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Bad Pitch Blog

Read our Wrath. An award-winning resource from @laermer & @prblog since 2006.

Updated: 2018-03-06T03:19:35.107-05:00


The Pitch That Cried Wolf


There are only so many reporters and bloggers covering the field or industry you play in, whether it’s automotive technology, software, clothing, or architectural design. With time and experience, you will wind up speaking to them all one day—or their brethren. In a world of instant communication and shrinking inner circles, a PR person who cries wolf with a few off-the-mark pitches is blackballed in a hurry.

There’s nothing the media dislikes more than vapor (a non-story), so don’t pitch it. Click over to Business Wire, PR Web, or any of its ilk on a given day and you can count up hundreds of thousands of dollars spent propagating vapor news. “Small Company A Signs Agreement with About-to-Fold Company B” or “ Launches Bleeding-Edge Customer Tracking Functionality.” Find us a journalist who actually wants to write about topics like that (how do they affect anyone else besides the people who wrote the releases?) and we will tip our hats to that PR person (who has a reporter cousin, of course).

The danger in vapor is that it builds a name for you quickly. The wrong name. If you’re dabbling in handheld technology, say, and you pitch Jason Kincaid, well-known gadgetry guy from TechCrunch, on every software upgrade, he’s going to learn very rapidly not to take seriously any pitch you send his way. Who cares? The danger is that when you have real news, the kind that matters, such as the launch of your new device that makes the iPac shake in its boots, Jason will not pay attention because you’ve proven yourself to be a vapor merchant.

Before you blast out a cluster bomb of e-mails or send that release over the wire, consider long and hard what’s interesting about it. Is it fascinating just because you’ve spent three tireless months working on the content? Is it amazing because your latest noodling brings you one step closer to a competitor that no one’s ever heard of? If that’s the case, hold off and wait ’til you have something worthier of the presses; in other words, don’t believe your own story too much.

Larger public companies are especially guilty of pushing vapor into the press. There’s a theory out there, one we don’t subscribe to, that if you don’t have a steady, weekly stream of information crossing the wires—also known as “the machine”—your business’s progress has sunk to an uncompetitive pace. Remember that with public companies, their news unfortunately engenders an article or two (unfortunately, because it makes the firm think that what they put out is urgent, and so it compels them to keep the vapor machine oiled).

Yet when this non-urgent-news-pushing firm truly has something worth chatting about, the press may not bite. Everyone at the firm scratches their heads and wonders why. But reporters and analysts are glazed over from the hundreds of newsless missives shot through that PR cannon. And they are all too familiar with firms that cry wolf.

The take-away is that vapor works only rarely. For example, it did for the whole of Seinfeld. If what you desire is respected coverage continually, sit on the vapor (“CEO sneezed today!”), and don’t put it out. You’ll only numb the reporters who should care and who should notice that what you do is important. Being important is paramount.

For more topics like this, follow

PR & Media Relations: Top 22 Posts from a Decade of (Really) Bad Pitches


"I will go down as the voice of this generation, of this decade, I will be the loudest voice."— Kanye WestWe’re a bit more humble than Mr. Kardashian. But, as we mark the 10th birthday of the award-winning Bad Pitch blog, we wanted to lead with swagger, good news and bad news. The good news? Thanks to buzzwords like big data, the cloud, social media and more, it’s harder than ever to send a bad pitch. The bad news? These same words make it easier than ever to send a bad pitch. Yes, after 10 years of writing the Bad Pitch blog, I’m afraid we can still suck as an industry. And some of us still do...big time. I get emails every day that prove this out.We started the blog to help folks out more than anything else. Shaming was a way to blow some steam off in the process. I can tell you we never thought we'd be writing for it 10 years later. So here are some of the better posts from the last 10 years to help entertain and educate anyone that might be interested. Good & Bad Pitches: We get bad pitches and some really bad pitches. Even the media send them our way. And we even saw a deadly trend of bad pitches. But we also get good pitches. But the good to bad ratio of pitches sent to us? One in every 100. Better Writing: From the perfect pitch letter and the sordid email subject, to how pictures and math can improve our writing, we covered a lot of ground in our quest to help you tighten up your writing.The News Release: Why is the news release discussed ad nauseum in our industry? It's so bad, we even managed to write three different posts on boilerplates alone. Seriously? There have been some smart, much-needed attempts to improve this sadly, ever-present tool. But we still find ourselves having to point out the obvious when it comes to the *@&$! news release.Social Media & Blogs: We prefer covering newer territory. Like when pitching blogs and social media were still new. Interview Briefs, Spokespeople & So-Called Media You Should Avoid: We look well beyond the front end of the media relations process. This includes tips for the other side of the pitch...for spokespeople and interview briefs and more. We also warned you about the pay to play outlets. Don't get me started.But Wait, There’s More!We've got some more content headed your way to dust off the blog and celebrate 10 years of our wrath. We also turned the blog into an e-book: The Bad Pitch Blog: How To Not Suck at PR & Get Great Media Coverage For Your Business, Startup, or Non-profit Sure, the title’s too long (blame Google and all that SEO jazz). But we weeded out the irrelevant stuff and reorganized it. So it’s not even close to the the equivalent of printing out every post. And it's cheap too.:: Kevin Dugan, @prblog Image via Liberty Voice    [...]

Black History Month Brings Out Best & Worst Content


It's the best of times, it's the worst of times. So here is a tale of two pieces of content. It's up to you, fine readers, to determine which one's a best practice and which one's a worst practice.

Match the Quote to the Black History Hero Who Said It
BuzzFeed quizzes can be a polarizing piece of content. Let's face it, we work hard to get our content shared into ubiquity. Yet BuzzFeed can drop a quiz telling you which meat you are and it's passed around like a 100% off coupon code.

