Want the Best PR? Avoid These 12 Big PR Mistakes

Posted by Wendy Marx

Want the Best PR_ Avoid These 12 Big PR Mistakes

Ah...the good ol' relationship between journalists and PR professionals. "Complicated" just skims the surface of their relationship. Sometimes they play well and it results in the best PR opportunities. At other times, the two sides snipe at each other like squalling kittens. 

But, in the end, the truth is that they need each other. 

Journalists rely on interesting news pitches to feed their ever-hungry audience. And B2B PR pros rely on journalists for media attention for their brand.

But the more both sides learn about the other, the more successful it will be for each one.

Let's take a few moments and see what PR tactics you can use to improve this relationship and avoid common PR mistakes that could get in the way of your PR strategy.

Just go on Twitter and search the hashtag #PRfail and you'll receive a laundry list of grievances from journalists on the pitches they receive. And for good reason -- there have been more than a few PR mistakes made when it comes to pitching.

And these PR blunders do more harm than you might realize. Media relations are an important part of your PR strategy -- emphasis on relations, or relationships. Journalists aren't just a one and done fix for your brand. In order to scale your brand, you need to cultivate friendly working relationships with journalists within your industry.

But how can you know what journalists want in a pitch email -- and, more to the point, what they don't want?

The folks over at Fractl surveyed over 500 journalists and created a report that gives us insight into how journalists tick -- namely, what irks them about pitch emails. Armed with this information, PR people can deliver pitches that are better designed to hit the mark, interest journalists, and not drive them crazy.

The Top 10 Pitching Offenses, Ranked


Let's look at a few of the biggest PR mistakes from this report and some PR tactics that will help us to avoid them.

12 PR Mistakes to Avoid If You Want the Best PR

1. Irrelevant Pitches

Irrelevant pitchesThis is one of the most common B2B PR blunders we see. And we understand why it's annoying. We can all relate to that feeling of getting a phone call from a telemarketer that doesn't even relate to us. And when that happens again and again, it's downright frustrating. 

This kind of thing happens on a daily basis for journalists -- sifting through an inbox full of email pitches that have nothing to do with their beat or publication. 

The data backs this up as well. This was chosen as the top PR pet peeve among journalists. And for good reason. Today, when determining a journalist's beat is so easy, there really is no excuse for sending irrelevant pitches.

Do your research beforehand and find journalists that cover your industry. If you can't find the journalist you want in a particular outlet, do not simply send your pitch to a random journalist or the editor. Instead, do your research. You might want to invest in a premium tool like Hey Press or Anewstip that will help you find relevant journalists and their articles and contact information. You might even do some research on social media to see what journalists are sharing pieces on your industry.

2. Too Many Follow Ups

A barrage of daily follow up emails is a major pet peeve for many journalists. many follow up emails should you send and how should you send them? 

The same report from Fractl showed that online writers and editors prefer between 0 and 1 follow up emails. And if they receive a follow up email, they prefer it to be between 3 and 7 days after the initial pitch. 

This is not to say that follow ups are of no value. They are valuable way to remind someone of who you are and your story, especially in this hectic, fast-paced world. The trick is in how you do it.

How do you make that one follow up email count? First, keep it brief and succinct -- it's not the time to write a long-winded email. Remind them briefly of your story and inquire whether they're interested. Provide all of your contact information and conclude it with a friendly but professional sign off. If they're interested, they'll get in touch.

3. Too Much Self Promotion

Too Much Self PromotionSome journalists have complained about getting a "story" that is obviously just a thinly-veiled plea for self-promotion. The bottom line is that for this journalist-PR pro relationship to run smoothly, it needs to be beneficial for the journalist as well.

Any story that you pitch needs to truly interest the journalist's audience. Whether it's a product launch or a new brand-wide initiative, show how it serves the greater good (beyond your brand) and why the journalist's audience will want to know about it. 

Some research can help. Follow the journalist on social media and take note of what kinds of articles are most liked and shared by followers. This gives you an idea of what the journalist's audience cares about.

4. Cold Calling

Cold calling is one of the least effective tactics when it comes to journalists. And for good reason -- who of us likes cold calling in general? It is just so...cold. (Sorry, couldn't resist that).

Instead, get to know journalists in your industry and develop a relationship with them. How? Take the time to read their social media posts, as well as comment on and share their posts. After doing this for a while, a short email message that gets straight to the point will reach journalists in a way that cold calling won't.

If you have no other choice but to cold call, do so with plenty of research under your belt. Know the journalist, the publication, and the kinds of articles that the journalist has written before. This basic understanding will help to connect you to the individual on the other end.

5. Mass Email Blasts

Mass Email Blasts -- PR MistakeEmail pitches should never be sent out in large batches. This email technique, while easier than the alternative, lacks the personal touch that make the difference for journalists.

Instead of sending out your pitch in large batches to multiple journalists, take time to craft your email pitches individually. Once you've chosen the most appropriate journalists who fit your industry and who have covered similar stories, you'll want to individualize your email messages for each one. 

