And just while we’re on the topic of pitching things..

See, compared to the Bad Pitch Blog, I’m just a one-man band standing outside Marks & Spencer in the rain while a dog wees into my collection hat. They get all the good – er, bad – stuff. Like this one.

The Home Sick Pitch: “This editorial plea is near to my heart as it comes from a retail trade publication. An editor at Home Channel News (think distribution channel, not TV channel) has asked the Bad Pitch Blog to voice her plea.

Dear God, can you please help PR professionals stop with the ‘story ideas’?

I work at a business trade magazine – we cater to home improvement professionals in the U.S. I get four ‘story ideas’ per day, on average, suggesting everything from writing about a lumberyard owner who just turned 62, to a CEO’s lousy $500 donation to help pets abandoned because of Hurricane Katrina, to this:

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Story Idea: AT-HOME HYDROTHERAPY – Your House or Mine?
As the latest must-have home accessory, new Pipeless Spa Baths are bringing the benefits of at-home hydrotherapy direct to consumers’ doors with luxurious style, substance and safety.”

So they only bring it to the door? Lazy sods. You’d expect they’d lug it inside for that price.

Story ideas. Yes, hmm. It’s hard to know what to advise. If I were working in PR – OK, that’s your laugh for the day – I don’t know where I’d stand on this. The good ideas that people pitch to me (such as one from a face to face meeting with some really good friends last week) weren’t pitched; we just talked about what they’re doing, who their clients are, and I followed the threads that I thought interesting to go down the paths towards what seem to me interesting stories. Did they work? Hell yes – to get clients who they find interesting, who they can talk about. (There’s lots of slog too, of course, getting the little stuff about their clients to become visible; I’m conveniently ignoring that.)

Cooking up story ideas and throwing them at the wall of journalism to see if they’ll stick, in the manner of students checking whether spaghetti is al dente, seems to me fruitless. All that happens is the stuff tends to slide down the wall and leave an ugly mess at the bottom. Journalists know stories, and tend to know what they want. But they’re lousy at PR. And vice-versa.

Thinking of which, one of the friends I met last week was rolling her eyes in relief at having dealt with a journalist from the Guardian (not me) on a story. “It’s so different,” she said. And then suggested a brilliant idea – that there should be a sort of league table for PRs: if you’re not in the top league, you can’t pitch to national papers. You have to work your way up through the trades and so on. Like football – third division clubs don’t get to take on Chelsea or Man U or whatever. Fascinating idea. How do we implement it? Equally, of course, journos on trade papers and so on couldn’t ring up Max Clifford – but then, do they anyway? When I was on Computer Weekly, I always used to wonder what I was doing when I called the PR companies which did high-flying PR for big City banks and blue-chip companies.

2 Comments

  1. Hi Charles,

    That football league thing for PRs is indeed a good idea. In fact, it *should* be in place already, except it’s not Premier League, Championship, Division One…it’s Account Director, Account Manager and Account Executive. The problem is that the agencies don’t stick to the system, and will happily demand that an AE gives you a call (and then said AE naturally gets suffed 4-0, Premier League titan that you are. Though I imagine there’s a cup upset now and again when said AE unwittingly has hold of a decent story…)

    It would actually be quite refreshing for an AE to be able to say to a more senior colleague, “I can’t call Charles on this, because I haven’t qualified to speak to the nationals…you’ll have to do it. But let me listen in so I can learn.”

    We could also change the whole PR industry recruitment process, so that there were two transfer windows every year – that’d help solve the on-going disruption of people leaving agencies. And you’d also get a good idea of the agencies with decent youth academies – developing talent through the ranks – as opposed to the wealthy ones that simply pay the big transfer fees. And speaking of transfer fees, could smaller agencies who have developed talent benefit from feeding them into bigger agencies who have the resources to pay? After all, wouldn’t we rather see recruitment money finding its way into the coffers of a small, growing PR agency that a headhunter’s?

    Do you think it might really work..?

  2. I agree with TWL in spirit, although he’s being a little idealistic in the application stuff. But can’t we all dream?

    Look, nobody wants to call people who don’t like them. That’s why advertising sales is such a horrible job. Calldowns are the least favourite task in any agency and tend to get shoved down to junior staff, which is often an error. But calldowns’ll be around as long as journalists misplace, overlook, lose or break information and as long as clients demand results and are not counselled well and strongly by agencies. At the same time, sadly, as has been pointed out before, the difference between spike and splash can actually be (yes, really) that ‘me! me! me!’ attention getter. Charles – MSN may work for you, but not for most people.

    I agree it’s often done dumbly. I agree with the seniority thing. But it’s actually Darwinian in a smart agency: my AE’s sometimes ask me to call heavy people for them. Where it’s worth it, I will. My heavies know I only sell, like Hilary Briss, the ‘good stuff’. Where the story won’t wash, I tell the AEs. And give ’em a lecture about client counsel and as much advice on positioning the story and finding better angles as they’ll take. No AE would think of calling a ‘heavy’ direct, because they tend to bite.

    Maybe we’re in an easier/more forgiving environment (Middle East). But I tend to think that internal accessibility, intelligent management and good counsel, for both clients and staff, can minimise the pissed journo factor.

    BTW – small agencies already feed big agencies. It’s called headhunting. And it all too often over-promotes budding talent too fast and ruins it in a labour-short market like ours.

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