But asking readers to match quotes to the hero from black history that said it? This is a wonderful example of edutainment. And it's focused on a topic we could all stand to learn more about. It could only be smarter if a BuzzFeed staffer wrote it. But props to the community member that did.

Black Author's Book Teaser Will Make Your Kids a Slave to Reading
The individual that alerted us to this news release wonders how it was even allowed to go out over the wire. And I must wonder the same exact thing.

We've talked about forcing a connection between your topic and a timely event before. But this example is worse than that. We'll just let the headline speak for itself and simply note that book marketing is hard. But that's no excuse for poor taste.

Lazy Hack Turns Lazy Flacks Into Story


The year ended with less of a whimper than expected in the public relations industry with everything from Uber and Sony missteps to smaller gems like GoGo Squeez and Play Doh.

In fact, this story from the New York Post almost went unnoticed.* In his December 25th article, "A gift to all the p.r. people who were blown off in 2014," business reporter John Crudele turns a dozen pitches into a story and outs the 12 folks that sent them his way.

Facebook comments ranged from the expected "he's mean" and "these people are just trying to do their jobs" to the more snarky "bet they include this in their wrap reports" and a deeper comment noting the "mean generation of faceless relationship building" we're forced to deal with these days.

Is the story, and Crudele's approach, mean? I'll leave that up to you to decide. But let's remember two things before you weigh in.

1) Consider the Source: The New York Post notes it's a "tabloid-format" newspaper. And we all know what tabloids tend to be really good at, picking a fight.

2) Target the Pitch: Based on his profile in Cision, you'd wonder why anyone of these folks are pitching Crudele in the first place.** He focuses on topics like stocks, finance issues and related topics. So why in the hell are pitches about beans and regifting being sent his way? Many of the pitches he singled out are clearly not related to his beat.

Do Your Homework
Let's say your pitch does cross his topics of coverage. If I looked up a reporter and read that he has an aggressive writing style and thrives on issue-oriented controversy? I'm reading his last few articles, at a minimum, before deciding to send him something.

Crudele wrote the piece on Christmas Eve. And by wrote, I mean he phoned it in. So he was being lazy to be sure. But I'm not so sure he was being mean as he was simply being himself. And there are an endless number of ways these 12 pitches, and the people that sent them, could have avoided becoming the story.

Thanks to Traci Coulter for the NY Post link. She's one of the good PR folks we like to highlight on this blog because they are most excellent professionals.

**This post was edited to take out Crudele's profile information.

:: Kevin Dugan, @prblog 

Will PR Automation Put You Out of a Job?


Nine months ago, robo-journalism was in full effect when the LA Times used its Quakebot algorithm to report on an earthquake -- three minutes after it happened.It's ironic to note the math of an algorithm is being used to generate the words of a newspaper article -- 108 of them in the above example. In another example, the AP uses a tool called Wordsmith to help fill their pages. According to Arik Hanson, "they're using Wordsmith to auto-generate quarterly earnings stories--4,400 stories every quarter."This all begs a bigger question."As computers begin replacing journalists, could they replace YOUR job?"Welcome to the MachineWith apologies to Pink Floyd, it's important to note that this trend is far from new. More than a year ago, researchers noted 45 percent of America’s occupations will be automated within the next 20 years.If you're anything like me, you're thinking. "I'm creative! I'm a strategic thinker! They broke the mold when they made me and no amount of math known to man could replicate what I do!"And I'm inclined to agree with you. But you should know that people are composing auto complete song lyrics and getting robots to write fiction. allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="360" src="//" width="640">Even more relevant is Google's Primer App. It's designed to help startups with marketing tasks like Search Advertising, Content Marketing and what it calls "PR and Media" read: media relations.The app won't replace anyone, but it doesn't suck either.Game Over or Game On?This post is not to get you freaked out or to get into the weeds on the pros and cons around this topic. But it is motivation to continually improve your craft. Increasing your relevance and differentiating yourself from others -- be they humans or math equations -- can only help you. So consider some small, medium and large ways you can improve yourself in 2015.Small: Under promise and over deliver, ask more questions, challenge your own thinking.Medium: Learn enough about the areas of marketing outside your core expertise that it helps you do better work. Compare seemingly unrelated data sources like Google Analytics and customer service stats to mine a new insight about your audience.Large: Add a completely new skill to the tool kit - personal or professional.So you can rage at the machine like the Luddites did. Or you can dive into the many benefits the machine has to offer. But your future is not black and white. Your future is up to you. (cues Bluto)[...]

Your Social Media Policy & the Nude Celebrity Photo Scandal


You're thinking, "come on...this is headline bait. How can these two topics be even remotely connected?" This Venn diagram depicting Internet privacy (created by Dave Hoffman) is our answer.
No, you and your fellow employees are not celebrities. Celebrities are subjected to an unfortunate level of attention. And in this case, a hacker pulled the celebrity photos from password-protected iCloud accounts and not social media. But there are some relevant takeaways from this unfortunate scandal you can apply to you and your company's social media policy.

1) Simplest Approach: If you don't want someone knowing about it...don't put it online. Snapchat is rendered useless via a screen grab. The Secret app isn't really secret. Yet I always get "what if" questions from folks running through a Byzantine list of privacy settings that they think will keep them safe from prying eyes. Well, if it's online, it's just not 100 percent safe.

2) Short & Simple Policy: If you can say it to your Mom and your competitor, it's probably safe to say online. 

3) Go With Your Gut: If you're asking, "should I post this?" Your gut instinct may be a red flag. So check first.

Training Must Follow Policy
And one more reason the nude celebrity photo scandal is related to your social media policy is training. A social media policy spells out everything you can't do, but you better be showing employees what they can do. Many employees will not understand the subtleties of certain platforms. If you don't walk them through the platforms you want them to use, and how you want them to use it, the odds are they'll be used incorrectly, if at all.

