April 26, 2008

You Can Only Pitch Me In Reverse Polish Notation or Pig Latin

As the world of journalism/old media gets increasingly blurred with bloggers/new media, some of the larger news-breaking bloggers are finding themselves inundated with pitches from companies looking for additional exposure. In an effort for some top bloggers to reduce the total noise sent their way, some are spelling out the right way and the wrong way to pitch them. But for any company looking to make a name for themselves, how can they possibly remember who wants to be communicated how?

Take a look at some of the more high-profile bloggers who have, at one point or another, said there is one approved way to get their attention:

Stowe Boyd of /Message writes Via Twitter, "The Only Approved Way To Pitch Me" is via TwitPitch.

On his blog, he writes, in Twitpitch Is The Future, "Companies will be directed to this page to get the idea, and those that try to stick with the bulging email approach will suffer a three-strikes-and-you're-out rule: After three times of being warned, they go into the spam category."

Upside to him: Less e-mail, more clarity on whether something is being sent his way to write about.

Downside to the company: Their pitch is visible to everyone, making it clear they are shilling, and exclusivity is eliminated.

Marshall Kirkpatrick of ReadWriteWeb says the site gets "piles and piles of pitches for coverage from companies all day long and they almost always come in by email." His recommendation for would-be article subjects would be not to send an e-mail, not to call, not to use Twitter (even Direct Messages), not to use Facebook or Instant Messenger. Instead, he wants you to use RSS!

His idea there is that PR folks should send RSS feeds for client blogs and news releases, so when updates are made to their blogs, he'll see it, at his leisure.

Upside to him: Less e-mail, and the ability to enjoy/actually use Facebook, IM and Twitter without getting pitched.

Downside to the company: No understanding as to whether ReadWriteWeb actually "saw" your pitch, absolutely zero pre-pitching, and zero exclusivity. This way, RWW wouldn't get the news until it was out. In fact, Marshall says this is only for things that are public with no embargo, even pushing people back to e-mail for those.

And last year, Robert Scoble famously said Facebook would be "a new kind of press release". In the face of a growing e-mail tsunami, he said Facebook wall messages would be passed to his Nokia phone. He says, "now we have a new way for PR people to let me know about their apps. Write it on the wall please. Facebook: the new press release."

Of course, this only works until every PR person figures it out, and Robert would end up with the same information glut, just moved somewhere else.

Upside to him: Lower e-mail flow and fewer phone calls.

Downside to the company: Not every company uses Facebook or considers it professional. Facebook pitches would get lost amidst others wishing Robert a happy birthday or any other notes, and again, they would lose any chance at exclusivity or an embargo, after pitching in public.

So what do we have here, just in these three examples? We have three prominent bloggers with three very highly differentiated, inefficient ways of soliciting engagement with public relations and companies. While it's extremely popular these days to dish on old media journalists and claim print is going the way of the dodo, even the biggest reporters at the high-profile media outlets can still be reached by phone or by e-mail. They're not making you jump through hoops to get their attention.

To me, while its likely bloggers are looking to make their own lives easier, and looking to utilize available technology tools to bring clarity to the process, it looks like a sign of weakness. Can't handle the data glut or the outreach coming your way? Somebody else will. Somebody else with the ability to write as quickly as you can, with the right tone and a big enough audience, who can be reached by e-mail or by cell phone, or by Twitter or Facebook or FriendFeed or anything, will write that article and get that news coverage you miss.

Do you really think companies are going to remember to pitch Marshall at ReadWriteWeb via RSS and Stowe Boyd by TwitPitch and Scoble by Facebook? Knowing PR companies, I know they won't. Most of them still believe in the spray and pray method of e-mailing all contacts under the sun. There needs to be change, but making everybody jump through hoops while losing the personal engagement, exclusivity and timing won't work.

UPDATE: Elliott Ng, in the comments, gives us some good links, including Brian Solis' article on PR 2.0: In Blogger and Media Relations, You Earn the Relationships You Deserve and Rafe Needleman of WebWare complaining on Twitter about being pitched via Plaxo.


  1. Good points...Of course Old Word companies would have a problem with these new age techniques. The upside for newer pitch-salesman is that they WILL be able to communicate with the WEB 2.0 world. It looks like a "evening of the playing field" to me. Out with the old and in with the new!

  2. THANKS for writing this. It needed to be said. let me add a few:

    @Rafe's pitchrant:
    Just got a PR pitch on *Plaxo*, which is even worse than getting pitched on Facebook

    great post that sums up the opinions of:
    Merlin Mann


  3. I can do regular Polish notation, but not reverse. It takes too long.

    Sorry... all of this is crap for me. Stowe, I love you, but if it's a compelling product, it shouldn't matter how they pitch as long as they get their point across in an interesting way.

    I don't care if it's an email, an instant message, or a carrier pigeon. Write it in crayon on toilet paper if you want. Show me that you have something I'm interested in. That's it. A few weeks ago I gave a great example of what NOT to do; Piggly Wiggly had a press release that buried the most compelling part of their news, and then pitched it to the wrong people. They got little coverage aside from my vivisecting of the release.

    All these dictates coming down from the mount on Techmeme-sponsored tablets are more an assertion of A-list status; "I'm too busy to deal with you unless it's via my preferred method of communication."

  4. I disagree with you here. I think you missed RWW's intention regarding the "pitch via RSS" post - what Marshall is saying, in a nutshell, is that what bloggers want is not just an inbox filled with PR. We want the opportunity to get to know the company, follow their news, and establish a more personal relationship.

    As far as twitpitch, I love the idea. Why not publicize your new product/service and give everyone the opportunity to blog about it instead of just sending emails to select A-listers? I found some great stuff on #twitpitch the other day!

    Bottom line is that the are all just ideas for getting heard - facebook, twitter, RSS - they are ways to separate yourself from the masses who pitch exclusively via email and by doing something different you might give yourself an edge.

    Your tone here seems to imply that these ideas are just bloggers being whiny & demanding and I think that misses the point altogether.

    Just my 2 cents.

  5. Sarah, I hope you're 100% right. The best way to get good PR is to know the reporter and for them to know you. E-mail alone does not constitute a relationship.

    But on the Twitpitch idea, etc., it's not always about hitting A-listers, but instead timing a launch and making sure you've briefed everybody in advance. Ideally, you have the face to face, the phone calls, and pick an embargo by which the news and/or product are ready. Twitpitch basically says to the world "come look at me!"

    The press release is the last thing to happen, not the first.

    RSS, Twitter and Facebook ARE all good new ways to get pitched. But the way it is being portrayed is that they won't listen UNLESS they do it a certain way, which to me, does look whiny.

  6. @elliott ng

    And I agree - that's a *great* post by @BrianSolis!

  7. I don't agree 100% with the Twitpitch idea. Personally, the medium or tool used to pitch is secondary to the actual context of the pitch.

    Even if I were to write guidelines on how someone were to pitch me, say Twitter, if they're for items that have no relevance to me or my niche or done in the way that suggests to me that they're just throwing as much of it out there hoping 1% of the population takes up their offer (as you nicely put it, the "spray and pray method"), then it wouldn't matter that they followed my preferences to the letter.

    Will companies follow what bloggers prefer? Probably not. Will those who do reap bigger rewards? Probably yes. And that might just be where the battle is won.