PR Confessional: Pitching Crap to the Media

You can tell from the headline that I’m about to make a bold statement. But after reading Arik Hanson’s post on Monday that called out PR for perpetuating corporate-speak in press releases, I’m feeling a little sassy.

I’m about to confess something that I suspect every PR professional is guilty of at one time or another:

I have pitched crap to the media.

That’s right. I have pitched utter, complete crap that no one with a news hole the size of the front page would cover.

You can admit if you have done it too—I won’t judge.

Sometimes, we’re in a position where we have no say in what the client or company leader wants.

Sometimes, we don’t have the best material to work with and have to make lemonade out of lemons.

I got to thinking about this when fellow blogger Josh Brett wrote about the sins of marketing, communications, and public relations last year.

While I articulated an additional “sin” in the comments discussion, I found myself holding back from saying what I really thought was sinful—that of wasting the media’s time and the client’s budget by pitching crap.

This is an entirely subjective observation, of course, based on my previous PR work experience. But I have to believe that it has happened to more PR folks than they care to admit.

I first became aware of this trend when I started reading the Bad Pitch Blog. Think about it–if some pitches weren’t filled with crap, then what would this blog have to write about?

I also recall a conversation I had a few years back with a product manager of a Philadelphia-based cable company.

She and I were swapping stories about working in PR agencies, and she shared how a tech reporter once asked her why agencies pitch them crappy news ideas.  She told the reporter it’s because the client thinks they are special and the agency has to deal with it, regardless of how crappy it is.

Wow—that was not subtle at all!

So, is it wrong for PR folks to own up to the reality that they have to pitch crap news ideas every now and then to the media?

Or is this just a dirty little secret that gets swept under the rug while we go on with our busy lives in public relations?

Let’s be honest and first examine some of the possible reasons why PR folks pitch crap to begin with:

  • Perhaps a client thinks their product/service/leader is the greatest in the world and have an endless budget to tout it as such.
  • Perhaps a senior-ranking PR executive convinced the client that their product/service/leader is the greatest in the world in order to get more budget and billable hours.
  • Perhaps someone paid for research to show that the client’s product/service/leader is the greatest in the world and now the client is obligated to publicize those findings.

Of course, everyone is entitled to his or her opinion. What is crap to one person may not be crap to another.

But my question to this quandary has more to do with the PR professional’s responsibility when the client thinks their product/service/leader is the greatest in the world, even when it’s not, yet still expects the agency to pitch it to the media.

It is not an easy position to be in. PR folks still have to make a living, but where do we draw the line?

Perhaps this is illustrative of an educational gap between the client/company and the PR professional. Public relations is more than media relations, yet some people still think all we do is write press releases about anything and email them to reporters.

I would suspect that the knowledge gap at the root of some of these crappy pitch instances represents a challenge and opportunity for PR professionals.

It’s a challenge because it poses more work for the PR pro to have to educate their clients or company leaders about what is really newsworthy and worth their budget.

That may take some time, but it could be worth it if you consider the opportunity for PR to actually improve upon its own image by cutting down on the rate of crappy pitches that end up the butt of someone’s blog series.

There are a lot of really smart people working in public relations. Crappy pitches filled with too much corporate-speak does no justice to them nor to the profession.

I would up Arik Hanson’s ante of removing corporate jargon from press releases and add that PR folks should also ditch the crap.

So, that’s my PR confessional. What do you think? Anyone else want to get this off their chest?

May 2, 2012. Tags: , , , , , . public relations.

16 Comments

  1. Joshua Brett replied:

    I can relate to your experiences. While I’ve never worked in an agency, I’ve worked in marketing/pr roles for both large and small businesses. I’ve been compelled to pitch lame, uncompelling stories that people above me wanted pitched, and I’ve tried to pitch stories on my own volition that, if I had to do it over again, I wouldn’t have bothered with. I just try to learn what I can from each experience, good or bad.

    • Krista replied:

      Thanks for sharing your experiences, Josh! And thanks for your post that inspired me to write mine :)

  2. templetouchmom replied:

    I was JUST having this conversation today with my coworkers. GREAT POST!

