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Anatomy of a Misdirected Pitch Letter, Part 1
Thursday, 21 April 2011 00:00

As a marketing and PR professional, I'm always interested in how the "big boys" do it. From BP's colossally inept PR response to the oil spill, to a recent pitch I received from consulting firm Fleishman-Hillard (they'll be pissed I put them in the same sentence as BP), one thing I've learned is that the big boys don't always get it right.

Former BP CEO Tony Hayward speaking to reporters shortly after the Gulf oil spillActually, they seem to get it wrong quite often. Massive roll-outs for new product lines backed by copious market research: fizzled. Legions of highly paid crisis response professionals churning out high-priced advice: all wrong. Revered political strategists paid millions to craft electoral strategy: miscalculated.

I love these stories. They give communications professionals like me hope that with a little sound judgment and common sense I can make marketing and PR decisions that are every bit as good as the big boys (and for half the cost!). It is in that spirit that I share a recent pitch letter from Fleishman-Hillard, certainly one of the biggest and generally considered to be one of the best marketing and PR firms out there:

Subject: Special recycling announcement tomorrow from Solo Cup Co. [It's a company announcement. I'm skeptical already]

Hi Russell, [This is really the best opening around. Simple, informal. It could actually be from someone I know.]

As sustainability continues to grow in importance, businesses are doing all they can to provide their customers with the best tools for living an eco-friendly life.  In advance of Earth Day, Solo Cup Company is set to make a special recycling-related announcement in conjunction with TerraCycle (a business that specializes in products made from "upcycled" material) at a Keep America Beautiful event in New York's Times Square on April 14th. [Not a bad paragraph of prose, but I'm not interested. I don't know how I made it on to their pitch list, but clearly I shouldn't be on it.]

I'd like to connect you with Solo's VP of Sustainability, Kim Frankovich, should you be interested in an interview. [Ah yes, this reminds me that this is in fact an email from a consultant who has been hired to do media outreach for a client. Still, they have made their goal explicitly clear, which is admirable: to get me interviewing Kim Frankovich.]

Kim will be able to provide insights on integrating sustainability into business practices, and give more details about tomorrow's announcement.

Thought this would be a great opportunity for you. [A sentence fragment! Denoting authenticity! Or does it? Maybe it's just me, but sentence fragments at the bottom of pitch letters come off as canned] Please let me know if this is of interest and we can work out the details. I'll be in touch to discuss.

Regards,

[redacted]

And he was in touch – with a follow-up email the next day that repeated and restated most of the above.

No offense to Fleishman-Hillard, but let this email give hope and comfort: the big boys aren't doing anything particularly special. They're not inherently better writers, or more creative. They do have more money, and, as a result, more staff resources. That can really help, as actual, good outreach is time-intensive. And, they have their reputation (perception is reality). But it's not magical.

Coming up: I respond to the above email and discover why Fleishman-Hillard thought I of all people would be interested in a "special" recycling announcement from the Solo Cup Company.

Cross-posted from RMS Strategies.