Colleagues have asked me if being a freelance writer and blogger in addition to my work in public relations (PR) ever poses a conflict of interest. My answer is always an emphatic “no” and in fact, being a freelance writer who is frequently on the receiving end of public relations pitches has actually made me better at my job as a publicist.
Because at the risk of sounding negative, receiving and reading pitches from other publicists has taught me what NOT to do when writing brand messaging, composing a pitch letter and distributing it to my network of media contacts.
Here are a few of the “seven deadly PR sins” that I’ve seen committed in the pitch letters that I, and my fellow writers, have received
“Will you run these recipes/this flyer/this article on your blog?”
Though the line between what constitutes advertorial vs. editorials is growing increasingly blurry among bloggers and brands, if a publicist is requesting that a blogger or writer post specific content from a brand to their blog or website, that sounds pretty much like an advertisement, to me. A better way to approach this would be for the publicist to develop some concrete story angles to present the information and offer to provide the recipes/images/additional information as backup as the journalist writes their own story about the topic.
“Did you get my email? Just following up for the third time!”
Listen, as publicists, it is part of our job to be assertive, sometimes even aggressive, to get our clients placed in the news. However, there is a fine line between being assertive on behalf of your client and being just plain annoying. If you’re a publicist who has sent three emails to a journalist and they are still unresponsive, it might be time to either pick up the phone to ask them what they actually are interested in, or change up your approach and see if they bite the next time.
“We don’t handle the advertising/marketing/promotions/social media.”
Bloggers are creative people. When bloggers pitch PR people ideas, it’s important that we not be quick to dismiss them because they don’t fit into the exact scope of what you are currently working on. As a publicist I love it when bloggers or reporters pitch “out of the box” ideas – you never know what might be a smashing success! As a blogger, I love when PR people are receptive to looking into the future and exploring interactive ways that we can work together to connect great talent, products or services with my readers.
“If we send you samples, can you guarantee that you’ll write a review?”
As a blogger, if a PR person says this to me then I know they don’t “get it.” Brands and PR companies allow journalists to experience products and services for review so they can write about them accurately and honestly. They are not a form of compensation – in fact, many well-established and respected publications don’t even allow journalists to keep the items they review or take press trips, that could be considered a form of bribery. Reviewing samples is research, not a reward and certainly not a form of compensation. I have heard some bloggers complain about receiving sample sizes instead of full size product, but the items are intended to serve a business purpose – not keep you in free shampoo for a year.
“Will you write about [my product] if I send you images and information?”
As with the example above, trying out a product or service is part of a journalist or blogger’s research process. You can’t accurately assess whether a certain item works well from an image (or from a PR person assuring you that it does). A creative PR team will help a client set up a system that allows this to happen, whether it’s staging an event for people to come and try or see something in person or providing samples for the journalist to try. It is important to give a writer all of the tools they need to write accurately.
The “Radio Silence.”
One of the worst things a PR person can do is go dark on a reporter or blogger who has expressed interest in working with you. Once, I responded to a PR pitch letting the publicist know that I wasn’t interested in the specific story they were pitching me, but instead presented another idea I had for how their brand could collaborate with my website. I didn’t hear back, followed-up after one week and still received no response. Even if a reporter isn’t interested in your specific pitch, they might be a great contact for future projects so never burn bridges. The
“Accidental Mass E-mail.”
This is one that I struggle to include, because even the best publicist will make ugly mistakes. However, in the enlightened email age in which we live, it is better to send individual, personalized emails to journalists. If you are going to send a mass e-mail to journalists or bloggers, invest in a program like Constant Contact or iContact so you can send professional pitches. Using the “BCC” function on an email is almost a guarantee that you’ll make a mistake and accidentally share hundreds of email addresses to your entire list.
Bloggers, what are some of the worst (or best) PR practices you’ve seen out there?
Thoughts on new and traditional media, current events, life in Chicago and the occasional small Chihuahua photo.