Advertising Marketing PR, Site Blather

How I Handle PR Pitches, Or: You Don’t Need To Be a Jerk About It

Since I’ve started writing for Adweek and The Drum I’ve been getting a lot more pitches from PR people. Some have been better than others but I’ve tried to consider them all and quite a few have wound up being super-relevant, resulting in stories for either of those outlets.

I’ve worked in PR-related positions for almost 20 years now and so know what goes on behind-the-scenes. While it’s been several years since I was actively engaging in media pitching, I remember those stress-inducing tasks. You try to find someone you think will like the story, you craft the best sales pitch you can and provide as much information and perspective as you can and then sit back and pray. You *are* judged based on results. How many hits? How many impressions? What’s the circulation or monthly site traffic? How important is this outlet?

Much of the responsibility for the actual pitching often falls to junior staff, mostly because their hourly billing rate is lower and so are more cost-effective to assign these kinds of tasks to. The higher-ups who are more expensive are busy overseeing things and setting strategy. And those junior staff are usually overbooked on projects, with four or five active accounts at any given time, all of which require 20 or more hours a week. That’s why burnout is so high at agencies.

Now that I’m on the other side of the interaction, I try to view all these efforts to get my attention with the knowledge of what’s happening on the other side of the email.

Recently I received a pitch for a marketing effort tied to one of this summer’s biggest releases, one the studio has a lot riding on. But while this particular tactic was interesting, it was incongruous with the rest of the movie’s campaign, taking a whole different approach to a certain aspect of the character than the trailers and press efforts. It seems like it would make good fodder for either The Drum or Adweek, but I knew I was going to point out some inconsistencies. I had two options to choose from:

  1. Write the story as I see fit. Thank the PR person, take their information and then call out the problems I had with it as it relates to the rest of the movie’s campaign.
  2. Tell the PR person what I was thinking. I might still write the story, but tell them why I might not and, if I do, what my perspective is likely to be.

It should be stated that I rarely write “mean” posts about how brands “just don’t get it.” Not never, but I try to avoid it as much as I can. There’s no upside for anyone in my taking that approach, even if it is a favorite among many of the big names in content marketing and one that dates back to the advent of marketing blogging. No, I’d be as constructive as I can be, but still, the tone isn’t going to be what this person’s client is looking for.

I’d hope it’s obvious I chose #2. I wrote back to the person thanking them for the information and saying it was an interesting tactic, but that it was way out of place when viewed in the context of the rest of the campaign. So I’d likely be passing on it unless she could provide a bit more information that helped inform me and which specifically addressed the disconnect. Her response was helpful and offered more information, but my skepticism ultimately remained and I told her unless I could come up with a constructive angle on it I’d be passing on the story, though would note it in my upcoming column on the movie’s whole marketing push. Fair enough, she agreed.

There’s nothing in it for me to burn this person, who’s only doing her (often thankless) job. An overtly negative story that hit out of left field would only have done some amount of damage to her in the eyes of her boss and others, who would question her judgment in reaching out to me for this effort. And I’m not getting any sense of superiority out of wagging my finger in remote judgment.

Instead, I hope, my honest feedback will hopefully be put to good use. Maybe the client will see that and realize that yes, as much as the effort was meant to achieve X goals through Y tactics, it’s out-of-sync with everything else going on. Maybe that will inform future press outreach. Maybe it will be used to evaluate future programs. Maybe the PR person I talked to will advance in her career because she was able to gather this kind of insight. Who knows.

There’s little to no margin in just being a jerk. It might be good for traffic to constantly be pointing out how other people suck and how you would never do such a thing if the company in question worked with you. But where does that leave you? I’d rather make a friend through some honest dialogue than an enemy by burning them in public.

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