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Anatomy of a Misdirected Pitch Letter, Part II
Thursday, 28 April 2011 00:00

Part II of a series on Email pitch letters. Read Anatomy of a Misdirected Pitch Letter, Part 1

A few days before I posted Part I of this story, Jason Falls over at Social Media Explorer published what turned out to be a fairly controversial blog post, "The PR Guide to Email Pitching." In my opinion, he addressed one of the great, unheralded topics of PR outreach – namely, The List.

The list is really important. I can't tell you how many times I've seen an organization spend days crafting a press release and then email it out half-blind to a list they purchased, rented, piggy-backed on to, spent less than hour pulling together, or otherwise know next to nothing about. Hey – sometimes, you're forced into it. Time demands, money demands, or other demands intrude.

My own experience (see Part I) on the receiving end of a "special" recycling announcement from the Solo Cup Company, which hired Fleishman-Hillard to do outreach on the announcement, is an interesting case. As soon as the pitch letter hit my inbox, I wondered how on Earth I had gotten on to their radar for this. So I wrote Fleishman and asked: are you using a bulk email service? If so, why was the opt-out language on the email gone? How did I make it on this list in the first place?

The guy at Fleishman doing the pitching was kind enough to reply (I won't name him here), and his response sort of stunned me. Their list was hand-picked by Fleishman staff looking to target bloggers who wrote about climate and sustainability issues, he wrote.

It goes to show: a pitch list is only as good as the person putting it together. Whoever that was a Fleishman, I can feel their pain. I've put together blogger outreach lists and it is tedious, time-consuming stuff. The bigger the list, the more prone you are to cut corners in finding the right contact. That's just the way it is.

On the other hand, painful as it is for PR folks to hear, bulk emailing reporters is just not a good or sustainable practice:

Your "list" is supposed to be a list of personal contact information for people you know and have some sort of professional relationship or contact with. They should be glad to open your emails.

Falls, in his post, lays out a pretty strict standard for who to contact. It's so strict, in fact, that my bet is it's a standard virtually no one can meet, at least not all of the time. Basically, your list should be short enough that you can call everyone on it. "If the list is too long for that to be practical, then the list is too long for that to be practical. Edit it," he writes.

To that I would add: if you feel odd calling someone to pitch a story, it may be a sign that even you don't think they'd be interested in your story. If you've found a reporter you really think would be interested in writing about what it is you're shilling, a pitch call is not that tough. Sort of as tough as calling someone for a second date: you're pretty sure they want to hear from you, but it could still be awkward to ask.

Cross-posted from RMS Strategies.