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Recently a former colleague, David Berlind, Editor-in-Chief at ProgrammableWeb, vented on Facebook about people who send him irrelevant pitches – aka “throwing spaghetti at him to see what sticks” – and then, when he doesn’t respond, continue to pester him.  David finally got fed up with this one particular person the other day and responded with the following slap on the wrist, which he shared with his friends:

Is there a sign on my forehead that says keep sending emails until you get a response? Did a non-delivery notice from your first email to me compel you to write another? Please stop pestering me. If I was interested, I would have responded to the first email. Before you send me another one, take a couple of hours to familiarize yourself with the site I work for. Then instead of blasting me with the same generic pitch you send to everyone, at the very least, tune your pitches to the specific needs of my audience. I know it’s extra work (imagine that?) but, think about why your news (or whatever) is specifically relevant to them. If that is not doable, then don’t pitch me at all. In other words, don’t make me do extra work just because you’re not willing to do it yourself. Thank you.

If at first blush you thought David’s response rude, then you should know that he is always very respectful and polite to PR people and reads every single pitch that crosses his desk, but respect has to go both ways and it was the lack of respect that he was responding to. Resending pitches 2 or 3 times after an industry influencer – editors, journalists and bloggers – doesn’t answer the first time, is being disrespectful.  You can’t expect that they will do your work for you to determine whether what you are pitching is a fit for their publication or not.  They get so many pitches; they don’t have time to reply to everyone and educate the sender about what they are doing wrong.  If you don’t get a response on a pitch, you should assume that you are targeting wrong and need to adjust your approach.

I can hear you thinking, “But what if my email has been overlooked rather than rebuffed?  Should I send a follow up email then? Or should I at least call and find out?  I have done my homework and know my pitch is in the realm of the journalist’s coverage area.”  David’s response on this subject,

I recommend not calling either way, but I understand that different methodologies have met with varying degrees of success and therefore my personal preference may not map to KPI achievement in some or even many cases. I’ve received calls within minutes of getting the email checking to see if I received the email. That’s not even enough time to finish my coffee!  But [if you must call] for God’s sake don’t call me within an hour or even within a day of sending me an email. Half the time, when I get those calls, I’ve been so busy that I haven’t even gotten to the email yet.  At least give it 2 or 3 business days if you’re going to call, but I would not send a second email, let alone a third.

Personalization is key

The message you are sending when you aren’t personalizing communications to industry influencers is “we really don’t care about your time so we’re going to carpet bomb your inbox with irrelevant pitches – make you work harder – and when you don’t reply, we’re going to carpet bomb you again.” For every one of those emails they lose a minute of their life, which may not seem like much to you but it is costly over time with everyone doing it, all because you aren’t willing to work harder and invest in that relationship. There are so many industry influencers who are dealing with this frustration, that you can stand out from the crowd simply by being courteous to get to know their publication and what they write about.  It’s really that simple.

One influencer friend of David shared this comment:

I can count on the fingers of less than 2 hands those who have truly understood my needs. They’re the nuggets [of gold] in the pile of crap.

And another gave this comment:

I get so little value from PR pitches today that agencies are filtered directly to the trash. Most of the time reporters will respond almost immediately if they are interested. It is your job and the job of the agency to learn and capture the reporter’s preferences. Nothing gets a PR person’s email filtered to trash automatically more quickly than multiple follow ups.

David further expanded on this topic by saying:

I would have achieved nothing in my career had it not been for the fine work of many talented PR folks who know how to establish good working relationships with journalists, while best representing their clients’ needs. It was them (or their agencies) that took the time to understand my beat, to (in the name of relationship building) call to discuss trends even when they had nothing to pitch, sometimes to challenge what I had written. Good journalism is often a product of the people who enable the journalists; and PR people are unquestionably a part of that community. But when shortcuts are taken to scale their business or in response to the pressures of [clients for] measurable results, it does the entire community a disservice. All PR agencies get thrown out with the bathwater, the haystack that journalists must weed through grows bigger, and no one wins.

What you should know before hiring a PR agency

If you are not the one doing the pitching but are hiring an agency to do it for you, be advised that you must vet how real their reach is and whether they are putting in the effort required to build a reciprocal relationship with influencers.  The metric of success you want is quality relationships, not quantity.

You also need to respect that perhaps you may think your product is the next best thing since Google, but the media outlet may not think you’re a fit for them, so don’t pressure your PR agency into being annoying.  That’s just going to hurt both you and your agency.

On the flip side of this issue, PR people find that industry influencers often have widely different preferences for communication. Some want you to upload your pitch rather than email it, while another asks you to follow up if you don’t hear back as they may have missed your email the first time, while yet another asks you not to follow up.  It can be difficult to keep it all straight.  Having the right tool for the job can make all the difference, which is why we use and recommend BuzzStream (link to product review) for their database capabilities.

How DigitalHive.buzz can help

We offer the service of building out custom public relations databases for exactly the reasons that David and his peers described.  It doesn’t matter what industry you are in; we can start today to monitor online news in your industry.  We then database relevant media outlets and industry influencers that write for them, get to know what they write about, and can effectively target them with appropriate pitches while databasing their preferences in communications.  While this method is more intensely involved than throwing spaghetti at them, it’s the only way to do it right and not piss off the people who matter most to your business.

Are you in PR or publishing and want to weigh in on this topic?  Let me know in the comments below!

If you don’t have in-house resources to build out a database of your industry influencers and deliver campaigns to them, contact us to talk about how we can help.