All too often expanding into these new activities has drawn experienced staff away from direct dealings with the press. And as many senior executives have delegated responsibility for contacting journalists to the junior members of their team the art of the pitch has given way to indiscriminate emails and inept phone calls.
Today the quality of pitches is plumbing new depths. And the frustration of a few poorly-led and ill-trained account executives is manifesting itself in pushy and sometimes downright rude messages. If I was a client of these agencies I would not be happy to see how my retainer was being spent. Poking journalists in the eye only ensures that the client in question gets very firmly ignored. And that can be forever.
So just what should a savvy PR person do if their pitch is to avoid annoyance and deletion? There are two simple rules to obey when pitching a story to any journalist. They concern tone and frequency.
You are inviting someone to spend their valuable time taking an interest in your proposition. Phrase your message as a polite request. Terms that imply any degree of obligation on the part of the journalist are simply insulting.
So don't suggest that it has been a while since the journalist last mentioned a client (in other words "we think it's time you wrote about them again"). Or try hinting that the client's enormous importance should put them at the front of the queue (which reads as "how could you not write about them?").
The only people qualified to decide what goes into a story are its author and his/her editor. There is no quota system guaranteeing mentions of a particular business or product. If material isn't judged right for the story it doesn't go in. Expressing incredulity that the journalist is not prepared to interview a client is deeply counter-productive and can damage an agency's future credibility.
It should be obvious that journalists receive a lot of unsolicited emails and calls. You will not increase the chances of a journalist taking a pitch seriously if you keep repeating it. They probably know your client is out there by now and do not require weekly or monthly reminders of this fact.
Confine your contacts to occasions when you really do have a strong story to tell. And send one email. That's it.
Returning again and again requesting a response to the original message is irritating and exhibits a lack of respect for other peoples' time. There is no mileage in phoning or emailing to inquire whether previous messages have been read. With the current economic pressures on the press no one writing for a national publication is going to be remotely impressed by this kind of tactic.
Try to remember just how short of time most journalists are. If you want your pitches to establish a productive relationship with a journalist or title this is a good place to start. Yes, individual pitches often vanish into the ether. But in the long-term you will find journalists are a lot more receptive to communications from people who show a bit of consideration when pitching.
And keep it polite. If you can't do that then you're not really doing public relations at all, are you?