Column: More Bad Shots From PR GaffeLand

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Once or twice a year in this column we pay a visit to PR GaffeLand. This is where e-mailed attempts at getting press for products or services always go wide of their marks, usually because the PR rep's and the client's focus is diverted from the recipient by internal trivial issues.

Our first stop in PR GaffeLand is an e-mail pitch concerning Jerry "The Seal Man":

"Someone had to introduce the next generation of pay-per-click search engines. And who better than e-commerce pioneer Jerry "The Seal Man" Whitlock? The founder of EPM, Inc., a privately-held, profitable online seal and gasket business, has launched specialized pay-per-click"

Now here's what is possibly an interesting business-to-business marketing story. However, in crafting the pitch, either the PR rep or the client (Jerry) decided that the Seal Man was the most important part of it. With our limited knowledge of how PR rep/client relationships work, let's take a guess at whom that could have been. ... Was it JERRY?

Newsflash: No one outside of Jerry's immediate family and customers has heard of The Seal Man.

What's more, the name Seal Man conjures way too many mental images that have nothing to do with seals and gaskets.

The fact that The Seal Man is doing something is not in and of itself news. As a result, this e-mail wasted vital real estate with an ego lead.

Should Be Obvious Rule No. 1: When pitching an editor, lead with what will be of interest to the editor's readers. All else is secondary and should be treated as such.

Next from PR GaffeLand comes the ever-present buzzword turnoff.

"I'm working with a client, [BuzzBuzzBuzz], which does word-of-mouth marketing," said another recent e-mail. "They create buzz by reaching out to tastemakers and influencers online within targeted communities such as fan sites, gaming sites, cat lover communities ... you name it. If you're writing about buzz marketing please let me know. I'd love for [BuzzBuzzBuzz] to be a part of the story."

Tastemakers? They reach out to vaguely named kitchen appliances? Wow. And to think the terms "thought leaders" and "opinion leaders" were off-putting; now we have "tastemakers."

Most of us don't consider ourselves "tastemakers." And visualizing those who do brings mental images of people we'd like to slap around. So if you're reaching these "tastemakers," I've got a message for each and every one. Buzz off.

Should Be Obvious Rule No. 2: Kill the jargon. It only takes one forced word to turn a PR communication into a groaner.

Next up comes a hall-of-fame resident of PR GaffeLand. Communications like the following come from one particular agency to DM News regularly:

"Dear Editor,

One out of every ten patients in the United States has an oral lesion that should be investigated for cancer, according to the American Dental Association. [A] procedure called a brush biopsy is experiencing extremely rapid growth in dentist offices and is revolutionizing detection of oral cancer."

Hmmm. Have they been tracking me? Do they know I smoke cigars? Of course not. Somehow, DM News got on this firm's e-mail list, and now we get everything they send!

Should Be Obvious Rule No. 3: Do not send press releases to news outlets that have no relation to their area of coverage, and certainly not via e-mail. Spam being the issue that it is, unless it's a blurby item like an executive hire, if you wouldn't pick up the phone for a pitch, don't press "send" for it, either.

Pitching the media is just like selling a product or service. Every off-target e-mail sent to an editor spends the sender's credibility down. The guy who sent the brush biopsy e-mail spent his credibility down with similar pitches so long ago that the only time his e-mails get opened here is when this column is in need of examples of off-target pitches.


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