7 Scary PR Stories to Tell in the Dark

Journalists Tell Us About the Scariest PR Pitches They’ve Ever Received

In an effort to further bridge that gap between journalists and PR pros, we asked some of our journalist friends to tell us about the scariest pitches they every received – and the advice they would offer to turn what feels like a cruel trick (a bad pitch) into a delightful treat. Here’s what they told us.

Scary Bad Research

"There isn't just one, but two examples of types of pitches that I am beyond tired of getting: 1) Products or stories that do not fit our readership. If PR folks would just take a few minutes to vet their send list, it would save all of us considerable time and effort. 2) Blind pitches, so [for example, they’ll say,] “hey there is this cool product please let us know if you're interested,” but doesn't tell me what the product is. I immediately delete those. Boggles the mind.”

Scary good advice: “Don't send mass pitches. Don't send blind pitches. With both, you are wasting everyone's time, and the more you do it, the less likely press are to be open to anything you send or anything from your client.”

Follow-Up Nightmares

“Every week I get multiple emails from people ‘following up.’ It's like a recurring nightmare. It's even better when I HAVE ALREADY REPLIED TO THEM, PASSING.”

Scary good advice: “Newsrooms are incredibly understaffed. Stop ‘following up’ repeatedly, especially on pitches that have no relevance to what I cover. All you do is land on my direct to spam folder list.”

Ghosting Reporter

“At least once a week I get pitched something  I find interesting. I then send follow-up questions to the PR person, and they never respond. This happens with shocking regularity. Sometimes I have assignments, and they don’t want to give me anything beyond what they have put on the press release. I always need fresh quotes and often somehow these people are unprepared to give them.”

Scary good advice: “Expect questions. Respond promptly. Freelance writing is hard, and it doesn’t pay as much as it did even 10 years ago, so take that into account when someone contacts you for more information. Don’t make them work so hard.”

The Inauthentic Stranger

“The most horrifying pitches are the ones coming from someone who takes it upon themselves to add a diminutive to my name. I've never in my life gone by ‘Jimmy,’ but that doesn't stop the occasional ‘pitchster’ who thinks I'll find the unasked-for diminutive appealing.”

Scary good advice: “Don't try to make a cold pitch sound like it's coming from a childhood friend. It's a distasteful tactic that immediately positions you as dishonest and to be avoided.”

A Spooky Lack of Awareness

“I've been pitched on innovative COVID products, surveys and reviews during massive hurricanes and other weather events, with persistent follow-ups.”

Scary good advice: “Have some idea where journos are geographically, and be aware of potentially widespread news situations when pitching to places that might not have power/water. Same goes for places that have just been through tragedy, or other disaster – pitching at that time is a guarantee I will never write about your pitch/respond.”

No 'Where' to Be Found

“Press releases that just assume we know ‘where’ they are located. They only mention their name, like, ‘You are invited to visit our Spooktacular Haunt....’ I have to look up online and go search to find out ‘where’ they are talking about.”

Scary good advice: “Don't assume we already know; include the who, what, when, why, and where ALWAYS.”

The Never-Ending Story

The worst pitch I've received was a 5-page, single-spaced Word document that outlined a woman's life story from the moment of birth before mentioning she was an author who would be hosting a local book signing. Yikes.”

Scary good advice: “Keep it brief, summarize the key points, and put your pitch in the body of the email. Instead of attaching files, include a link to the full release and media assets.

Trick or Treat: Give Them Something Good to Read

Not into scary stories? No problem - here's a quick summary of the above advice…

  1. Do your homework. Familiarize yourself with the journalists’ work and the publication(s) they write for to ensure your pitch is relevant to their audience and beat or location.
  2. Refine your media list. Make sure you’re reaching out only to the contacts that are right for your story or product or news announcement. If keeping an up-to-date media list requires more time than you have, consider a third-party media database that also provides search capabilities so you can quickly identify and connect with the right media people.
  3. Respect reporters’ time. Knowing if and when to follow up is tricky. While most reporters are fine with following up, few will tolerate multiple and persistent follow ups (especially if the pitch isn’t relevant to their audience in the first place).
  4. Be authentic. From click-bait subject lines to feigning familiarity, journalists can smell inauthenticity a mile away.
  5. Pay attention. Consider any big news stories or topics of conversation in the news or on social media when sending your pitch. Make sure your messaging – the topic and tone – is right for the moment.
  6. Don’t make the journalist jump through hoops to get the key information. Make sure you cover the who, what, when, why and where – and be ready to provide details when asked.
  7. Keep it concise. Of course you need to cover the who, what, when, why and where, but you also need to do it quickly. (Certainly not an easy task, but with practice, it gets easier.)  Remember: journalists are inundated with emails and don’t have time to read a five-page pitch. (Does anyone, though?)

For more spooktacular pitching tips – including how to tailor your pitches and build relationships with media – check out our e-book, Pitch Perfect: Data-Driven Pitching for a Digital PR World

About Mary Lorenz

Mary Lorenz is Editorial Director at Cision and writes about best practices and thought leadership for marketing, communications and public relations professionals. She has a background in marketing, public relations and journalism and over 15 years of experience in copywriting and content strategy across a variety of platforms, industries and audiences.

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