Monday, November 3, 2008

Pitch Now, Pitch Well and Think of the Big Picture

A challenge we PR professionals face regularly is how to pitch feature stories creatively and appropriately during those times when the news cycle seems to be unswervingly locked on one vital point – or two, as we are seeing right now; the economy, and the election.

There is no denying that the election and the economy are of vital importance. In our bullpen, we keep the television fixed on CNN, and swivel our collective necks around faster than Linda Blair did in "The Exorcist" when news breaks. Pitching in the face of the pending presidential election and stock market slippage has undoubtedly stalled some PR professionals, though we all know the current fixation on these topics will undoubtedly wane. And while it simply isn't feasible to wait until these news cycles start to fade to begin pitching, great care must be taken to ensure that attaching one's client to a news story of enormous impact won't result in a barrage of protest resulting in our worst nightmares: negative publicity, damaged media relations, and unhappy clients.

This PRblog entry on making rookie mistakes while pitching during Hurricane Andrew is a excellent cautionary tale. Kevin Dugan, PR professional, in a valiant attempt to serve his client, Iams, contacted the media to see if they were interested in covering Iams' generous donation of food to pets made homeless by Hurricane Andrew. The problem being, writes Dugan, "During disasters, media in the affected areas are busy getting basic relief news to folks while they themselves rebuild like everyone else. You can imagine how I felt after several media understandably read me the riot act and told me they didn't have time for a company to toot its horn, they were busy helping people." Ouch. Lesson learned. Or was it?

The much-respected Bad Pitch blog brought to its countless readers this train wreck of a pitch: a gun accessories manufacturer attempting to bring publicity to his product via the Jennifer Hudson tragedy.

Later in the Chicago Tribune (where the release originally saw the light of day), the PR exec responsible for the above pitch admitted he may have been aiming for a splashy response, and that with such a "controversial" product as a gun rack (his words, not this blogger's), readers needed to be "hit between the eyes." Not the most delicate comparison.

Now we can see that for some in our industry, bad pitching, or at least marrying a pitch to a current news event with no regard for taste, is a common technique. Although it may be tempting for some PR professionals, it's important to think about the way your pitch will be viewed by the media contact receiving it. If it doesn't pass that test, it is probably better left unpitched.


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