Ever read Pro PR Tips? The posts, from long-time technology and business writer Rafe Needleman, are like a slasher film on bad PR tactics. They serve as the equivalent of the grisly, older high school driver-ed videos (dating myself here) showing the car wrecks that happen when you don’t drive carefully. Read them, but do so at least an hour after breakfast to avoid an upset stomach.
Grist’s David Roberts has some very direct advice in a recent post, “How to get me to pay attention to your pitch.” According to Roberts, “A startlingly large proportion of the PR emails I receive are grossly incompetent — a waste of my time and inbox space.” This sort of feedback from working journalists isn’t usually pretty. But when you get it, especially from marquee pitch destinations such as New York Times national energy reporter Matt Wald, it’s invaluable.
When we had Wald in the house recently for a Scaling Green Communicating Energy Lecture Series presentation, we took the opportunity to ask how best to pitch him. So, how do you get Matt Wald to respond to your pitch?
According to Wald, there are two key characteristics of emails with a chance of being read and responded to: 1) it has to be something new and 2) it has to explain clearly why it matters and/or is interesting.
Well, it’s tough [to get an email to me returned], but it’s gotta actually be new, and the email has to explain why it’s new. I get a lot of emails from people who [think they] just discovered sliced bread…that purport to be new developments, and you look at them and you can’t figure out why these are likely to be commercially viable, or if they’ve advanced to a stage where they’re worth writing about.
The Times is in an interesting position, which is there always was a flood of information, a flood of voices waiting to be heard. That flood has gotten louder and more diffuse and more available on email. And part of what we do is try to pick and choose about what really looks significant, and it’s a hard job… There are some areas, smart grid, building controls, etc., where there are a lot of well-paid people trying to convince reporters like me that their company has the great new widget, the great new invention, it’s become the standard for this or that, and the readers’ eyes are going to glaze over and my eyes are going to glaze over.
Venture Beat’s : Know who you’re pitching and be able to explain why a reporter’s audience should care.
For communicators and their clients, the advice falls on some very clear lines: There is a cost to blast emailing, and it's a cumulative one that pushes reporters to tune you out. If it’s not worth tailoring, it’s not worth sending.