January 06, 2011 / by Heidi Sullivan

Celebrating (or something like that!) a half decade of bad pitches

It was early 2006: Biz Stone was working at Google before launching a little something called Twitter, Facebook was only open to college and high school students, and Chris Anderson had just started telling us about The Long Tail of the Internet in WIRED. In another corner of the Web, Richard Laermer and Kevin Dugan joined forces and started talking about the current state of the public relations industry.

“The media was making fun of PR people and a lot of people were asking, ‘What’s the point of PR?’” recalls Laermer. “Kevin and I thought it would be really fun if the two of us could find ways to improve our own M.O. What if we could make the people who really shouldn’t be in PR leave the industry?”

Hence the launch of the Bad Pitch Blog, celebrating its fifth anniversary this month of acting as PR industry watchdog. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Bad Pitch Blog, I highly recommend checking it out. So, here’s the basic idea: Dugan and Laermer ‘out’ PR people who have written really bad pitches and then sent them, untargeted, to the media masses.

Oh, and by the way, the blog covers other great insights, new ideas and savvy news for and about the industry, too. But, Laermer explains, “If you look at our page views, when we really go to town on somebody, our numbers are through the roof. People love the bad pitch posts.”

The bad pitch posts aren’t written with ill intentions, however. In the very first post on January 20, 2006, Dugan explains, “It’s our hope that the Bad Pitch blog will entertain the true victims of this practice, the PR industry, and it will help the guilty parties improve. Hopefully the blog will someday become obsolete.” That’s quite the goal, but has anything really changed?

When asked if he thinks the PR industry has changed since the launch of Bad Pitch blog, Laermer replied, “I definitely do. Back during the blog’s third anniversary, Kevin and I met and we weren’t sure. Now we’re certain – the last 18 months have been a real shift. People are starting to realize how important it is to stop squandering the equity of relationships. You’re putting out info on behalf of other people; that’s a huge responsibility.”

The Equity of Relationships

Where did the PR industry originally go wrong – and how have we improved? “I have this theory called ‘Super Responsibility’,” explains Laermer. “In the ‘90s we used to say being responsible meant not lying. I would hope everyone knows that today. Super Responsibility is being completely true to the things that come out of your mouth: don’t confuse people; don’t use jargon; be 1000% sure of data and statistics that you share with people. All that non-assuredness we are glib with comes back to bite you in the behind.”

If we are required to have Super Responsibility and our job is to get our news noticed, we, as PR people, have to find new ways to navigate the new media landscape. Laermer offers a few tips: “We used to just reach the press, but now it’s the end-user. We can’t be a wannabe – it confuses the customer, or the person we are trying to reach. I’m always vying to find what works the most within the current situation – sometimes that’s the old-fashioned aspect of our business: picking up the phone or, like the other day, when I sent mail to a journalist. He called me right away and said, ‘I haven’t gotten mail in ages!’”

The message folks in the PR industry have been hearing again and again is that we need to target our news to the people that are most interested in it – and the ones we’ve built relationships with. “People love to be thought of – everything is about relationship and equity,” said Laermer. He continues, “Targeted pitches are the ones that will work. Never ever waste people’s time; the person who wastes the least amount of time will be looked upon as someone whom journalists and others want to use as a source. It’s just karma.”

Laermer finds that producing great content is becoming one of the most important facets of our industry, “We have to pay attention to the words we use—it can’t just be about the commas and quotes that say how ‘thrilled’ we are; our content needs to be so good that it’s immediately usable. You don’t need a dateline; you just need to learn how to be a writer who finishes their writing – in other words, don’t do drafts.”

It’s All About Research

I use that phrase all the time in Cision’s Media Research department, and was delighted to hear from Laermer that he felt the same: “Do your research, too – I remember not too long ago when I had to go to the library to look stuff up; we are so damn lucky today. I love spending time in the Library of Congress site—it’s like magic to me! When you go deeper than just a Google search, you’ll find knowledge that is both shocking and thrilling– and that’s how you start trends. Like the Mannings always say: ‘Go deep!’”

He continues: “A lot of people have realized this is no longer a profession where you can succeed just by being ‘a people person.’ You have to be the best possible communicator—to all parties. Researching trends, providing great ideas, going in directions no one has thought of, educating clients and bosses, and making people think and laugh. It’s how you get so-called influencers to pay attention—and it’s how you get buy-in at work!  In the last year or so, that’s really started taking hold because we have no choice; to rise above the chaff you’ve got to grab attention. And take lots of risks.”

As we start a new year, think about these questions: What’s your big, trend-starting idea? What have you discovered through research? Who have you built relationships with this year?  If we all find answers to these questions, perhaps in another five years, the Bad Pitch blog will be obsolete. Here’s hoping.

Richard Laermer is an oft-quoted source to media and other influential types who appears on CNN, CBS News, FOX News, and in all media on marketing, media, and trends in many fields. A respected and hilarious speaker to corporations and at seminars and conferences, he is the author of the book 2011: Trendspotting for the Next Decade.  Laermer is CEO of RLM PR and is the best-selling co-author of Punk Marketing, in addition to the perennial PR handbook Full Frontal PR and 2002’s TrendSpotting (plus others). His brand new project is How To Fame, details of which can be found at http://howtofame.com/details.

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About Heidi Sullivan

One of PRWeek’s 40 under 40 in 2012, Heidi Sullivan is Senior Vice President of Digital Content for Cision and a self-proclaimed social media metrics nerd. She leads the company’s digital and broadcast content teams, the global research team for Cision’s media database, Cision’s social media community team and the company’s content marketing strategy. You can find her on Twitter @hksully.