As communicators, we all have blind spots in our writing. For example, I have a tendency to miss important prepositions when I’m scrambling to meet a deadline.
While no one is perfect, journalists’ inboxes are a competitive space. Grammatical errors and extraneous language are bound to sink your pitch or press release before the reporter has made it through the first sentence. And that journalist is unlikely to open your next email if the first pitch misses the mark.
With these pitfalls in mind, I randomly pulled excerpts from two recent pitches I received, and edited them with explanations below.
Please don’t be embarrassed if you’re one of this week’s “lucky winners.” These issues plague a majority of the pitches we receive, and I thank you in advance for your willingness to accept some public feedback (you did submit your pitch for publication, no?). This column is solely in service of helping you, and your peers, get inside the heads of the editors and journalists who receive your pitches every day.
With that disclaimer out of the way, let’s get started.
Editor’s Note #1: Get Active, and Kill Single Quotes.
Press release excerpt:
In March, a huge conversation spike among influencers was noticed when the company decided to halt and close its 11 Disney theme parks and Disney Cruise Line across Asia, Europe and North America due to the spread of the pandemic.
Another spike was noticed in February when company’s CEO ‘Bob Iger’ stepped down from the role effective immediately and assumed the post of executive chairman until his contract ends 2021.
Problem spots: passive language, misuse of single quotes, extra verbiage.
In March, influencer chatter around The Walt Disney Company spiked following the company’s decision to shutter Disney theme parks and halt Disney cruises across Asia, Europe and North America.
This was not the first time Disney saw a jump in influencer conversation in recent months. Influencer mentions initially spiked when the company announced CEO Bob Iger would be stepping down in February.
- I immediately cut “was noticed.” The passive language here doesn’t help illustrate the sentence’s subject: the spike in conversation. Plus, it’s vague. Who, exactly, was doing the noticing?
- I tightened up the opening sentence, cutting “due to the spread of the pandemic.” It’s reasonable to assume most of us knew the coronavirus was spreading rapidly by March. Be mindful of your reporter’s time, and keep word count to a minimum at every opportunity.
- February comes before March. It looks like the writer ditched chronological order here in service of illustrating a previous trend. Be sure to bridge that kind of gap.
- Iger’s new title and contract length is extraneous information; we now know there’s a shakeup at the C-level, which is likely what triggered the spike in conversation.
- Let’s remove those single quotes, shall we? Iger is an executive, not a new concept.
Editor’s Note #2: Don’t Bury the Lede.
How a business acts and appears to the world during this pandemic has the potential to impact its brand for years to come—good or bad. Especially now, their message matters. That is why, in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, having a communications strategy is more important than ever for a business. This is an opportunity to make a lasting impression by creatively communicating with grace and professionalism during this time.
The [company name] hotline offers COVID-19 communications counsel at zero cost through a 45-minute Zoom video conference call.
A member of our team will answer burning questions and talk strategy. Totally free. No strings attached.
Problem spots: Burying the lede; promoting a product, rather than telling a story. As a trade reporter for a communications-focused publication, I know comms are important, but how is this story helpful to my readers? The subject of this pitch—a COVID-19 PR hotline—is a unique offering, but an introductory paragraph on why PR is crucial during a pandemic masks the news value. Is the pitch inquiring after press coverage, or trying to make a sale? It’s hard to tell.
In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, having a strong communications strategy is crucial. To help businesses strengthen their messaging during this global crisis, [company name] has launched a COVID-19 hotline to provide free communications counsel on a 45-minute Zoom call. On each call, a [company name] employee will be available to answer businesses’ burning questions and talk strategy.
- The first three sentences reiterated PR’s importance without pushing the narrative forward. I condensed them into one.
- Hurray! The company’s hotline, the core of the story, has now made it into the opening paragraph.
- While it might work in a snappy radio ad, can you really envision “Totally free. No strings attached,” making it into a news publication? I cut the promotional language (we already know it’s free from the previous sentence), but kept the “what”: the content and format of the Zoom calls.
That’s a wrap on our first edition. I hope you found it useful. Barring a flurry of angry notes in my inbox from the subjects of today’s edits, let’s do this again sometime soon.
Follow Sophie: @SophieMaerowitz