How to get me to write about you
By Ann Hui
Journalists get a lot of email. Much of it is junk.
Beyond the regular junk mail -- penis enlargement supplements and such -- we also get mail from PR firms -- press releases, pitches, event notices, etc.
When pitches are aimed appropriately and well-executed, they can sometimes lead to story ideas. PR and media relations people who are smart, learn to use email and social media to generate conversations and create relationships with journalists.
More often than not, however, what we get in our inbox is spam. The pitches often have little to do with our beat, or are completely wrong for the publication we work at.Know your audience
When I was working at the Victoria Times Colonist, I would often receive pitches for arts or sports stories. The pitches were often well put-together, and relevant to the publication. Only problem? I was a news reporter, not an arts or sports writer.
Other times, I would receive spam mail from the same groups each day, every day. The messages were identically formatted (Subject: FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE), and almost always irrelevant for my audience. As a result, I would ignore all messages from them -- even ones that, in other circumstances, might have resulted in at least some interest.
"PR profession really needs to get a grip"
Earlier this week, Tech Crunch founder Michael Arrington wrote about a nasty exchange he had with one PR company who he says sends him an average of 15 emails per day -- never once having resulted in a story.
After a particularly frustrating day, Arrington posted a screen shot of his inbox on Twitter, writing that the company “really needs to chill out on the unsolicited press spam, and give an unsubscribe link."
The accompanying photo was a screen shot of his inbox from that single day, showing 32 emails from the same PR company -- many of them duplicates of the same message.
His post sparked an angry response from the PR firm, resulting in a back and forth exchange and culminating in Arrington declaring on the blog “… the whole PR profession really needs to get a grip.”
Obviously, this isn’t the first time the PR industry and journalists have butt heads over spam.
A couple years ago, writers from the phone blog Phone Scoop posted a particularly unpleasant email they’d received from a PR practictioner after asking to be removed from her spam list. (At one point, the PR person writes “I have seen nasty people like you melt away faster than a snowball going up hill in the rain.”)
Elsewhere on the internet, the Bad Pitches Blog documents bad PR pitches from all over the world.
A love-hate relationship?
Surely this doesn't mean journos and PR people can't coexist happily. To some extent, we do depend on one another to do our jobs.
We just have to be a little smarter. PR people need to be smarter about how and who they send releases to, and journos have to understand that for PR people, well, sending releases is just part of their job.
Plus, you never know when a press release might turn into a great story.
Ann Hui is a Radio Room reporter at the Star. She's also completing her final year of the master of journalism program at Ryerson University. email@example.com