Freelance Blog + Tips & Tricks

5 Tips for PR People Pitching Writers

Let me preface this by saying that I understand the challenges that PR people face. I used to be one. I get it. You're busy, you're under constant pressure to generate media coverage, your clients sometimes ask you to pitch stories that just aren't newsworthy, and you might have been burned by a freelancer or two in the past. I work with a couple of awesomely helpful, friendly PR folks.
But as I've been using Peter Shankman's Help a Reporter, I've noticed several mistakes occurring repeatedly (and to be fair, some of the responses are really fantastic and in those cases I'll overlook one or two of these). Here's how to wow me with your pitch:

  1. Spell my name correctly. Susan. Not Susane, Susanne, or Susana. The greeting is usually the first thing I read, so it can't hurt to get it right. However, enough people misspell my name that I usually keep reading anyway. I can only imagine that writers with obscure names have an even tougher time.
  2. Be informative. I sometimes get emails saying simply "I have a source for you. What magazine is this for?" I know you're busy, but short, curt emails are a turn-off. I need to figure out if your source is qualified to speak on my topic and will make a good interview subject, and you need to figure out if the article is worth your client's time. A better approach would be: "Susan, I have a source who has worked in the hospitality industry for 20+ years and may be able to help with your article. Could you tell me what magazine this is for?" There, now you're collaborating instead of hoarding information.
  3. Follow directions. I've started asking for more specifics in my HARO requests. This saves time and helps weed out people who don't take the time to write a few sentences on my topic. Usually, I ask for the business name, industry, location, and one or two other details relating to my article. Easy, right? You'd be surprised by how many people send me a lengthy email without answering those basic questions. A little background information is helpful, but please keep it short!
  4. Don't spam me. A little over a month ago, I wrote a piece about eco-friendly spas (a departure from the usual career and service articles I write). Despite putting an end date on my query and specifically saying I'm not looking for the names of products, I'm still getting press releases about green skin products and other topics that are only tangentially related. Not emails targeted to my query or newsletters that I signed up for. Press releases that look like they were copied into a mass email bcc'ing me and a hundred other unwitting freelancers. Unless I say "I'll be covering X topic again in the future," please respect my inbox. Oh, but my faovrite was yesterday when I got an email from a plastic surgeon saying he wanted to offer himself as a resource since I cover his area of expertise. Umm... I think I'd remember if wrote about plastic surgery!
  5. Follow-through. A few weeks ago, the publicist of a very prominent person contacted me saying her client would be delighted to discuss X topic for my upcoming article. Sure, I said, when is your client available? Then I heard nada. Fortunately, I was able to line up another source. But the fact that she initiated contact with me, offered up her client, and then went AWOL seemed a little tacky.
OK, writers, what are your PR pet peeves? If you work in PR, what tips do you have for freelancers seeking your help? I'd love your insights!

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5 Tips for PR People Pitching Writers + Tips & Tricks