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The Economist Has Some Problems with the Current Media Relations Model

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In a post on the Economist culture blog today, columnist R.L.G. compares the art of pitching to classic “I’ll scratch your back” bribery.

He apparently decided to rant after received a pitch regarding some sort of businesses partnership. The PR committed a cardinal sin with this sentence:

“It would be great if this somehow can be placed on Economist (print/Web)”

R.L.G. uses this faux pas to emphasize the shortcomings of the current model for media relations, which holds that one must never state the obvious to a journalist as one would to, well, pretty much anyone else. And yes, that is a little weird.

R.L.G. then bemoans the disingenuous nature of the status quo: after receiving a pitch that never makes its intentions clear (because we all know what they are), the writer is expected to play coy…

“The hack, in the other traditional role, must be sceptical, pretending not to be sure the news is important.”

The post proceeds to list five admittedly terrible pitching “no nos” committed by PRs against one of the magazine’s print columnists. Only the most obvious can be attributed to technical errors: the “Dear [[first name]]” pitch, while unprofessional, will never be as off-putting as the “just emailing you to see if you got my voicemail about my original email, to which you didn’t respond” message.

Bad behavior identified.

The larger issue, though, enters the discussion in the last paragraph: as we’ve heard repeatedly in recent months and years (most recently from the principals at Clear Agency), the PR-to-journalist ratio is changing—and R.L.G. uses this fact to argue that maybe it’s time to end such “dance around the facts” interactions by adopting the same rules that govern standard relationships: get to know your contact’s name, grow familiar with his or her interests and determine whether or not they align with your own. If they don’t, then move on. If they do…

“…try a little old-fashioned subtlety and charm.”

What’s wrong with being upfront about the fact that you want good coverage for your client or that you want to find a pitch that will appeal to a certain writer as long as you don’t do it in an overbearing way?

This obvious point reminds us of a recent post on the value of adopting a casual tone in pitches. There’s a reason so many of the best PRs we know have worked as journalists: we’re all just people here, and there’s no need to make it all any more awkward than it has to be.

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