Weaksauce Headlines and Other PR Pet Peeves from an Industry Insider

Weaksauce Headlines and Other PR Pet Peeves from an Industry Insider

Of the many things we’re incredibly proud of here at Onboardly, one thing that we commonly find ourselves sharing with current clients, prospective clients, and heck, even on Twitter - is how proud we are of the fact that after nearly four years in the industry, we’ve made far more friends than enemies with the media. We truly do pride ourselves on respecting journalists, editors, and media professionals of all sorts. We’re not in the business of wasting anyone’s time - not our clients and especially not the amazingly, talented folks who bring their stories to life.

Unfortunately, not all media professionals are lucky to receive the same respect and courtesy from others in our industry. The reality is, PR pros really do get a bad rep, even if it’s a very small percentage of us that are ruining it for the rest. Yes, I’m looking at you folks that never research the person you’re about to pitch and I’m especially looking at those of you who harass journalists on the phone or email. Just stop it.

Because we’re so passionate about keeping our journalist and editor friends safe, we thought we’d do a little research ourselves to discover the real way to a journalist’s heart and the quickest way to end up on the blacklist. We chatted with one of our favorite editors, the lovely Nicole Fallon-Taylor of Business News Daily, who shared some pretty awesome insight with us on her industry.

Here’s what she had to say about the industry, the crazies and her best advice on getting your pitch heard.

Q&A With Nicole Fallon-Taylor of Business News Daily

Q. Tell us about yourself - what made you want to get into journalism and media?

A. I’ve always been a storyteller. Even back in kindergarten, I told people I wanted to be a writer when I grew up. I loved the thrill of being the first to learn new information so I could share it with my friends and family, so journalism seemed like a natural fit for me.

Although I used to make my own books, newspapers and magazines as a kid, my first official foray into the media world was getting involved with my high school newspaper. I went on to major in Media, Culture and Communication at New York University, and it was during that time that I first started freelancing for Business News Daily. I did that on and off for about three years (scattered in between various internships and jobs) before I joined the BND staff full-time. I’ve been Assistant Editor since 2014.

Q. Why do you think many PR efforts fall short in gaining your attention?

A. As a business journalist, I get a lot of client-focused, self-promotional pitches. I understand that the point of PR is to get positive media exposure for your business, but unless we’re specifically looking to write about your product or do a feature story on how you started the company, we’re looking for stories that appeal to and help other business owners on a broader level. My attention is lost as soon as it becomes clear that a pitch is shaping up to be an advertisement for the client.

Q. What is the most annoying subject line to receive as an editor? On the contrary, what’s a journalist or editor’s dream subject line?

A. This definitely depends on the publication and its focus, because not everyone is looking for the same types of stories. For me/BND, I dread “company announcement” pitches---funding news, executive hires, awards, store openings, etc., because we don’t cover them. On the other hand, we love anything that provides practical, actionable advice for business owners or discusses overarching business trends.

Q. Which is more important - a stellar subject line or headline or a well thought-out pitch?

A. In terms of getting our attention, the headline definitely matters. Some of the best pitches end up in the trash because the email subject line wasn’t appealing enough. That being said, PR pros should definitely put a priority on both. Journalists can (and often do) flesh out a thin pitch with a great headline, but we love it when we open an exciting-sounding email and find a story idea that’s just as fantastic.

Q. Explain to me the worst pitch you have ever received and why should PR pros avoid this at all costs?

A. I’ve seen a lot of bad pitches over the years, but first prize has to go to a PR pro who said, “Please publish our new product release news. This product is one of a kind, and a historical technological product” (I remember the exact phrasing because I still have it in my inbox). There were a couple of things wrong with this, aside from the fact that the product itself was completely outside the realm of BND’s coverage. Begging for coverage does not look good on anyone, and including the words “please publish” in your pitch is an auto-delete for many reporters. We also need a better reason to run a story than the fact that your product is “one of a kind” and “historical”---which, in all likelihood, it’s probably not.