:: Kevin Dugan, @prblog

3 Reasons Why You Should Love Data: a PR #protip


Early in my career, I'd declare I'm part of the creative class, in part, because of my dislike for math. Today, I still wouldn't trade my career for anything. But I've learned to love math.The silos between art and science dissolved long ago. And every public relations professional should love math and, more specifically, data. Here are just three reasons.1) Inform Strategy: Since hugging it out with data, I've been able to show clients exactly why I'm proposing a specific editorial strategy. It's all thanks to insights mined from search queries and social data.Searches tell us what content an audience is looking for and social data tells us what content they're talking about. This is just one way data can inform strategy.2) Create Content: We've been talking about this for years. And you may love or hate infographics at this point, but they remind us how data can fuel very visual content. Data is everywhere, it doesn't have to come from primary/expensive research.Mappos is my all-time favorite example of how Zappos uses, without violating customer privacy, the zip code and item numbers from each order to create killer content.3) Measure Success: Out of respect, I should just put a picture of Katie Paine here and call it a day. But first, I'll remind everyone in this data-laden world, the key is not just's measuring success.That requires agreeing on what success looks like before you get started. And there is a difference between progress metrics and success metrics. Progress metrics show a plan is working. Success metrics show the plan worked.4) Optimize Content: A fourth reason? Hey, I told you I loved math, I didn't say I was good at it.  We've discussed the need to tap data throughout the research, plan, execute and measure process.Data is available throughout the entire process and it allows us to iterate what we're doing to help ensure our success. Take content marketing for example.Once we publish our client's (data-informed) content, we support it with paid discovery to drive audience to it more quickly than organic search. Performance data from this is layered with web analytics to see how the content is reasonating with our audience.A follow-up check of search and social data makes sure nothing new has emerged. And each batch of content improves based on what you've learned from the previously published stories.Art x Science = InnovationWhen I started in content marketing, it was called custom publishing. And the big difference between then and now is how we've moved from 100 percent art-driven projects to projects driven by a mix of art and science.Hopefully you've seen above that by tapping art and science, you'll make something better than either side of your brain could create by itself.:: Kevin Dugan, @prblogphoto credit: B Tal via photopin cc[...]

At A Loss For Words


The following pitch was received by a journalist friend of mine yesterday.  I will not comment on it.  I guess this is why Kevin and I started this blog in the first place. Read at your own risk."Robin Williams’ tragic death leaves consumers at high risk of identity theft. The 1.2 billion people already endangered from the massive Russian hacking just got more vulnerable as identity thieves lure curious citizens with links promising details about Robin Williams.Cyber security expert Steve Weisman, founder of, author of Identity Theft Alert & seasoned media interview can talk about: · Celebrity tragedies and how they endanger consumers – Amy Winehouse, Whitney Houston and now Robin Williams· How to spot tainted emails, texts and Facebook links to ‘unreleased police photos’· The urgency of cyber security in light of the recent Russian breach · Likelihood of spear phishing and increased cybercrime following the Russian breach· Tips for consumers to protect themselvesWould you like to set up an interview with Steve Weisman?Contact Sarah Gadway...for interview requests or for a review copy of Identity Theft Alert.Thanks for your time"________RIP Robin WilliamsTwitter: @badpitch @laermer[...]

Is Soft Language Killing Your Pitch?


We just paid homage to Ernest Hemingway for his support of simple, clear and effective writing. Add George Carlin to the list of talented individuals reminding us to write tight. The infamously expletive-wielding Carlin could be the NSFW poster child. So does that make him the worst possible role model in this situation? Before you decide, consider the phrase he invented...soft language. "American English is loaded with euphemisms -- because Americans have a lot of trouble dealing with reality. So they invent a kind of  to protect themselves from it. And it gets worse with every generation." To explain soft language, Carlin details the evolution of the term shell shock - in a way only he can.Term / War   Meaning  Carlin  Shell Shock/ WWI “A condition when a soldier's nervous system has been stressed to its absolute peak and maximum.” "Simple, honest, direct language. Two syllables." Battle Fatigue/ WWII Same "Four syllables now. Fatigue is a nicer word than shock."Operational Exhaustion/Korean War Same "We're up to eight syllables now! And the humanity has been squeezed completely out of the phrase. It's totally sterile and sounds like something that might happen to your car." Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder  Same "We've added a hyphen. And the pain of the condition is completely buried under jargon."The Best Intentions...Don't MatterSoft language can ruin your pitch regardless of how well-intended it might be. My favorite example of soft language is from a student’s resume I received for an internship. To dress up the description of a waitressing job, she noted she “excels in suggestive selling.”I don't know what suggestive selling is, much less if it's legal. But more importantly, this word choice almost distracted me from the fact that this student helped finance her college education. This is a good sign that she is probably a hard worker who can manage multiple projects simultaneously.Softening or inflating language may be used to present something in a better light. It usually does the exact opposite. Even Carlin noted it “takes the life out of life.”Oh, and if you are up for some NSFW content, Carlin's bit on soft language is here in its entirety.:: Kevin Dugan, @prblogA version of this was published on my LinkedIn profile. [...]

Hemingway App Fights Bad Pitches


When it comes to media relations, the analogy about a chain only being as strong as its weakest link applies. Your media list may be solid, but if your pitch is ham-fisted it doesn't matter. This applies to the entire cycle.

The Hemingway App is one tool you can use to make sure your pitch is as simple and clear as possible. As you'll see below, it points out the readability of whatever you cut and paste into the site, or you can compose on the fly. It also tracks long, complex sentences, passive voice and other common errors.

Unclear writing is color coded and the app gives tips on how to improve each passage. If an adverb shows up, for example, the app recommends that a "verb with force" take its place. Papa would have wanted it that way.

The site is as smart as it is simple. We're hoping in the future it can used with Word, Google Docs or Evernote. Until then it's available online and for the desktop (Windows and Apple).

