Gini Dietrich, of the Spin Sucks blog, made the sharp but totally accurate point that a lot of what gives PR a bad name is bad pitching. Bad pitching of stories to bloggers, to journalists, to media outlets does no good for anyone. So what’s the remedy?
Think of incoming pitches as a river. If the river is left to its own devices, it can overwhelm a nearby town when it floods, it can leave all kinds of debris and unwanted junk in the wake of its floodwaters, and it can at its worst destroy towns, land, and properties.
We’ve learned to build around rivers by incorporating flood gates, overflows, levees, reservoirs, and millponds in our settlements around them. These let us handle floods appropriately and in some cases even harness the power of rivers to our benefit.
When it comes to pitches from companies, from PR pros, and from agencies, the same ideas can apply.
Acknowledge that you can’t stop the river. It’s going to be there, whether we want it to be or not. Our choices are to move away from the banks, or manage the flow.
Provide a flood control mechanism. In the world of flood control, there’s a straightforward formula for measuring the flow of a river for the purposes of building a low head dam that effectively says the flow rate of the river depends on the height, width, and shape of the dam times the flow rate of the unimpeded river. The low head dam provides a speed bump in the river, while not completely impeding its flow.
If you translate this to public relations, think about how you might provide a speed bump for the flood of pitches that come in by setting clear expectations.
- Provide a dedicated, easy to find landing page on your website for pitches.
- Specify the kinds of pitches you do and don’t want.
- Specify what kind, if any, of response you’ll give and when.
- Specify the penalty, if any, of pitching off-target.
- Specify the payment needed if the pitch is effectively a media buy.
Here’s an example of a large speed bump I put on my personal website that specifies rates of contact. This isn’t appropriate for everyone or even most people, but it’s an example of setting expectations:
Has anyone bought a message? No, not in the couple of years I’ve had this running. But it dramatically reduced the number of unsolicited pitches I get and when I’m asked why I didn’t respond to a pitch, I can simply say that no payment was included, and thus no response was guaranteed.
You’ll need to adapt the tone, idea, and flavor to your business, blog, or media outlet, but clearly set expectations and provide a speed bump of some kind as well as a channel for the river to flow into, and you should see an improvement, or at the least, be able to provide clear consequences for people who pitch off-target or unprofessionally.
Christopher S. Penn
Vice President, Marketing Technology