Q. You recently tweeted that a colleague was pitched via her personal Instagram account - how common is something like this?

A. Social media pitching in general has become pretty commonplace, and it definitely has its benefits, but not when it intrudes on what we feel is supposed to be a “personal” digital space. It’s tough because that line between personal and professional on social media is often blurred. Most journalists use networks like LinkedIn and Twitter for work and expect work-related interactions there, even if they also share personal posts. For me and many reporters I know, my Facebook and Instagram accounts are for sharing the non-work aspects of my life---although some reporters are fine with receiving pitches anywhere and everywhere. It really comes down to understanding the context of the account and using your best judgment. When in doubt, stick to good, old-fashioned email (I’ve actually written about this exact topic for Muck Rack, if anyone is curious about a journalist’s perspective).

Q. What is your biggest fear when working with PR professionals?

A. I don’t really have an answer for this one. I’m not afraid of working with PR people. I’m afraid of working in PR! That’s why I’m a journalist 😉

Q. What do you wish PR professionals better understood about the role of journalists/editors?

A. We’re not content machines. Yes, some sites out there will copy, paste and publish any press release that lands in their writers’ inboxes, but a lot of us work very hard to carefully curate stories that we believe will be of genuine interest to our readers. Because of that goal, it’s simply not possible for us to run with every single pitch we receive, especially if it’s similar to something we’ve written about recently. It’s nothing personal; we just have limited resources and want to vary our content as much as possible.

Q. How important is storytelling when you evaluate if a company or product is worth covering?

A. Storytelling matters a lot. Some companies get it in their heads that they’re newsworthy by virtue of existing, and that’s definitely not the case. If you don’t have a good story behind your company or product, people likely aren’t going to care about you. And if we don’t think our audience is going to care about your company/product, we’re not going to cover it.

Q. What resolutions do you think PR professionals should have for 2016?

A. No more phone pitches! (Only half-kidding about that…) But seriously, if there’s one thing PR pros should be focusing on, it’s personalization. A lot of you already do this very well, but some are still relying on the old mass pitch. There’s so much publicly available information about every journalist and publication out there. Before you hit “send,” take five minutes to do your research and make sure that what you’re pitching is really a fit for the writer and/or the site. Even if we have to pass on your idea, we’ll remember and appreciate the fact that you made an effort to align your interests with ours. And who knows? A “not right now” response today could turn into a great story collaboration tomorrow.

Big Takeaways:

  1. Journalists are looking for stories that appeal to and help other business owners on a broader level. Not a self-promotional piece. Click to Tweet
  2. Aim to provide practical, actionable advice for business owners or discuss overarching business trends. Click to Tweet
  3. Got an exciting headline or subject line? Ensure that the flushed out story idea packs the same punch. Click to Tweet
  4. Begging for coverage does not look good on anyone and including the words “please publish” in your pitch is an auto-delete for many reporters. Click to Tweet
  5. Journalists need a better reason to run a story than the fact that your product is “one of a kind” and “historical.” Click to Tweet
  6. For most reporters, Facebook and Instagram accounts are for sharing the non-work aspects of their lives - not for pitching. Click to Tweet
  7. Journalists are not content machines. They work very hard to carefully curate stories that will be of genuine interest to their readers. Click to Tweet
  8. Storytelling matters a lot. You are not newsworthy by virtue of existing. Click to Tweet
  9. No more phone pitches and mass pitches. Click to Tweet
  10. Before you hit “send,” take five minutes to do your research and make sure that what you’re pitching is really a fit for the writer and/or the site. Click to Tweet

We’d like to send a huge thank you to Nicole for sharing her time and insight with us! If we’ve saved at least one editor or journalist from a bad pitch, our job here is done!

Are you a journalist or editor? We’d love to hear what your #1 pet peeve is too! Leave us a comment or tweet us @Onboardly!

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