The app's namesake possessed a writing style described as "lean, hard, athletic narrative." The end result of this approach to writing is the ability to tell more using less words. And that will make this link in your chain as strong as steel.

We put this post through the app and improved it. Cut and paste your last pitch into the Hemingway App and see what it tells you.

Headline Clickbait: PR Science or PR Fail?


A scan of current events this morning brought me to a news story angering me enough that I didn't need my morning coffee. Couple Killed After Posting Sunset Picture to InstagramTo be clear, it's not the (tragic, local news) story that aggravated me. It's the misleading, headline clickbait that pulled me into the article. I'm interested in Instagram, and the odd nature of the headline lead me to believe it was being served up by The Onion.  It's not a parody story. So I've re-written it below for accuracy.Couple Killed THREE HOURS AfterPosting Sunset Picture to Instagram. My re-write wouldn't draw in readers. But it may make you wonder why someone would point out this ironic, but completely unrelated, fact in the headline.The Headline That Cried Click (see what I did there?)Sites like Buzzfeed, Upworthy and Viral Nova are pretty polarizing. They've even inspired spoof headline generators and entire parody sites trying to tap into the craze simply by mocking it.Love them or hate these traffic-magnet, sharing-fueled sites, Google analytics proves that headline clickbait works. But even Upworthy is acknowledging its an issue. The site announced it's "on a mission to cleanse the web of content that exists primarily to be clicked on or shared."No, I'm not suggesting you avoid proven best practices around headline generation. I followed three myself for this post's headline. I am pleading with you to consider the bigger picture behind any tactic. I'm willing to bet that whatever the goal is behind content you're publishing, you'd prefer to establish an ongoing connection with the audience your content attracts. Tricks for ClicksOr ignore me and follow Time's lead. This once iconic, news magazine's Twitter bio reads: "Breaking news and current events from around the globe." And they're publishing headlines like "Watch a Baby's Face Sour While Eating A Lemon" and "Here's a Half-Naked Man Wearing 100 Pounds of Bees like a Coat." It's embarrassing to see them chase someone else's success. And it's costing them their hard-earned credibility in the process.Tricks for clicks may get you a short-term increase in traffic. But it won't build audience in the long-term. If you're worried you won't attract readers without headline clickbait? Either spend money on headline syndication or come to grips with the fact that your content might suck. :: Kevin Dugan, @prblogImage via xkcd[...]

Will the World Cup Bring Ambush Marketing, Newsjacking & PR Stunts?


The 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil kicks off this week and Digiday assumes we'll witness some ambush marketing. Some might argue it comes with the territory for any large event on the world's stage.

Ambush marketing is a bit like hijacking the news, something we've discussed in the past, wherein a brand capitalizes on a seemingly unrelated topic to promote itself.

Below is another example of news jacking, also from Brazil.

allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="360" src="//" width="640">

Count Chiquinho Scarpa, an eccentric, Brazilian billionaire, burying a Bentley created a lot of outrage before the bait and switch was revealed. And luckily for all involved the bait and switch was for a good cause -- organ donation.

Stunts Are For Evel Knievel
As stunts go, well, we don't like any stunt unless it involves Evel Knievel. Public relations stunts are a tactic executed without a strategy behind it. And much like these other examples, The Brazilian Association of Organ Transplant (BAOT) had a strategy.

And by having a strategy, it was able to clearly make their point that not being an organ donor results in burying priceless, live-giving objects everyday. Comparing this to the senselessness of burying a more than $200,000 automobile helped gain exposure to the idea. And brought organ donation into the larger conversation.

The Only Metric that Matters
The BAOT also got clear results. The numbers around shares, exposures and the like don't really matter, the only number that matters is the 35% increase in organ donation sign ups. It's also worth noting that the BAOT didn't hijack anything. It made its own news.

The slippery slope of ambush marketing and news jacking really just make it even harder for us to get earned media through conventional means. But this is a reminder that even in our bigger, better, faster MORE world, the most important thing our pitches need to succeed is creativity.

:: Kevin Dugan, @prblog

Startup Mentality Can Kill Good PR--And It Does


Your client thinks his startup is the greatest thing on earth. Your client is wrong.  But who really cares? When it comes to “getting press” a startup chief has to be ready to take on all comers.That's part of the problem with being a startup. The founders think it's the best bread since sliced--and have the audacity (some say confidence) to believe they are better than a lot of the press being offered. Which is poppycock.Another problem is that these startup types think they know how PR works.In fact, very few people are worthy of being in the media—and as for products, hardly any. Knowing how Public Relations works?  Even fewer know that magic answer.I was recently saddled with a client – Rename Maneless – who scoffed at bloggers who wanted to get more information for possible stories on the soon-to-launch thing being offered. Scoffing is rude, first of all. On top of that there was the ages-old argument of “We can do better.”  Blood now boiling, I asked this allegedly smart chief thingamabob if he knew the blog he was turning down had 50,000 readers, and did that number meant anything at all?The answer was a walloping no. Because, and you can say it with me, it just wasn’t high level enough for his time, attention, or taste.  Heavy sigh.  I wondered if he knew what a high level was.So I played a game with this genius. I told him that if he did the one interview, I’d promise him one with a major magazine.   Little did he know that the first interview wasn’t even a promise of a story—and no major anything stood on deck. Man, it was like getting a kid to eat his veggies; he shrugged and said okay. After the blog meeting, this problem child was so happy with the experience and subsequent result that he completely forgot about my disappearing magazine piece. (He really was not ready for prime.)  I made him see how snobby he was being toward a real live reporter.We wish our problems could be solved this easily.  But here we go: The next unfortunate request to the same guy came from a podcaster. This was, he said, lower than terrestrial radio--as if radio was evil. I turned the request down. There are only so many hours I can waste playing adult games.Still, there's one more problem with startup heads that arises when big-time media start calling. They get insecure. “I just don’t think I’m ready to talk to Time magazine,” one said. But how would you know? Do you think I’d let you sit with a reporter whom I didn’t think you were ready for /slash/ prepare you for? It’s my ass on the line!The insecurities linger and even after it’s been decided—by me—that he’ll do it no matter what, the late night phone calls start in—and emails and texts, followed by voicemails in the office when he knows I’m gone. “I don’t know, Richard. I think it’s too early!” Too early for?  Your nervous breakdown? Please.Yeah, we face a lot of pretty regular dilemmas in PR society. We deal with Montana-sized egos and paying folk who have no think-before-I-speak button—or  think something, then say it without realizing it was better left in one's head. But some people are such know-it-alls that all our dealings are a uphill trail. To them we have to decide whether to fight or surrender.There are painful times when it's so difficult to get a spokesperson to speak that you have to tell the requester that the product isn't there yet. “It’s a new company and they have many kinks to work out. When they are you’ll be the first to know it,” you lie.Doing good work isn’t enough. Nowadays, you need an imaginary Psychology degree to cope with people who decide what’s good enough or[...]

