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TODD SMITH: Journalists share story pitching pet peeves

Reporters get 38,000 emails a year, and more than two-thirds of them are from people seeking publicity. It’s no wonder – there are more than times as many public relations specialists as reporters and correspondents, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

So it’s more important than ever to navigate all the noise with your journalist network with relevant – and newsworthy – story pitches that resonate.

Communicating has never been this frictionless, so PR pros feel the need to amp up the pitch in order to be heard. This often rankles the reporters you’re trying to lure. So, in the spirit of a public service to PR practitioners, Digiday asked numerous journalists for their most hated PR tactics. Here’s what they said:

» The lazy pitch
“Google search is almost 20 years old. It’s really good. It’s incredible how some PR professionals don’t bother to use it to learn anything about the journalist they are about to pitch. People will call me who don’t know my beat or my publication. I’d tell them off, but I can already tell from the tone of their voice that they are far sadder about the situation than I ever could be.” – business editor.

» The cheesy pick-up line
“Most hated PR tactic in the digital age would have to be starting a pitch with some reference to one of my recent tweets. I get that you want to show you’ve done your homework, but that should show through the pitch itself. It really feels like a cheesy pick-up line.” — tech reporter

» The ‘circle back’
“Sending multiple follow-up emails to ‘circle back’ or ‘touch base’ on pitches that I clearly have no interest in.” – business reporter.

» The robotic pitch
“The more robotic you sound, the more jargon-y, the more over-explain-y, the more formal, the less likely I am to engage, especially if you’re cold-pitching me for the first time. I’m much more responsive to PRs who are more casual and indicate they know my work without coming across as overbearing or like they’re trying to sell me something.” – columnist.

» ‘I’m not your boyfriend’
“I’ve had people send 1,000-word DMs out of the blue. It makes me hate the fact that I leave my DMs open. It seems to be common in tech. Also, texting me when I clearly haven’t responded to email or phone. I’m not your boyfriend, so don’t text me.” – tech reporter.

» Playing hardball
“Like other powerful institutions, [tech companies] will do things like encourage critical responses of things they don’t like, selectively feed info to counter a negative storyline, blackball you if they are displeased with what you write, and ask for things like quote approval (we’ll talk to you on background, you tell us which parts you’d like to use). I don’t think they’re any better or worse about this than, say, the White House or Hollywood. I do think they have more to work with (there are lots of outlets that cover tech, some with less rigorous ethics), but tech companies also have a big chorus of critics online, so it’s not like they can get away with a whole lot.” – tech columnist.

» Poor timing
“The pitches that go, ‘Hey Sir, I really liked your story on X mega trend that you clearly spent weeks on. Now that is has posted, was wondering if you’d like to talk to my client about that trend right now, as he is tangentially related to the subject and surely you are planning to revisit that story with an immediate follow-up today.’” – business reporter.

» False intimacy
“I get slightly irritated when a flack I’ve never met sends me a pitch disguised as a personal email filled with insincere compliments. Just because you cruised my Twitter for five minutes doesn’t mean we’re bros, bro.” – lifestyle reporter.

Is Facebook ready to be taken as serious news network?
Until recently, the big news in the world of news was that Facebook was backtracking from journalism. After an unexpected dip in the personal sharing in its core business, plus a mini-scandal involving allegations of political bias in how it displayed content from conservative websites, Facebook said it was updating its algorithm to prioritize wedding announcements and baby photos over postings by media companies.

And when Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg announced the Facebook Live video function, he presented it as a platform for life’s small trials and triumphs. “You can feel like you’re really there with your friends,” he said last spring, when the service launched. Among the videos he praised: a young man’s haircut as it happened, a woman skiing downhill with her kids, and a zoo camera trained on some baby birds.

The sentiment suddenly feels quaint. On July 6, during what should have been a routine traffic stop, a police officer in suburban Minneapolis fired multiple shots at Philando Castile, a 32-year-old black man. Seconds later, as he slumped, bloody and gasping for air next to her in the car, Diamond Reynolds, his girlfriend, opened the Facebook app on her smartphone and pressed the Go Live button. She narrated calmly, panning from the gun pointed in her direction to her dying companion, and even kept the broadcast going as she was thrown to the ground, cuffed, and taken into custody.

The next day, Facebook was used by witnesses in Dallas to broadcast live footage of the attack that left five police officers dead and seven others wounded at a Black Lives Matter protest organized in response to the shootings of Castile and Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, La. In the aftermath of the violence, Facebook Live was inescapable, as public figures took to the platform to process in real time what had happened.

Broadcasting video in real time on smartphones isn’t new. Twitter’s Periscope made headlines last year when it enabled users to stream parties from the South by Southwest festival in Austin and unauthorized coverage of the Oscars. But none of the companies that have rolled out live video have Facebook’s scale or technological know-how. With 1.65 billion users – more than half of who log in every day – footage can quickly command an enormous audience. And live videos are archived, adding even more viewers. Reynolds’s video of Castile’s death drew more than 5 million views on Facebook within a day of the incident and was rebroadcast on several news channels.

This new dynamic is changing the face of news in our world!

Short-circuited self-centered mic | Ted Cruz
If you tuned into the Republican National Convention and heard Senator Ted Cruz’s speech, you got a whole lot more than you bargained for. You didn’t just witness a speech, but a self-centered, narcissistic, egotistical rant that was a stunningly clear case of political suicide.

Cruz’s speech delineated conservative philosophies and principles and did plenty to sharply attack and demonize Hillary Clinton. But by not endorsing Donald Trump for president, he ticked off the Republican convention audience that erupted into angry chants of “endorse Trump!”

Cruz’s decision was an avoidable case of political suicide. The first and most obvious reason is that the party nominated Trump in a historic series of Republican primaries. A weak attempt to still deny Trump the nomination had already failed on the convention floor more than 48 hours before Cruz took the stage. He should have known bucking this trend was hopeless. While Cruz, his supporters, and of course Hillary Clinton’s backers will hail this as being courageous and virtuous, the reality is it was just plain quixotic, and just blew a gaping hole in USS Cruz. The Spin Cycle thinks his political future is as bright as the murky, mud-slinging ocean he has sunk into.

Todd Smith is president and chief communications officer of Deane, Smith & Partners, a full-service branding, PR, marketing and advertising firm with offices in Jackson. The firm — based in Nashville, Tenn. — is also affiliated with Mad Genius. Contact him at todd@deanesmithpartners.com, and follow him @spinsurgeon.


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