Spoiler alert: ‘Spray and pray’ press releases are dead
This is a guest post by Caitlin Copple Masingill
I’m new to working at a marketing and communications agency, but I’m not new to pitches. Whether working for a newspaper, freelancing and pitching my own story ideas, or advocating on behalf of clients’ stories, I’ve learned a few things along the way about how to get in the news. That’s why I’ve been surprised to learn since joining Oliver Russell last October is that most of the PR software out there is designed for a world that no longer exists.
‘Spray and pray’ pitching goes something like this. You draft a press release, create a giant email list of everyone and their mother (or just pull list of beats, titles, and location) who could possibly care about, say, your client’s recent nonprofit donation or a new board member, press send, and hope somebody picks it up.
It may make a client happy to see you “doing PR,” but unfortunately, it rarely if ever results in making the actual news.
If your press release sounds like a press release, chances are it is not newsworthy, and probably not worth your time. Journalists aren’t stupid. You’ll have far better luck if you monitor the conversation on your particular industry, product, or topic, and add something of value to that conversation. Help reporters sound smarter; make a journalist’s life easier through your expert source or identification a brilliant way to localize a national trend. If you are paying attention, you will know which reporters cover your clients’ beat and not waste your time and theirs pitching them on irrelevant articles that would be better blog posts than news stories.
So why aren’t the software tools designed to help those of us in PR do our jobs working? For starters, they are generally overpriced, clunky, and the contacts are woefully out of date. Before we switched to TrendKite, I spent way too much time cross checking LinkedIn and publication staff listings because I didn’t trust our database after finding error after error. There’s nothing more embarrassing than pitching someone who retired last July or who now covers law enforcement, not the economy.
I’m sure TrendKite is not perfect, but it’s a hell of a lot better than what we were using before. Plus, I like that they are a startup and consistently hustling to improve the product based on client needs. In this era of downsizing newsrooms, frequently changing beats, and more emails than ever, PR professionals must be smarter than ever to cut through the noise. We now outnumber journalists six to one, according to a recent post in PR Week.
Nicole Fallon Taylor wrote recently in Ragan’s PR Daily that 95 percent of pitches yield zero interest. She would know. As the former editor at Business News Daily, she tracked her inbox for a week and on average received 23 pitches per day.
When we switched to TrendKite, we heard all about how their database wasn’t as large as some of their competitors. Frankly, two months in, I haven’t noticed, and I don’t honestly care (and no, they aren’t paying me to say this…we are paying them to use the service!). This tool is way easier for me to monitor what’s happening on social and online media, figure out how best to insert my clients into the conversation and add value to the news and report the ROI of my efforts. Fundamentally, that’s my job, and TrendKite makes it easier to do it.
BIO: Caitlin Copple Masingill is the Public Relations Director at Oliver Russell, a creative agency that builds brands for purpose driven companies and causes. She holds an M.A. in journalism from the University of Montana and has more than a decade of experience in corporate, nonprofit, and campaign communications. She lives in Boise, Idaho. Twitter: @caitlincopple.