Please stop… mass-pitching reporters

The focus of this second post in our new series, “Please Stop” (intended to point out things some PR people do that give the rest of us a bad rap), is among the biggest fails on behalf of PR people: mass-pitching reporters. It’s a flop that continues to mar the image of PR professionals among journalists, and great PR people completely understand why.

It’s possible that one reason this blunder is so common is because of a misunderstanding of the difference between distributing news (as in a news release) and pitching a story.

I think some PR people believe that when they have a story they hope to get published by the media, they are supposed to craft a news release (telling the story exactly as they hope for it to be published) and get it into the hands of as many reporters as possible to increase the chances of it being published. This is not only an incorrect use of a news release, it’s also just not the best strategy for a couple of reasons.

  1. Reporters are not personal publishers. They aren’t in the business of publishing your content. They are professional writers, and their job is to report newsworthy happenings to the public. They are tasked with gathering the facts, determining if it’s something the public should be aware of and finding the best (most creative, interesting) way to share the news.
  2. There is more than one way a story can be told. Taking into account the fact that reporters are professional writers, when you mass-pitch your “story,” you hinder the opportunity for the story to be told in different ways by different reporters.

To clarify, a news release is a collection of facts about the story you want to be told, whereas a pitch is a specific angle (or way of telling the story) that you are offer to an individual reporter.

When crafting a news release to distribute to the media, you want to stick to the facts. Of course, there are attention-grabbing ways to deliver these facts. (See our previous post on using creative headlines.) However, the point of a news release is to provide all facts the reporter needs to determine the newsworthiness of the story.

In tandem with your news release, you can pitch a specific angle to an individual reporter, but note the use of the words “specific” and “individual.” Keep in mind the writing style of the individual reporter you want to pitch. What angle does he or she often like to write from? What interview can you offer him or her to help tell the story in an interesting and unique way?

When you are distributing a newsworthy announcement – one that will likely be picked up by multiple outlets – you are going to mass-distribute the release, and a good strategy for pitching may also include more than one outlet; but it’s best to offer different angles to each outlet so that they have the opportunity to tell the story in their own style.

I can tell you from personal experience that reporters don’t like to see their story told almost identically – with the same interviews and angles – in another publication. And, I completely understand.

Think about it this way: What if you were given a project at work that, unbeknownst to you, was also given to several others within your department? You work hard on that project, putting in your time and skill toward completing the project, but when it’s time to present it, yours is just one of many on display. How much more satisfying would it be if each person contributed his or her unique talents to one piece of the project – or to one angle of the story?

Great PR people are storytellers by nature, and like any good storyteller, we can see and tell stories in layers. We know that there are multiple ways to tell a story, and rather than mass-pitching an announcement, happening or event, our job is to provide the materials (facts and unique angles) that allow our journalist friends to craft those individual stories using their individual talents.