    I work at an agency and have had the embarrassing task of pitching complete crap on one too many occasions. Like Joshua said, I too try and learn from each experience. Teaching our clients what is and isn’t newsworthy doesn’t even help in most situations. That’s why managing expectations is and will always be the hardest part our job.

  3. Ashlie (@MarketingAshlie) replied:

    I was JUST having this conversation today with my coworkers. GREAT POST!

    I work at an agency and have had the embarrassing task of pitching complete crap on one too many occasions. Like Joshua said, I too try and learn from each experience. Teaching our clients what is and isn’t newsworthy doesn’t even help in most situations. That’s why managing expectations is and will always be the hardest part our job.

    • Krista replied:

      Thanks for weighing in on the conversation Ashlie. It’s not always an easy job, but managing the client’s expectations is part of the puzzle.

  4. Cheryl replied:

    I’ve had clients ask that I pitch crap, and I say no. My relationship with journalists and bloggers is just as important as the relationship with the client. If the client doesn’t respect the advice that I’ve provided, then I say no. I’d prefer to loose a client than pitch a bad story, idea, or product.

    • Krista replied:

      Thanks for sharing that, Cheryl! That’s exactly the point–a crap pitch will do more to damage the PR pro’s reputation with the media than it will for the client.

      • Cheryl replied:

        Thanks for airing this secret of the PR world and helping more PR professionals see that we must have a backbone. I’ve only worked in small agencies and now I own my own agency. I respect the job the journalists are trying to to and try to provide them with solid ideas that work for their audience. And in return, I have good experiences with them and my clients get their good stories placed!

    • Stephanie Yonus (@StephanieYonus) replied:

      Exactly, Cheryl. I’d rather lose a job than jeopardize the relationships I’ve formed with the media.

      Great post Krista! PR people get such a bad rap sometimes.

  5. quickfamesystem replied:

    Wow, thanks for sharing that. You are not alone that is for sure. I coach authors on how to pitch the broadcast media and I can tell you that the “crap” issue does not just exist in PR firms, it exists at the basic client level as well. I have to work long and hard with my clients to keep them from just blasting out “crap”. Getting people to dig up good segment ideas is hard, hard work, even when they are sitting on good material. I think it is a bit easier once they realize that they are the ones doing the pitching, not someone else. So thanks again for letting us know we are not alone out here. Edward Smith.

    • Krista replied:

      Thanks for sharing your experience, Edward! It’s comforting to know that PR is not alone when dealing with crappy pitches.

  6. The best writing about PR this week VIA PR Daily replied:

    [...] to the admission in this story that turned up on PR Daily’s sister site Ragan.com and on the blog PR in Pink. The author Krista Giuffi candidly states: “I have pitched crap to the media. That’s right. [...]

  7. Trace Cohen (@Trace_Cohen) replied:

    Thank you for being honest, I think that it is a trait that unfortunately many people don’t associate with the PR industry anymore. We have some PR issues of our own…

    I think the main issue is that we rely on someone else to do our job, aka the ever fractionated and decreasing media outlets. With regards to the client, even if we think the story isn’t really newsworthy and won’t get covered, it then sets the expectation that when they do have something that should be covered, that it will be covered. Between a rock and a hard place.

    The other issue is the press release, which is something that no one wants to write or even read. It is our job to make news of anything, not through spin but by telling the truth well and we can do this by writing our own stories that people will actually enjoy. PR professionals are almost like analyst and know the product better than the media and even clients sometimes – you are basically PR Journalists.

    • Krista replied:

      Thanks for sharing your insights, Trace! It is a difficult issue to navigate, but to the extent we can, PR folks need to manage expectations up front.

  8. Web Worthy Wednesdays – May 2nd – 8th, 2012 | Digital Dialectic replied:

    [...] PR Confessional: Pitching Crap to the Media Author Krista Giuffi (@PR_in_Pink) admits that she has pitched “crap” to the media at times, and looks to uncover why she and others in our profession do this (whether we like to admit it, or not). [...]

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