Pitches that didn’t work, and how they could have

For a couple decades, I served as an editor of newspapers and during that time I listened to goodness knows how many pitches that didn’t work. These came from PR folks as well as from reporters who received pitches they liked and wanted to pursue.

Here are some things I seemed to run into quite a bit when I was an editor of weekly and daily newspapers, magazines, and websites.

Pitches that didn’t work

Before I start my list, let me say this. I understand. Here’s a story.

I was working for a PR firm and we had a large client who was, shall we say, difficult. He insisted he was the only one providing a particular product in the financial services realm. Discussions trying to get this company some media play and the next thing I know I am being pushed to call a guy I know who is a finance reporter for Reuters. 

So I call. I start the pitch. He stops me. 

“The only one?” he asks. I almost get excited, but I know better.

“So he says, yea,” was my response.

He then listed, off the top of his head, a dozen – a full 12 – other companies that offered the exact same product. 

I relayed this to the client who was, of course, mad. At me. I’m an idiot. The guy at Reuters is an idiot. I don’t know how to pitch. Etc. 

So, yes, I get it. 

A few to chew on

Superlatives. This was huge and often less experienced reporters would bite. Anytime a public relations professional would pitch something as “the best,” “the first,” or “the only,” it would take literally seconds to find another one or a better one. I would tell reporters that when the PR person is talking about the first or the best, they’re not pitching, they’re selling. This was not always the reason pitches didn’t work, but it sure put me on edge. 

Pitches that didn't work
All newspaper reporters want great stories, but from time to time get pitches that don’t work out.

The caveat. Hey, the readers of such-and-such credible magazine voted our client the best burger in the state. OK. Now the credibility is inching up some. It’s not the PR person saying they’re the best, it is a magazine. Still some research to do, but we’re moving in the right direction.

We’re opening in your town and these 15 national publications have covered our business. Let’s chat about that word “covered” or the word “featured.” The PR rep for a line of pet products called. A local store was going to start carrying the product which had been featured in a major national business magazine. The problem is the feature was a one paragraph description of the product, in a story that “featured” 25 new pet products. In that situation the word featured bothered me. 

The caveat. The same product. A different PR person. The product – a pet bed – was an early pioneer in helping with dander and with homes where people had allergies. AND it was sold only in independent pet retail stores. The person told me of an article and sent it to me. It did not feature the product, but the product was prominently mentioned in this reputable trade magazine. 

The tacky newsjack. Newsjacking has to be handled carefully and it can be effective. While running newspapers on the Texas coast, we would get inundated with pitches and press releases after every single hurricane. One year a category 1 hurricane hit our town. Only it was barely category 1. In the hours prior, I went surfing. The only damage to the town was something (perhaps a small tornado) hit a Dollar General store doing a couple grand in damage. Yet, press release after press release and pitch after pitch sounded as though the biggest hurricane in the history of mankind hit our town. See the story in my opener. 

The caveat: Skillfully and tastefully done, working off news can be effective. But two things. First, don’t be tacky. But before that, make sure there’s actually news to jack. 

Go new or go home. I’m convinced that at some point in time about 20 years ago, someone in some PR publication or lecture, told practitioners to find the newest reporter they could and pitch them. For a period of time, it seemed that every day at our news meetings, a new reporter would have a story someone pitched to them. Great story. So good we did it six months ago. It just felt intentional.

The caveat. New journalists, whether new to the field, the media outlet, or the beat, are looking for good stories and a good PR professional can be very helpful. However, keep in mind a good editor is not going to allow a retread. 

Goodies. Companies were forever and always sending products and goods to us. I’m not sure why. These ranged from ink pens to very expensive fishing equipment. This is how this influenced me. Twice a year, we’d gather up all these things and have a garage sale. Then the staff of the paper would vote on which local charity to donate the money too. Anything left went to Goodwill. Most outlets don’t need products, a gimmick (a small plastic shovel for a groundbreaking) is just going to clutter my already cluttered office, and you aren’t going to buy us off.

The caveat. I once worked as editor of a mobile electronics magazine that did product reviews, so speakers and amplifiers were welcome. However, shipping them offered no guarantee of a review nor that the review would be necessarily positive. 

I find the mechanics of media pitching to be fairly easy, but to be successful requires some time, some research, and some savvy. Along with some perseverance. 

If you need some help with your media pitching and getting the media interested in your story, reach out. I have successfully worked both sides of the pitch and can help. I am at clay@clay-morgan.com.

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