5 PR Pitches: The Good and Bad

I wear two hats. I consult for companies on usability, market intelligence and launch planning. I also blog about new web applications and internet industry news over at Read/WriteWeb. I don’t write about my consulting clients, but after several years of experience working on both sides of the promotion game – I think I’ve got some pretty good advice. At least on what not to do!

I want to post here about some pitches I’ve gotten from PR people and I don’t need to look back further than 24 hours to find most of them that I want to use as examples. I look at probably 30 pitches a day, sometimes more.

I want to emphasize that some of my favorite people in this industry are PR people. I won’t say who they are here, but trust me – it’s true. Preamble taken care of, check out these pitches I got today and my thoughts on them. After a whole lot of complaining, I’ve framed things in the positive at the end of this post. These examples are just symbolic, a chance to discuss the issues.

Finally, the following lines of emotional abuse do NOT reflect the opinions of my employer. Richard just wants people to send tips to the tips@readwriteweb.com email – that’s his primary concern. Now let’s bring on those poor PR folks.

Ben White for BitePR, pitching Piczo and Keibi today

Subject line: Facebook Subpoenaed: How Two Companies are Making Social Networking Safer

Ben and I crossed paths almost a year ago when he was on his way out from working with a company that I was on my way into a working relationship with. Does he say hi when the email opens? Barely. It’s super templated, no personal check in – just straight to the pitch. Come on Ben, who are you even representing here between these two companies? I’m fine, how are you? It’s been a year, we haven’t talked. Whatever.

So what’s the value add here? Am I going to chase this story around that you clearly sent out to more bloggers than I can imagine – just because some random company is doing something marginally different than Facebook is? What am I a local beat reporter with no ambition just looking for the first semi-hip story that falls in my lap and hoping my editor doesn’t notice how many other people wrote about these two random companies? No.

If we had been communicating over the last year, Ben, and you had got me an intelligent quote about what these companies were doing the day or hour the Facebook suit was filed or settled then I might very well have incorporated it into coverage of that news.

Relatedness to Facebook does not constitute a news hook unless something is launching (is it?) or there’s some other time element to it. To be fair – I know that clients sometimes insist that non-news be pitched as news. That’s a shame, it doesn’t reflect well on anyone. It creates an antagonistic relationship between PR and bloggers if we have to watch out for you tricking us into thinking non-news is news.

Next pitch came from…
Joy Nestor OutCast Communications, pitching something from Salesforce this morning

Subject line: salesforce.com news – interested in a pre-brief?

OutCast drives me nuts for all kinds of reasons. They represented both Zimbra and Yahoo! before the former was acquired by the latter. They represented StumbleUpon before the eBay acquistion. I hear from them regularly and they are really tight lipped with information. There are PR people who at least admit that they have to be manipulative – OutCast doesn’t hire those people, apparently.

Anyway, today’s communication with Joy was actually some of the best I’ve ever had with an OutCast person. I appreciate being contacted about news from a huge enterprise vendor, though that isn’t my beat, if there’s something of interest to me about the announcement.

The problem was this. The pitch email said that Salesforce is announcing product news and would like to brief me under embargo. THEN it says that the news “focuses on” the next annual version of Salesforce. Do I care? Not really, unless there’s something really interesting in this year’s release that’s related to my area of interest.

So at this point I email back and say, yeah, send me the info under embargo – right? No, now I’m offered a number of dates that I can schedule a phone conversation with Salesforce representatives. I do NOT want to spend my precious time on the phone listening to an explanation of the newest version of this relatively complicated, enterprise software. I DO want an email with the high points in bullet points. I’ve got time to read that – and to write a long winded blog post complaining about their PR.

Even if this was right up my alley, here’s what I want. I want details first, preferably with pre-announcement access to the software if possible. Then I want a company representative who is capable of answering my questions to be easily available to me. I love it when all of that happens. If you send out a release with no embargo then I want as a blogger to be able to contact you by phone or IM at a moment’s notice to get answers to my questions. Other bloggers are going to regurgitate your press release in minutes, I want meat to write a real review with and I want it fast. If there is an embargo then just let me contact you on a reasonable time frame leading up to and shortly after that embargo.

To Joy’s credit, when I asked she said it was possible that I might be able to just get the info and skip the talk. We’ll see.

Christine Emerson Weber Shandwick, pitching for Transpera yesterday.

Transpera is going to announce a mobile content partnership with some big brands sometime soon. There was no mention of any embargo in the email but I’ll stop there. You probably don’t want to read about a mobile content partnership with some major brand, right? Me neither. Unless it is hot as hell. And it’s probably not.

If I’ve ever written about a mobile content partnership with a major brand I apologize. There’s lots of blogs that cover mobile news and while they tend to not have as much audience as general interest tech blogs – fact is that there are many industry sub-topics for which “big news” is NOT of general interest to people outside that niche.

Matt Tatham Hitwise

I asked the HitWise folks to include me in their press list more than a year ago and I’m really glad they did. They used to make such good blog posts, that added so much timely value to my tech reporting, that I monitored their blog’s RSS feed by SMS. I don’t anymore because it’s full of shopping crap.

Today Matt from Hitwise sent out some interesting Hitwise traffic numbers related to the Facebook Microsoft story. At 2:45 PM PST. What was I going to do with it then? The first round of stories on the topic hit the web by 9am PST today (Google, Microsoft fighting over Facebook investment) and the second round, announcing the Microsoft investment in Facebook, was covered by Read/WriteWeb at 1 PM PST – and we weren’t real quick to the punch on that one. Some traffic stats would have been nice for either of those stories (though I wrote neither, I’m just saying) but 2 hours later they are close to worthless. (Ok, to be fair, I saw by RSS that lots of people, like mainstream journalists, were covering this news hours and hours later.)

Beyond that, have you seen Techmeme today? It’s all Facebook. Is Hitwise on it? No. I don’t know why it couldn’t have been a blog post and email people with a link to it. When you put your announcement on a blog post, it increases the chances of inbound links and of RSS subscribers, otherwise known as mini-long-term-stakeholders in your messaging.

Margaret Clark SHIFT, pitching mystery client doing a thing with some stuff

I think I’ll let the following screenshots sum up this pitch. I am in awe of this one.

(Update: See Margaret Clark’s response in comments, where she’s a very good sport about included here.)

The Good News

I hope all these examples don’t just make your ears burn – there’s some advice hidden in here.

1. Keep in touch and remember where we know eachother from. If it turns out that I don’t like you that much, then keep it formal and focus on adding value to my workday.

2. Send me a backgrounder with details about your announcement as soon as I agree to embargo it, if you’ve got an embargo (which I think are fine, btw). Make yourself available to answer my questions by phone and IM on very little notice when time-to-write is near.

3. Pitch me on things that are relevant to me, offer me a b.s. free summary before your formal press release and be very clear about the time and time zone of the embargo. It’s good practice to include both my local time zone and GMT, just to be respectful of those outside the US and as a second point of reference. I presume you’re pitching European bloggers too.

4. Put it in a blog post, ad value to my blog post and let the link love fly. And if you’re trying to get in on other news coverage – get me that info before I write my blog post, if you can anticipate it. Otherwise I’m probably not going to be interested.

5. Avoid doing what Margaret whatsherface did above. (Update: Sorry to be so rude Margaret.)

6. One thing I haven’t mentioned here, if you’re a PR person – you know what I’d love? An OPML file of all your clients’ blogs. Heck, through in a news search feed for their names too. I’ll plop it right into my feed reader and you will win big points with me. That would just plain be very cool, would it not?

Ok, thanks for reading all this and good luck in everything you do.