You Don't Need Client Approval to Pitch the Media (Well)


If you're in business to business communications, you can empathize with the bane of my career's existence...client/customer approvals to tell their story, more commonly known as a case history. If you're in business to consumer communications, there's a lesson here for you also.For those who don't know, case histories are simple stories stating the problem, your client's solution and the results it brought their customer. This informational overview is the oil that helps the btob media relations machine operate seamlessly. Consider that the story is told by the media, from the customer's perspective. If your client's customer is a known brand, case histories turn into earned media more often than not.The biggest issue in mining this black gold is usually customer approvals. But before we give you some tips on how to get that approval, here's an example of why you shouldn't let customer approval stop you from telling the story.Take No For An AnswerYears ago, my agency turned a client's issue with getting customer approvals to discuss case studies into an ad campaign. They designed brief case studies to resemble classified documents like the one above.With details like the customer's brand and other particulars blacked out, it eliminated the need for customer approval, it attracted the reader and made the ad even shorter to read. The only way it could have been a better campaign would be if I could take credit for it.Creativity is a Universal OpportunityThis need for creativity applies to the business to consumer segment as well. Consider what the adult video website, Pornhub, is doing for a pending ad campaign. It's asking the ad community to submit designs for a national, safe for work (SFW) ad campaign touting the site.We've received porn-related pitches before. One of them ranks (literally and figuratively) as one of our worst pitches EVER. But the initial success of Pornhub's approach, regardless of how we feel about the topic, is a reminder that PR people can talk about anything.Five Tips to Get the Story ToldSo here are some tips to keep in mind about getting your client/customer story told.1) You Don't Know Unless You Ask: The one time you don't ask to tell the story is inevitably going to be the one time you'd be allowed to do so. Never skip asking.2) It's How You Ask: I start by telling my client's customer what a case history is NOT. It's not an ad or a testimonial, it is an informational overview of the project. And they get to see and approve everything before we pitch the media.3) Mutual Benefit: How is a Fortune 100 brand going to benefit from a story about how it's new toilet paper dispensers saved them hundreds of thousands of dollars? It's probably not. But the person most closely connected with the story, the person approving your request, will benefit. It can be used internally to remind management this person did a good thing, it can be used to remind this person's team they did a good thing and it can help their personal brand. It doesn't hurt to tell them this as part of the ask.4) It's Who Asks: Who owns the relationship with the client or customer approving your request? This person can help you assess if it's better for them to ask (with your guidance) or for you to ask or someone else entirely. If the relationship owner is worried it'll have a negative impact, they either don't understand what you're asking or they have other issues in play with the relationship.5) Ask Once: If this single approval will launch a tide of thought leadership, uh, ships, make that clear. If you ask to pitch the media, then ask to submit it in an awards competition, then ask to put it on your website, right before you ask to use it in a speaker's proposal....yeah, you [...]

Why You Should Read Spin Sucks: a BOOK REPORT


Spin Sucks, is a much-needed, pragmatic explanation of the changing communication landscape.The book's author, Gini Diterich, dives into this changing landscape and clearly articulates how its changed — without hyperbole, fifty cent words or, of course, spin. The book is practical, clearly written and helpful as a result.It's no surprise Dietrich hails from the Midwest…we’re known for this kind of counsel. The fact that Spin Sucks is written for clients should encourage, not discourage, practitioners from reading it. This ultimately helps the reader better articulate how communication has changed to their own clients. Spin Sucks BasicsAs you can imagine, social media, content marketing and search are all topics of discussion in Spin Sucks. Each chapter includes plenty of explanation, how-to instruction and great examples to support its assertions. It is a quick read with 10 chapters, organized into four sections, comprising the just under 150 page book. And it’s written in a way that you can read it in the old-school, linear fashion or get all millennial up in here and jump around based on your interest or needs.A Point of ContentionThe only thing I disagree with in Spin Sucks is Dietrich's classification of social media as shared media -- a fourth silo along with paid, owned and earned media. Social media has disrupted our industry. Social sharing has become so critical to what we do, it’s becoming a seamless part of communication. And there are examples of paid, owned and earned on nearly any social platform today. This and the fact that technology convergence has been eliminating media silos for years, something I’ve promoted for some time, is the basis for why I do not carve out social media separately.  In her defense, Dietrich notes in Spin Sucks that consumers are distinguishing less and less between “the four types of media.” And that "the lines between communication, marketing, ads, sales, customer experience, product development and human resources will become blurred.”The bottom line is I think the lines are already blurred and this assumption didn't change the validity of anything Dietrich proposes in her book.The Hybrid Skills TrendOne topic Spin Sucks touches on, a trend worthy of its own book, is how changing technology and consumer habits are pushing the need for more hybrid skill sets (inclusive of traditional and non-traditional communication skills). “Today, public relations professionals have to be knowledgeable about web development, search engine optimization, mobile marketing, content marketing and more."Work culture is shifting to address this trend. But things are changing so rapidly the academic world still has some work to do. As the pace of change continues to accelerate, we must be willing to test, learn and iterate what we do more frequently and consistently than we have done in the past.Dietrich speaks to this as well, noting "your culture must be about experimentation, and you must be willing to take some risk.” This is critical because more than ever as an individuals biggest skill may become the ability to "tolerate failure, quickly pivot and try again."It's a Marathon, Not a SprintDietrich's mantra throughout this book is to "remember, it's a marathon and not a sprint." And our industry needs to be chanting this mantra.The key is to be able to show clients why  it's a marathon, and to ultimately follow up with the results this approach will yield.Click here for a video about the book. And for more Spin Sucks in general, click here to dig into the community.:: Kevin Dugan, @prblog[...]

