An (almost) naked tour of good, mediocre, and horrible PR pitches

Jon Reed Profile picture for user jreed March 25, 2016
If you're in the mood for a PR roast, you came to the right place. But this piece is not just a how-not-to - it's a look at how good pitches lead to stories, and work gets done. And yes, I named some names.

I had a piping hot Friday Roast planned for you, full of linkbait fun of PR pitches gone wrong. And don't worry, I've got your weenie roast griddle cakes. But it's far more useful when PR pitches actually achieve a result.

For enterprisey types like you and me, "result" means content that advances the conversation, surfaces a contrarian perspective or fresh data to parse. At diginomica, our readers have made it clear: they want customer use cases that put tech to the real world test. I'm always scouring PR pitches for some of that goodness.

Usually, I'm the one that gets scoured. So let's do an (almost naked) PR review, from the worst to the best. And yes - I'm gonna name a few names. So buckle up! My commentary is marked ->

Spray and pray PR misfires

1. Augmented reality from hell. From the email:

Hi Jon

-> Can't read anything into the use of my name. Could be faux personalization.

Imagine walking down the cereal aisle and being greeted by a lifelike image of Tony the Tiger and a “grrrrreat” offer on your next box of Frosted Flakes.

-> Sounds like my personal retail apocalypse. Using adorable mascots to get kids addicted to sugar is diabolical enough. Please keep Tony away from me.

With some experts praising augmented reality (AR) as this year’s major tech trend

-> Well it must be true then

Now is the time for retailers to ensure they have a strong digital foundation in place to accommodate this newest wave of innovation.

-> Hmm well I think the fact that they are getting crushed by Amazon and closing stores right and left is more of a concern than getting Tony the Tiger up and running. A bit further on...

For store associates, augmented reality will further enhance their ability to offer real-time accurate responses to the two most important questions, ‘Do you have this item?’ and ‘Where can I find it?’

-> My most important question is always, "Where the hell are the store associates?"

My take -  Doesn't lack in entertainment value. Has a bizarre bravado. Small bonus for industry focus versus simply a tech pitch. Augmented reality is, in fact, interesting. Had this press release come with a customer interview offer, I might have followed up.

2. Group selfies and consumer tech infatuation. From the email, which didn't bother with an intro:

LiveRing, the first social many-to-many live video app, today announced the worldwide availability of its innovative mobile video app, for iPhone and Android users, which enables users to launch calls to friends and connect up to five friends in a real-time video call.

-> Nothing gets me more excited than amoral incrementalism disguised as tech utopian snacks for the me-too user.

LiveRing capitalizes on the “moment marketing” movement, in which social mobile apps and networks provide real-time moment sharing. With LiveRing, users can invite friends to join in a real-time moment, and users can even take and share a “group selfie” image.

-> Group selfie? Man I hope this one isn't under embargo!

My take - You're a diginomica reader. I'll ask you - does this pitch sound like an editorial fit for us? Keep in mind, if you say, "yes," I might have to jump off the Coolidge Bridge, and the Connecticut River is awfully nippy this time of year.

Sidenote: email subject headers marked "embargo" go into the circular file in the sky:

EMBARGO: Lithium Technologies Sees Significant Growth in Lithium Social Web

-> I was chafing at the bit to get at that one! Don't send an embargo my way unless human lives are at stake.

Started out bad but kinda worked out

3. Redeemed by the live stream. Many of the worst pitches come back to mobile whizz-bang. Such as:

Today, Samsung is unveiling its latest mobile innovations at its Samsung Galaxy Unpacked event in New York City.

-> Got it. So you didn't want me in New York, but there is still room for my me and my digital rag in the cheap seats. Then:

The keynote presentation is currently streaming live at for those interested in tuning in.

-> A day's notice would have been swell, but nothing wrong with a live stream to check out. Beats the heck out of a canned press release.

4. Disagreements can lead to interviews.  Sometimes I get an annoying release that leads to a fruitful debate.

Hi Jon,

-> Hello.

It’s no secret that the future of traditional cable TV is in question as streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu enter more households.

-> True. And?

Particularly as streaming services begin bidding on the rights to live-stream sporting events, like Yahoo! did last year, the reasons for holding on to a cable box or satellite antenna are melting away.

-> Hmm. I wrote the PR directly and said:

I don't agree with this statement: "the reasons for holding on to a cable box or satellite antenna are melting away." That market is shrinking and changing, but Yahoo's sports broadcast was hardly an unqualified success. As long as ESPN owns huge sports contracts, cable and satellite will have quite a foothold. But anyhow, that's ok, we can debate it.

The client, involved in digital media content management on mobile devices, is open to a clash of viewpoints, so an interview is in the works.

Put some real thought into  a personal pitch - got a result

5. Winner #1

Hi Jon – I’ve been doing some research on enterprise apps and legacy systems, in regards the challenges they present to businesses when creating digital experiences. I came across your article on the “UX design in action – how should enterprises face user experience shortcomings?.”

