How not to pitch a journalist
Updated: Feb 27, 2018
At 9:45 on a Saturday night, I had just snuggled into bed with a glass of wine, when the following message arrived in my Twitter inbox:
Having never heard of this person, I clicked the profile to find that it was from a woman running for Congress in South Carolina. The reason that the name is scribbled out is because I shared it with my Twitter followers as a humorous and teachable moment - and I didn't want to embarrass her, publicly. The responses were funny, as I imagined they would be. In the meantime, I replied to the message and simply asked: "Is this real?" More on the response, later.
So, what's wrong with this? Everything. First of all, I don't do "video interviews." I'm a print journalist. I also don't do "articles." I write stories. Also, you really just want me to post whatever I write, on my "timeline?" It's clear that you don't even know who I am or what I do. But let's forget all of that for a moment. I'm not old, by any means, but I'm still a bit old-fashioned when it comes to the basics of this job. I enjoy the dance of source building. An introductory phone call, lunch, or a happy hour meeting are all ways that I prefer to be pitched. But I'll settle for just a personal email - or even a Twitter inbox - as long as it's not like that one.
How could this have gone differently? Let's assume this person has no formal media relations training (safe assumption, here) and just used the basics of human communication. After all, this is someone who wants to be a public official, right? Perhaps something like this:
"Hi Meg. My name is ***** ****** and I'm the communications director for *** ****** for Congress. She's a ******** running to replace **** ***** in the 2018 *** District race. I've read some of your stories, and know that you've been covering this state for several years. I'd love to get your contact information so that we can chat personally and get to know each other. As the race heats up, I'd appreciate the opportunity to be able to pitch you some stories that I think would be a good fit for The Associated Press. *** ****** is a fighter, and I think she has a message that will truly resonate with the people of South Carolina. Will you please tell me the best way to reach you? I look forward to hearing from you and hope that, perhaps, we could even meet sometime, soon. Thanks for your time - and in the meantime, please feel free to learn more about *** by visiting her website at www.***forcongress.com."
Do you see how all of this makes me want to respond with a yes? After all, it's what I do for a living. Of course, I'm amenable to getting to know this person. They could end up being a valuable source, and if their candidate actually wins, it's crucial for me to have this relationship so that I have a point of contact when they're in the news.
So, how did it all end? Well, I simply asked the following question: "Is this real?" I received a quick response: "Yes. Not a robot." But I would be unable to respond ...
Yep. She blocked me. And while that is a bizarre approach to media relations 101, it's not the most bizarre. I've had some doozies. None of them won, though.
I've blocked out her name in the photo above, because the point of this post isn't to embarass. Instead, it's to teach. I need PR people - and they need me. It's a relationship I want to build. Because I don't hate PR people.
In fact, I married one.
I guess he knew how not to pitch me.