A Bad LinkedIn Pitch Has Tips for You


LinkedIn has evolved from an online resume database to a social network, ad network and publishing platform. And in doing so, its potential as a media relations tool has increased exponentially.As members since back in the day, we've always been fans of LinkedIn. Yes, we've even received good pitches through this site.But any tool with the potential to help someone usually comes with the potential for its misuse. Which leads me to this pitch from a second degree connection.To help make my point, I'm including the first and last paragraphs. For each paragraph in between, I'm only including the first word...and summarizing the rest in my own words.>>>>Subject: A ResourceI'd like you to know who I am and, potentially, to view me as a resource.I.....have a diverse, but relevant background.I..... want you to consider me for work.I' lots of relevant experience.I...want you to visit my web site.Sincerely, My NameMy CompanyMy LocationMy Contact Info>>>>It's All About WHO?My first boss taught me that a pitch should focus on the audience, the recipient or both....but not on you or the topic you're pitching. This is not Zen, bumper sticker bullshit. It's about writing subtleties.It's the difference between:"Your readers will be interested in learning about an online industry resource that can help them improve their media relations skills."and"The Bad Pitch blog pwns. Everyone knows we rock. Do you want to about us?"A Simple TestTake your last pitch and see how many times you reference yourself or your client and compare it to how many times you reference the recipient or his audience.My boss conditioned me to rewrite any sentence starting with "I" and to never, ever start a paragraph this way. In fact, the second and fourth paragraphs of this article were rewritten to avoid my now more than 20 year old pet peeve. And to start the first sentence of the first paragraph of an article, email or document this way? It's pure heresy. Now re-read the above bad pitch and imagine my reaction. I'll spare you the visual, but it was physical.LinkedIn's Dangerous ContextLinkedIn can quickly shift from helping someone to hurting them. This is because, as a business platform, context is already established. Many of us, understandably, assume we can skip the traditional formalities as a result. But we should never assume. Instead we should always make it about someone other than ourselves.:: Kevin Dugan, @prblog[...]

You Need to Time Your Pitch to Earn Media


A friend, who is also a journalist, shared her frustration late last week through Facebook.

"If you want a chance of me looking at your release, please drop it into the body of the email and don't just send an attachment."

Someone quickly commented this is "Press Release 101" and we couldn't agree more. We'll also note that a press release is NOT a pitch.

Friday, Friday, Gotta Pitch Late on Friday
But the above vent continued in her next post."Friday may be the single WORST day to send a press release. I'm so swamped with weekend copy, I'm just not going to read them. Wait until Monday."

Again, a commenter empathized with my friend: "Back when I was features editor we had SO MUCH production on Fridays ... every Friday was a 10 or 12 hour day. And all the flaks who hadn't made their call quotas during the week were calling all afternoon trying to make contacts."

Taking Out the Trash
Others called it the best day to release news if you're "taking out the trash." And publicy traded companies that must disclose some news, regardless of whether it's good or bad, follow this approach sometimes. It's also, indirectly, another reason employees are let go on a Friday.

Timing's Everything
If your pitch is poorly timed, it doesn't matter if it's good or bad. It's not going to make news.

This would seem to be more press release 101. But I can't tell you how many times I've gotten email with press releases in them after 5:00 pm on a Friday. Let's be honest, at that point, the PR person wants to cross this item off their task list more than they want to earn coverage for their client.

So plan ahead and consider the schedule of the outlet you're targeting.

