You can't catch anything from a PR pitch

15 July 2005

I would say PR pitches on the whole are a good deal more sanitary than toilet seats but generally a whole lot less useful, although they can be entertaining for all the wrong reasons. The continuing backlash from bloggers complaining about having their email inboxes filled with irrelevant pitches is intriguing as it's at least a year since the first posts I can find appeared on the subject. Anil Dash arguably caught the mood of many when he described what really ticks him off as a blogger having PRs trying to get him to write about some tedious product they are paid to plug. The unfortunate truth about all this is that the situation will be the same next year. Hacks have been on the receiving end of them for many, many years. And hacks have been outing egregious examples in diary and back-page sections for about the same amount of time. And still they come.

The advantage that most bloggers have is that pitches come almost all in the form of emails. Hacks have had to put up with phone calls for years. Some of those can be truly irritating. An email pitch is easy to toss. Yes, they might get your name or sex wrong, but who cares. Do you have Nelson from the Simpsons leaning over your shoulder going "ha-ha" whenever you read those emails? Yes, they are probably irrelevant and boring. But, the delete key hasn't moved.

But, you say, surely these people should take notice of our anger? Yes, probably. But they won't. There is quite a lot of breastbeating going on among the PR bloggers over whether they should pitch to other bloggers. Some say yes, but do it right, others say no. The reality is that bloggers are seen as 'influencers' in marketing speak: it is the influencer role that makes bloggers next on the list of pitchees in this latest Internet boom. There are people who I would prefer not to send me pitches and releases, but there is no point telling them, because they won't stop, and here's why.

As a freelance hack, I have to confess I don't get as many pitches as I would as a staffer on a magazine. Some PRs get very confused over the role of freelancers, in the same way that they get confused over what should go into a pitch. Some really get confused over freelancers who are contracted to run a magazine's editorial. That's when the smoke starts to pour from their ears in the manner of a robot that's just been beaten in the logic department by William Shatner. But I still get a whole heap of irrelevant and dull stuff.

The main thing about publishing, whether it is in the form of a magazine or a blog or something else is to know your audience. You should have a good idea which stories will garner attention and which will be ignored. A lot of PRs know this; only very few know how to make use of it. It doesn't matter where it comes from, a good story is a good story. The problem is that the PRs are paid to get attention for stories that aren't any good, but are humdrum announcements. The vast majority of corporate actions have almost no effect on the rest of the world. Only the innovators and the big guns make much of a difference. Even in the hands of a master PR operator, nothing will save many of these middle-market announcements from oblivion and many who spend money on PR seems resigned to that without publicly acknowledging it. But, the PR is paid to get the word out even if the only result is to write in a report that "key messages were shared with key influencers" and that they are "unsure why the blogger/hack failed to pick up on the release". As a hack it took me years to understand why report writing was so important to PRs: the clients want to see some activity logged because clippings are so, well, difficult to find.

They don't, unless they are really good at what they do, go back to the client and say: "This announcement is so dull it put my hyperactive 5-year old, dosed up on tartrazine and hamburgers, to sleep. Haven't you got anything important to talk about?" Now, knowing that the announcement is dull but you are being paid simply to send emails and report on it, would you put much effort into getting some blogger's or some hack's name right?