Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Never spin a spinner: 8 ways not to pitch me

I've worked as a journalist and as a communications director, and while I've been fortunate to work for some fine organizations where the job was less spin and more public information, I know my way around the spin cycle. That's in part because I'm a Washington, DC-based communications consultant and speaker coach: In this town, I've had a front-row seat and, occasionally, a backstage pass with which to observe spin at its best and its most outrageous.

But now that I don't spin for others, speak only for myself, and am doing more of my own writing and publishing, I'm getting pitched, and pitched hard. Problem is, many of those pitching me don't realize I have a hall-of-famer level of expertise on pitches and what they really mean, although you can find that info easily enough on my blogs. It reminds me of a saying I learned early in my days here in Washington: "Never spin a spinner, 'cause you might get hurt."  It's from the playbook of the it-takes-one-to-know-one school of communications.

Every reporter pal of mine can roll around the floor of her cubicle and laugh at me, now that I'm more often on the receiving end of pitches than the sending end, but it's for their sake that I want to out this behavior. It's 2013, communicators. Can't we find a better way? Here's my semi-annual list of pitch tactics I've seen directed at me, and why they won't work for me or for the reporters you are targeting:
  1. You're awash in euphemisms: "I just want to share my journey with you" from someone I don't know usually prompts me to think "No, you don't. You want coverage." Skip the sugar-coating, please.
  2. Your cut-and-paste is showing:  "Dear Janet," goes the email to me, Denise. "I just know that as a blogger on women's issues you will appreciate our new...."  You lost me at Janet, darling. If you're going to customize the email, send it to the right person. This pales in comparison to a reporter friend who received a customized 12-month calendar with his name misspelled every month, a nice variation on this soulless tactic. In its worst, most automated form, I've seen pitches sent to the art department of the magazine publisher I worked for addressed to "Art Dept.," with the salutation, "Dear Mr. Dept." Name us correctly, please.
  3. You didn't actually read what I write: One of my blogs, The Eloquent Woman, is about women and public speaking. Not women and shoes, bras, cars, cigarettes, heat-and-eat meals, baby products, hairstyling products, birth control, alcohol or cars--but I've been pitched stories about all of those things because the word "woman" is in the title of the blog. Two seconds on my blog would be enough to convince a sane person that those were inappropriately targeted pitches. You waste a little of my time, but a lot of the time for which your client is paying. 
  4. You think I work for you: Other pitchers have said "You are here to write about my topic." Actually, no, I'm not. I'm writing about this topic as a resource for my current clients, and to show prospective clients what I know. Sometimes that involves writing about other experts in the field, but rarely. See below about curating vs. kitchen sinks.
  5. You're leering at my readership: Some pitchers, noticing the large number of fans for The Eloquent Woman on Facebook and other sites, just drool all over their pitches. Get a hold of yourself, please. Praising me for the quantity of my readers tells me you have only one thing in mind, as Mother used to say. Recently, I asked readers what they'd like to see in my forthcoming book on women and public speaking and--I kid you not--one person wrote to say, in effect, "I would like to see me" in the book. At least that's not euphemistic.
  6. "You wrote about this but left out my book/app/product:" Yup. I did. Neither of my blogs is an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink catalog. The readers count on that. A close read would cure this one, and perhaps some work on the ego. Next time, don't go by what I have just written, but think about what I might do next.
  7. You copied my info from a list built for something else I covered: Book promoters, I'm looking at you: My coverage of one book from your list does not an open invitation make. With my specialized topics, the likelihood is high that I only wanted that one book. I'll email you if that changes. In the meantime, spam emails are against the U.S. federal law known as CAN-SPAM. Take a look at this article on whether PR should be CAN-SPAM compliant.
  8. You're just a little too polished and familiar: Remember, I've been behind the pitches myself and have extensive contacts in the public relations industry, so I've seen more than my share. These pitches are targeted well (check), personalized correctly (check), turn-on-a-dime timely (check). They're almost too smooth. My most recent favorite is one that began: "We don't know each other but you have made your way into our prospects database, and by today's social media standards, that practically qualifies you as a friend." Found my way into your database? Like I'm wandering in the forest and stumbled onto it? I think not, friend.
  9. You wrote the blog post for me: Having written many good ones, I don't mind getting a press release if I've signed up for your release list (the unsolicited stuff goes into a spam folder for automatic deletion, in case you are curious). Releases are designed to convey information and, at least in my world, they're there as a starting point, not an end product. But when the pitcher writes, as one did yesterday, to inquire whether I might cover a product and proffers a blog post, all in the same email, I wince. Aside from the fact that you're offering me, in most cases, a post that's generic enough to send to many blogs on my topic--and thus, too vague and in wide circulation for my purposes--you've skipped right over the simple inquiry and decided that this is your one shot to shove a lot over the e-transom. I sigh and delete.
I'm happy to say that PR Newser's list of no-nos for pitching bloggers aligns well with mine. The inquiries I'll always welcome? Reader requests, and tips from tipsters who clearly know the blogs. They're golden, rare and much to be desired, and I am fortunate to have plenty of these on hand. I'm a big proponent of the idea that communicators should tip more and pitch less to reach reporters, and that goes double for me. No spinners needed for those approaches.

I've got two smart workshops for communicators this fall, and you get good discounts if you register this month for Be an Expert on Working with Experts on October 8, or The Keys to Confident Public Speaking on October 17. Join us and register today!


Brent Kerrigan said...

"We don't know each other but you have made your way into our prospects database" -- Wow, that really warms the heart! Great stuff, required reading.

Cynthia Manley said...

Great list! And don't worry about the journalists laughing at you. I don't. I'm too busy chuckling at the ones who said I was selling out when I left news in 1993 who are now calling me for a job. Sad, I know, but a little bit satisfying. Hope you are well!