Include details about why you want them specifically to cover your story. You might mention specific stories they've covered in the past and why you believe this makes them qualified to cover your story. Show how your story fits their audience and why you believe they will benefit from covering it.

6. Ignoring Smaller Outlets

B2B PR MistakesSo many people are hyper-focused on the big-name media outlets such as The New York Times and Wall Street Journal that they miss some incredible opportunities. 

The fact is that while such media publications have large audiences, that doesn't mean anything if your target audience isn't among them. You can do a whole lot more for your brand if you focus on media outlets where your audience digests their content. 

Look at trade publications in your industry. And don't ignore smaller outlets such as blogs and online magazines. These often have iercely loyal audiences that are more engaged than the larger outlets. 

Bottom line: Name recognition isn't everything. Go where your audience is, even if it's in a place you never thought of before.

7. Generic Angle on a Common Story

Journalists deal with stories all the time. They don't want stories that are too cookie cutter -- generic and almost identical, with an angle that has been done to death. This type of story isn't going to win anyone over -- not journalists, and definitely not their audiences.

If you're on the fence about whether this is a generic or common story, then do a quick search on Google or Twitter. If you see the page littered with stories almost identical to your own, all done within the past six months, then you need to go back to the drawing board.

When crafting your story and pitch, brainstorm a little. Look for ways to make your story refreshingly new. Do your research into similar stories and look for ways to make yours different.

8. Lack of Personalization

Lack of PersonalizationPR people can fall into this trap very easily -- you write so many pitches that you just want to get it out and to the journalist as quickly as possible. But a lack of personalization tells journalists that you're just in it for you. A few personal touches, however, can show journalists that you genuinely think this story is a good fit for them as well.

Do some basic research, including the journalist's name, beat, and past stories. Such details help the journalist connect with your story and makes it more likely your pitch will be accepted.

9. Lack of a Pitch

Many who are not used to the pitch process, find it daunting. It is a kind of art that takes time to cultivate. 

Some have made the mistake of simply sending an attached press release and calling it good. But journalists need more. They need to know, in your words, what your story is about and why they and their audience should care.

The focus of your pitch should be to introduce the journalist to your story. Leave out unimportant details and focus on why this story is important to their audience. Include all the critical information, including facts and figures that back it up.

Email pitching, when done right, is a powerful tool to reach journalists and explain your story. A good pitch can draw journalists to your story and convince them that  that they're the person to cover it. 

10. Lack of Interview Prep

B2B PR Mistakes (1)Many mistakenly believe that once a journalists responds to a pitch, the media placement is theirs. But that's not always the case. There is still another important step that you need to prepare for: the interview.

Prep the person to be interviewed and ensure that they know the subject matter inside and out. It's important that they be a skilled and enthusiastic representative of your brand.

Another important point is to ensure that you have the right person for the job. While CEOs or founders are the first and most popular choice for media interviews, there are times when this simply isn't the best choice. For example, if the person to be interviewed is a monotone, unenthusiastic speaker or does not handle pressure well, then you need to change your game plan and find someone who will be a better fit.

11. Bad Spelling and Grammar

You might have an exciting story that fits the journalist's beat and is well-researched -- but if your pitch is riddled with spelling and grammar mistakes, chances are it's not going to get very far.

And the thing is... this is one of those PR blunders that is actually easily avoidable. 

Why do spelling and grammar matter in a pitch email? Because it shows a lack of general preparation. It doesn't take a lot of effort to run your pitch through a spell check program or pass it by someone for a quick edit. When you don't take this step, it can appear as if the pitch and story were not a priority for you.

Avoid this mistake by building spell check into your pitch process. Whether you use software like Grammarly to check your work before you hit send or get someone on your team to edit it, this needs to part of your routine. If you're not confident in your spelling and grammar, then you might consider handing this responsibility over to someone who is.

12. Bad Timing

B2B PR Mistakes (2)Bad timing can refer to a couple different areas. First, let's talk about timing in relation to relevance. If you send your pitch after a similar story has just been published, your story will likely fail to gain momentum among journalists. 

When planning your pitch within your PR strategy, be attentive to what's happening in your industry and plan your pitch at a time when it's going to be fresh and relevant. 

Also, don't forget that journalists are real people with real lives -- and most likely work normal hours. Be careful not to contact them during weird hours, weekends, or holidays, as your pitch will most likely go unanswered.

In review...

12 Biggest PR Mistakes You Need to Avoid

The journalist-PR pro relationship isn't going anywhere any time soon. What we can do, though, is learn how to work together amicably. That means avoiding common PR mistakes that drive journalists bonkers. Avoiding these contretemps will help nurture good relationships and bolster your PR strategy to give you the best possible results.

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Jul 22, 2019

Wendy Marx

Wendy Marx is the founder and president of Marx Communications, a boutique inbound marketing and public relations agency. An award-winning B2B public relations pro, she has helped many small- & medium-sized firms (SMBs) become well-known industry brands and transform their businesses, going from Anonymity to Industry Icon™.

Her business articles have appeared in The New York Times, InformationWeek, Inc., Advertising Age, & Fast Company, among other outlets. 

View all posts by Wendy Marx