News You Shouldn't Promote


The "press" release gets waaaaaaaaaaay too much time and attention in this industry.This is in part because it's been used and abused more broadly in recent years. The biggest issue is the assumption that a press release has to be distributed broadly if at all. And don't even get me started on the other reasons, like search engine tactics, direct to consumer content or a blind self-focus incapable of taking third party counsel.FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Publishing?A company may want to acknowledge an important milestone that's not big a record number of days without injury. It's fine to write about it and to publish it in your newsroom. It marks the accomplishment, gives someone that cares a permalink to the information and all without burning out your hard-earned lines of communication with the media.The bad pitch below is NOT even one of those examples. Words in ALL CAPS & BOLD are us anonymizing this steamy pile of an email.>>>From: DUDEDate: Fri, Mar 14, 2014 at 2:06 PMSubject: COMPANY Revamps Its Website to Facilitate Mobile and Tablet Users---COMPANY, one of the leading SERVICE companies, has just launched a new, completely responsive website for its users, a first for any THIS TYPE OF service. With responsive design technology, this investment in the new design recognizes the huge number of ORDERS that COMPANY receives from tablets, smartphones and other mobile devices.Use of mobiles and tablets to look for STUFF THEY SELL has gone up and nearly 35% of visits to OUR WEB SITE now come through handheld devices. “We want our cell phone and tablet users to have a user-friendly experience when using the website on smaller screens. As a result of months of development and hard work, we are pleased to announce the launch of our new responsive website. Our primary objective is to provide the best user experience for reading our content as well as allowing users to download OUR PRODUCT easily, ” said NAME, the head of IT department at COMPANY.The responsive site offers a complete range of THEIR services supervised by PhD qualified PEOPLE. Users can now access OUR WEB SITE from any device and location to order their LIST OF STUFF. OUR STUFF can be accessed through the WEB SITE pages on any subject and custom PEOPLE can be hired with just one click.About COMPANY:COMPANY is the leading TYPE OF service provider that offers quality STUFF to all those RELEVANT PEOPLE. The company promises to assign relevant PhD PEOPLE who have DONE THIS LOTS OF TIMES. COMPANY has helped over a million PEOPLE worldwide, each of whom can avail premium quality TYPE OF services for their LIST OF STUFF requirements.______________________If you would rather not receive future communications from FLACK, please go to URLFLACK NAMEFLACK ADDRESS<<<#trending: Our Company Sucks!PR people need the chutzpah and insight to know when clients should be silent. I know why this company is pumped it now has a responsive web site. It was probably an issue that was impacting sales. And it was a pain in the neck to revamp the site. But most importantly, I also know this accomplishment is even less in the  "who cares" category than a company launching a new web site. This is a variation on that infamous non-news release.The news above screams "we're catching up." Having a site that works for your customers is, at best, the cost of doing business. I'm not even going to get into the rest of the reasons this pitch, pushed out by an email marketing platform, sucks. It's not even a pitch really. #protip: Ask Why vs. WhatWhat if you're t[...]

#protip: Scrub the Media List


If you have more than one blog/job, you may wind up being added to an online media database more than once. I'm the beneficiary of this occurence thanks to the Bad Pitch blog and my other blog.

It is sad how often I get the same pitch twice as a result...usually to the same email address.

Human vs. Machine
We've talked about how awesome online media databases are in the past, but they can't do all of the work. The best lists have more human time than machine time behind them. Even the online media databases will tell you that the more you use them like a customer relationship management (CRM) platform, the more you'll get from their service.

Scrub the List
File this under: "stuff so obvious, we didn't think we'd have to post about it. But you need to de-dupe your lists. And while a quick visual scan can usually do the job, sometimes you have to put some thought into it.

Even if I were at two different emails, my name is the same regardless. And on top of that, even if my name and email aren't the same on a list? You should have spent enough time with the list to realize you're pitching me twice.

Time Spent vs. Results
All of the above takes some time. And usually this is time that eats into the profitability of a project. But if you're ultimate goal is to get coverage for your client, it'll pay off. Fight the math. Fight the machines. Go for better results and scrub that list.

:: By Kevin Dugan, @prblog

Of selfies, #tbt and other trendy buzzwords


Ellen broke Twitter with the above Oscars selfie and now everyone is now focused on the fact that she used her iPhone backstage, calling it a #prfail.

For who? If you're thinking Samsung, is this moment going to get you to switch phones? Or to buy a different phone? Samsung is still covered in every. single. article about this that's gotten more "engagement" than the President's re-election.

Whether or not you agree with the above, they claim the selfie was "organically incorporated" into Ellen's seemingly random homage to Meryl Streep. And on top of all of this, Samsung is donating $3 million to charity as thanks for ALL of the coverage.

Chasing Someone Else's Success
The rise of the selfie and other photo memes like Throwback Thursday have public relations folks trying to attach their medicine of "news" to these spoons full of sugar.

And while the Bad Pitch blog FULLY supports PR people playing "test and learn," we would like to remind everyone that you shouldn't chase someone else's success.

At the end of the day, no matter how shiny or seemingly fool proof an idea might be, if it doesn't ladder back to the foundation of a solid plan with a goal, measureable objectives and strategies, than you're test will probably learn that nothing is fool proof.

Selfie Bonus
The above selfie of Andy Warhol is here to make his quote less of a non sequitur.

"Don't pay any attention to what they write about you. Just measure it in inches."

Without getting into a discussion about ad equivalency, or how that quote sounds dirty if you're 12, I'll simply note that his quote applies to Samsung's more than 15 minutes of fame.

:: By Kevin Dugan, @prblog

Last Bad Pitch of 2013?


WHY are we publishing a post on New Year's Eve?Well, because we're still getting pitched...badly. This one's from a sales person and it makes us look forward to 2014.>>>SUBJECT: Reaching out for new year story requestHello there,This is NAME from COMPANY. I hope you enjoyed a Merry Christmas and are looking forward to a Happy New Year.As you may recall, I’m a bit of a lurker and really enjoy reading your site. The insights and discussions are always interesting. Today I thought I would ping you to see if I can get a plug for our THING. COMPANY has proven its chops with many successful programs. As we look ahead to 2014, we know we offer one of the best ways of handling that THING that always occurs at the end of the year.Here is a formal news release on the topic: LINK but if you have follow up questions/would like to get a more in depth view then please let me know. I am happy to jump on a call. It would be great to have our news getting your (if you are okay with it) readers' attention.>>>A Ping for a Plug?I'm honestly on the fence about giving the person some points for being honest, albeit ham-fisted. But let's evaluate this as an actual pitch.1) Vague: Our salesperson knows how to structure a pitch. But there's no meat on the bones. I didn't have to edit much to anonymize it. There's not enough information about what the story is and why I should be interested.2) Perspective: Speaking of me, the perspective is way too slanted towards the salesperson, and his company, instead of my audience. Why should I care?3) Fake Personalization: If ANYONE that gets this email actually believes that this salesperson lurks on their blog, and someow wrote this pitch just for them, I am not suprosed. But I am hoping these individuals have no access to sharp objects -- for their own well-being. Ready-Made ContentIs there a place for pre-fab content in thought leadership campaigns? Sure. But if someone is pitching an outlet on a byline article AFTER the article is written, everyone that gets the email knows that anyone with an email address is being pitched.Recycling content is a tactic with diminishing returns. And I'm willing to bet the professionals using this tactic are measuring success with quantitative metrics and not qualitative ones.But this is a glass-half-full post. So remember that without bad pitches it would be tougher to identify the good ones. Thanks for reading and here's to an amazing 2014. Happy New Year!:: Kevin Dugan, @prblogThe Glass Half Full uploaded by cayusa[...]

