What to Do When You’ve Pitched the Wrong Journalist (at the Wrong Time)

At PR News conferences we often have a journalists’ panel that enables PR pros to hear what the media really thinks of them without having to take it personally—it’s the other folks in the room that get on their nerves.

Always at the top of the list of complaints from journalists is receiving phone calls and e-mails pitching a particular story that has nothing whatsoever to do with their current beat. Getting a phone or e-mail pitch about a new athletic shoe when your current beat is cable TV advertising—especially when it’s been a trying day—confirms a journalist’s knee-jerk impression that all PR pros do is mechanically run down contact lists and spin news.

I’ve gotten a couple of these types of calls this week—people asking me if I’ve had a chance to look at press releases that pertain to a beat I last covered several years ago. A simple Google search may have revealed that I was no longer an appropriate target, but I understand how these things happen. Perhaps a junior person was given a list and a short time frame and was under a lot of pressure to just send out the e-mails and make the calls.

This may cause some slight embarrassment on the PR pro’s end, who then thinks that’s the end of it. Just delete the name from the list. But that’s not the end of it. Blindly reaching out to media pros you haven’t first researched plays right into their predisposition to be skeptical about the PR function. One such mistake has a ripple effect.

There is an easy way to deal with these situations when they arise and put all PR pros in a better light. If you contact a journalist with a completely inappropriate pitch (and the journalist lets you know about it), ask what they’re covering now. Simple as that. Just saying “sorry” and quickly getting off the phone is a missed opportunity. If you ask what the journalist is covering now, first, you’re showing some interest in the journalist as a person instead of just a name on a list and, second, maybe a colleague of yours might find the information useful. It’s just simple human relations.

—Steve Goldstein

Join me on Twitter at SGoldsteinAI