have you sent this to?” Because any journalist worth their salt wants to get a good story first. So think long and hard about the best place for your client’s information to appear. Start there.

Study the stories these outlets do publish and figure out how your client’s story fits the mix. For a magazine like mine, suggest a particular department (which shows me you’ve done your homework). I’m much more receptive to someone who pitches a story about a new business, for example, if they mention what a great fit it might be for the RAK Mompreneur features we run on our website each Monday.

Tomorrow: Choose your words carefully.

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