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?