Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 tells us that “To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under Heaven.” (The Byrds told us the same thing, adding a nice ’60s groove to the message.) In our PR world, that would translate into: there is a time for media outreach to succeed and a time for media outreach to fail.
No one likes to talk about the failing part, but it happens and it can be discouraging. Even gruff old PR veterans like me blow some steam when a well-planned pitch hits a wall and shatters into nothingness.
From my perspective, there are five key reasons why media outreach fails. In no particular order:
1. A case of bad timing. Let’s face it, sometimes there is other news that takes priority and makes your pitch seem none-too-important. The intrusive news that hogs the attention doesn’t even have to be in the realm where you are pitching. For example, I once had a client who produced an independent film that was opening in New York on September 21, 2001. He was furious that none of the local media wanted to devote time to a story on his film. The fact that the local media was heavily concentrating on something that happened in New York ten days earlier just didn’t sink in with him.
2. A case of media switcheroos. Have you ever been in a situation where you have been working with (massaging, caressing, honey-talking) a media contact who finally decides to do a story based on your pitch – but that person contact abruptly quits for another job and is replaced by someone who never heard of you? Turnover in the media industry is abnormal, and that situation happens too many times. Trust me, it has been a perpetual been-there/done-that scenario in my PR career.
3. A case of obstinate media contacts. Sometimes, you hit a contact who seems to be conducting a private blacklist of you and/or your client. I had that happen years ago, when the associate editor responsible for wireless local area network (LAN) coverage in a major tech trade weekly blatantly refused to write about one of my wireless LAN clients. I confirmed he received my press releases and materials, and I spoke with him politely more than once, but he just refused to give my client the time of day. I actually had to complain to his superior, which did not sit well with that associate editor (although my move unblocked his blacklist and got my client into print).
4. A case of stupid media people. I hate to badmouth my colleagues in journalism, but too many of them are rank amateurs when it comes to understanding what they are supposed to be covering. If you don’t spell out the five W’s and the H in big, bold letters, they just don’t get it. No matter how you try to explain it to them, it just doesn’t sink in – and because of their lack of comprehension, the pitch dies in mid-air.
5. A case of sloppy or nonexistent follow-up. Here, the PR people are at fault. You send out a pitch and you do a poor job in the second part of the pitch. Either you contact the media person too soon (say, 15 minutes after e-mailing the press release) or too late (a month or more after the distribution) or not at all. For once, you cannot blame the media for this error.
There are other reasons for media outreach efforts to die, of course. But, hey, don’t sweat the failed outreaches – it happens to the best of us.
I was doing some PR work for the Cincinnati Zoo, preparing for the birth of a rare Sumatran Rhino, the first such captive birth in more than a century. Great story, lots of "aw" factor, endangered species, scientific breakthrough, etc.
Everything was in place for a lot of media play as soon as the baby was born. The only problem was the date of birth: 9/12/01.