Time for PR to Take Its Medicine - GUEST POST


 photo credit: liquidnight via photopin cc

When Greg Brooks posted this on Facebook today, I was equal parts thankful and jealous. Greg's one of the smartest people I know. And the following is good medicine for our industry.

Since this blog, and his post, have been confused as the ranty screed of an angry old man/men, I asked Greg if we could repost it and he obliged. Connect with Greg via LinkedIn, comment on his Facebook post or try out more traditional means via GregB AT West-Third DOT com. 

10 Observations for my fellow public relations colleagues:

10. "X things about Y" articles are lazy bullshit. Don't do it.

9. Twitter is not mainstream.

8. Our industry is spectacularly, fantastically self-absorbed. A test: Go to any of our crap industry-news aggregation sites, and make note of the content. Now, go to the sites our clients or C-level employers read and rely upon. When we talk to ourselves, it's like back-seat chatter in a clown car.

7. Quit whining about that spot you want at the big-boy strategy table until you can: a.) read a balance sheet; and b.) move the conversation beyond the Oxford comma.

6. If you don't like a new business model, a shift in the industry or color of the competition's dress, yelling "ethics" and waving your hands probably doesn't change anything.

5. That thing you read about in PRDailyPRNewserBulldogReporter that was Today's Big PR Crisis? Probably not a crisis. That other thing you read about? Also probably not a crisis. Responding to the unexpected is not crisis comms -- it's doing the job. Quit trivializing yourself by blowing shit up.

4. Whenever you think journalists are just dinosaurs who don't get the new sparkly that is branded content, take a look up in the sky. They caught the last meteor, but the next one could just as easily hit us.

3. The most boring navel gazing we do -- no small achievement -- is the blah-blah about millennials in our industry. Being a self-absorbed precious snowflake knows no age barrier.

2. Some things don't scale. Talking about how the customer owns the brand when your clients are in the Fortune 50 just looks foolish.

1. More transparency isn't always the answer. Your client's attorney knows it and your client's CEO knows it; maybe you should know it too.

Crisis #ProTip: The Truth is NOT Enough


Crisis communications in today's age leaves many of our best practices arount it moot. It's an issue and an opportunity really.

One rule I'd like to think that has stood the test of time shouldn't have to be a rule in the first place: tell the #&$^$ truth!

Take Toronto Mayor Rob Ford. It's ironic that his crisis has kicked off because he DID tell the truth. But it looks as if he tried to cover up his on camera moment of weakness. And that could be the just the start to the end of his political career.

It Takes More than Truth (and truthiness)
But regardless of whether the client is a person or a brand, the odds are good their crisis began because someone did not tell the truth. As a result, even admitting to the lie is not enough to begin coming back from the crisis.

Take Martha Stewart for example. She screwed up. She eventually did the right thing. And today her brand is arguably stronger as a result.

Focus as much on what you're doing to ensure it doesn't happen again as you do apologizing. Apologizing is simply telling the truth about lying or whatever it is that got you into this mess in the first place.

What other golden rules of crisis communication do you think withstand the level of change we've experienced in our industry?

:: Kevin Dugan, @prblog

Tracking Trends Through the Media


We've talked a lot in the past about the need to stay up on current events to be effective in media relations. We've also pointed to several examples of how a pitch with no clear connection to a news story can backfire.

There can be several benefits to staying up on the news and being curious about media in general.

Gluten-Free for All
Anyone with a client in the food industry is at least aware of the increase in gluten-free options. You might even have gluten-free news in your hands, girding up to pitch on behalf of your client.

Upon receiving the first issue of Allergic Living* it was clear to me that, while it's not a tipping point, gluten-free has either gone mainstream or its jumped the shark.

You have to know the news to make the news and become a source to our key contacts. Spotting anecdotes like this one may not land your client in the news. But its a good example of how immersing yourself in the media can help you spot trends. And those trends WILL help you become a source.

* I'm not sure if Achoo! was already taken as a magazine name, but a quick Google search on it lead me to some work Kleenex has done around the phrase. And appropriately enough, it was Contagious magazine covering their efforts. No matter what it's named, Allergic Living magazine should come with some antibacterial hand sanitizer!

:: Kevin Dugan, @prblog

When You Send a Bad Pitch


To remind everyone that .gifs are fun...and that we're not evil, I created this wildly assumptive timeline of what happens when someone sends a bad pitch.Spray & PrayThe interns get around to mass emailing the client's news release, without a pitch, to 100 different 5:21 pm on a Friday. And they're all:Of course, the client thinks it's been sent out at a decent time to a qualified list. As a result, they're hoping everyone that gets it is all:Lands with a ThudIn reality, when the media get it, they're all:You wouldn't know this however because you don't even know if the emails are received much less opened. The bloggers DO tell you how much you suck. But it's usually for reasons as random as your choice of font. When bloggers get the pitch, they're all:...except for us, natch. When we get your email, we do this.And since we can't do this? We out you instead.Tough LoveYou think everyone in the industry is doing this when you're outed:But most of them are really just doing this:We consider the Bad Pitch Blog to be tough love. Because when we see clients do this:and you're all:we think you should be focused on the work instead. More like this::: Kevin Dugan is co-author of the Bad Pitch blog and director of content strategy at Empower MediaMarketing. Follow him on Twitter.[...]