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Pitching versus Spamming: where flacks should draw the line … and journalists should buck up

Everywhere I have turned in recent weeks and months when it comes to PR publications, blogs, articles, etc., there’s talk of the growing problem of PR “flacks” who “spam” journalists with bad pitches. Entire blogs are devoted to it, webinars warn against it, and avid Twitterers tweet about how not to do it. There’s even been recent heated discussions about the role of PR management software in the spamming of journalists. Journalists have recently pondered being removed from PR software databases as a result of the number of bad pitches received via such software.

There’s an inherent problem, though, with the assumption that removal from PR software will stop bad pitches. We need to stop bad pitches. We don’t need to withhold the information that can help prevent it. When used appropriately, PR management software can provide several valuable services to PR practitioners that can actually help them to target better pitches to journalists willing to accept them.

I have two distinct thoughts about what brings so many journalists to the point of great frustration about the spam received from PR management software platforms, as well as about bad pitches in general.

1)      Secondary PR educators, as well as business/marketing educators and perhaps even English professors (in the context of business writing courses) need to enhance education around written and verbal PR pitching. As one of the primary sources of frustration for so many journalists who, on a daily basis are overworked, stressed about job security, and trying to turn out a quality product despite these obstacles, young professionals and those who educate them need to do a better job of being prepared to “hit the ground running” in terms of dealing with the journalists in today’s age of shrinking newsrooms and publications. Not doing so tarnishes the sterling images that those who do their homework and genuinely attempt to do the job justice.

 

2)      Journalists need to set aside prejudices and gross generalizations about public relations as an industry, and accept that once in a while we might have information pertinent to what they are writing.

I recently had the great misfortune of speaking live to one of those journalists that has been so “put out” by irrelevant pitches that he seems to rarely listen when he does get a pitch. I somehow managed to get this reporter live, asked if he had time for a quick pitch, and upon getting the go ahead, gave what I felt to be a concise pitch on behalf of a client. After acting like I was a complete idiot that doesn’t read the paper (which isn’t the case – I do read his publication fairly regularly – at least a few times a week), he turned the pitch down flat. A few days later (three, to be exact), his publication – in fact, a member of his editorial team – wrote a large feature article about the exact industry and topic I had pitched, featuring major, direct competitors of my client. Had it not been for the dreaded PR management software that so many journalists despise, I wouldn’t have record of my conversation (with an automatically noted date and time) to prove that I had indeed pitched the reporter – and been turned down flat. But the net result? The editor’s team missed key market facts and new product availability offered only by my client, and we missed good ink. A definite lose-lose situation for all involved – all because of poor pitching and spam related to some practitioners’ usage of PR management software.

So what’s the bottom line? I think each group involved needs to be a part of the actual PR process. Public relations can be defined as an organization and its publics mutually adapting to one another. I think that PR practitioners at every level and the journalists that they pitch to need to adapt to one another. Practitioners need to better understand the journalists they are pitching to, be careful to target pitches appropriately and be considerate of the journalist’s time. Journalists, on the other hand need to be open to the fact that not all pitches are bad, not all flacks neglect their homework, and not all PR management software is useless. It’s all in how you use it …

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More Stories By Karyn Price

Karyn joined the Bailiwick Company ten years ago, and spends the majority of her time managing media relations and corporate, employee and marketing communications for her telecommunications and technology clients. She currently leads the company's public relations practice. With an eye toward results, she works diligently to secure meaningful coverage for clients in relevant print and online publications, as well as in key financial and analyst reports. Her new-found passion for social media has ignited additional interest for the clients she serves. Prior to joining Bailiwick, Karyn was the communications manager for the Bucks County Conference & Visitors Bureau, where she publicized the beauty, art and culture that the region offers to leisure travelers. Under her direction, the county saw a 43 percent increase in travel leads. She has also spent time in advertising. Karyn holds an M.A. in Professional Communication from La Salle University and a B.A. in Communication from Elizabethtown College. Outside of the office she enjoys music, spending time with family and reading great novels. Please note that the views expressed on this site are mine and do not necessarily reflect the views of the clients I represent.

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