-> Aww, you read my stuff? Cool, you know I write about Enterprise UX then - you don't even have to ask. Funny how that works.

I have been working with a digital product development and user experience design consultancy that has seen this issue arise with several clients over the years. To help address these issues, they developed a design process called ________.

-> We're slightly off track now, pitching product coolness rather than industry issues. But at least we're on the UX topic train.

They have high-quality visuals to help explain

-> They probably do, but demos scare the paint in my office as the walls are already dry.

And case studies they could share.

-> Now we're back on track. They have customer scenarios, and might be interested in connecting me to a customer also. This kind of pitch often results in content.

6. Another winner:

Hi Jon, Really quick one

-> Cool, I have a sec.

Is the topic machine learning for business of any interested to you?

-> In theory, yes.

The reason I ask is, we work with Yandex Data Factory, and CEO Jane Zavalishina has a wealth of knowledge, experience, customer anecdotes about how machine learning can be applied to businesses across industries – and more importantly, why!

-> CEO access always a good thing, but will need a bit more

Jane would be happy to talk about:

Why we need to stop using the buzzword “Big Data”, and instead think of data as an asset and the technologies around it the value driver for businesses.

-> Nice, she can't stand buzzwords. I like her already.

Based on client experience, the main challenges businesses encounter – across industries – when trying to understand and analyse their data.

-> Cool, she is customer-oriented and has stories to share.

Her experience as a leading woman in technology and data science

-> Another worthwhile angle.  Jane was a very smart interview subject, and the piece is up: If you want to be data-driven, embrace experimentation – says Jane Zavalishina.

(This pitch came via Aisling Roberts of CCgroup PR).

7. Final winner - the customer use case pitch.   This one is a combo of two emails, because the first customer didn't work out, but you get the gist:

Hi Jon,

Hope your travels are going well. We spoke about a week and a half ago on the phone re: my client Influitive, and you mentioned you would be interested in speaking with one of their customers.

-> Bingo. Persistent PR peeps aren't always a good thing, but when they are busy getting you the right story, persistence is lovely.

We have an opportunity to put you in touch with Kim Ellis, Director, Customer Connect at BMC. Kim runs the customer program at BMC and transitioned from a reference program (they leveraged for many years) to an advocacy program with the help of Influitive. BMC recognized the need to transform their customer program from a one way street (think reference program) to a two-way street with customer advocacy.

-> Customer is ready to talk, and the narrative is established.

Since deployment, BMC has seen some fantastic results. In fact, one of the first challenges Kim posted on the platform ended up paying for Influitive for at least five years.

-> Bonus: one quantifiable result has been determined. We are after go-live, which is preferable. Sounds like a good story with lessons to learn.

The story got done: How BMC moved from static references to customer advocacy ROI. And it led me all the way to Advocamp, Influitive's annual advocate marketing fest.

(This pitch came via Tanaya Lukaszewski of Kulesa Faul)

The wrap

You may be wondering: If I have such a clear editorial need, wouldn't it pay off to focus on a core of PR relationships? Yes, to a degree. A good portion of my best customer use cases came from the same hard-working PR folks. Once they get what you need, and you get what their clients need, you get into a groove. There are plenty of great PRs who have helped me - far too many to mention here - but I do want to single out two. The reasons are worth noting:

  • Kevin Wolf of TGPR - Kevin believed in diginomica when we only had a handful of stories posted and, let's be honest, not a lot of traffic. He believed in me 450 (or so) blogs ago. He surfaced excellent customers and could see the potential. Win.
  • Kate Gundry of PluckPR - Kate and her team get my use case focus. Kate knows more about the areas she covers than many self-proclaimed subject matter experts. That leads to better stories.

Speaking for myself - NOT the rest of the diginomica team (we all have our own ways of dealing with PR. If you send them emails based on this article, they'll buy out my shares), I like casting a pretty wide net when it comes to PR. It does create an email burden; PR emails are just about the only ones I struggle to filter in my obsessively-filtered inbox. That's because of the stumble factor. I don't want to give readers stale content by going to the same sources again and again.

You might be thinking "This is one more blogger diva belly aching." True - but as you noticed, it doesn't take a perfect pitch to get a story out of me. Recently, I've had several stories provoked by email arguments. I gave Brian Solis a rough time for putting me on his book blast list. That led to an interview and story - mostly thanks to his classy response to my spleen vent.

A clumsy pitch might get a test-the-waters response from me if the story is good enough. But when things get crazy and I'm pushing deadlines on the tarmac, nothing gets a quicker reply than a personal pitch with a pre-qualified customer. That's just how I roll. Spray and pray cannot compare to those PRs who know their industry and build their network the hard way, one pitch at a time.

Image credit - male mistake concept - confused young dark man pouting, holding his head, embarrassed, having regret, texture effects in studio © STUDIO GRAND OUEST -

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