This article was published on August 8, 2017

PR people, please put down the phone and do these things instead

PR people, please put down the phone and do these things instead
Ed Zitron
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Ed Zitron

Ed Zitron is the CEO of EZPR, a Media Relations company based in San Francisco, Boston and Portland. He's written a book called This Is How Ed Zitron is the CEO of EZPR, a Media Relations company based in San Francisco, Boston and Portland. He's written a book called This Is How You Pitch and was named one of Business Insider's Top 10 PR people in tech, as well as one of Adweek's 30 under 30.

I think I write this post once or twice a year, not simply out of reflex but because PR people are incapable of listening. I don’t do it out of anger, I do it out of love. I also add that I wanted to call this “Tech PR People,” but it seems that every vertical of public relations sucks.

PR people, I know it’s hard to digest, but almost every reporter (I’m not writing “all” because there’s one reporter out there that PR people will point at and say “they like it!”) doesn’t want your phone pitch.

But don’t let me be the one to tell you, let them!

And yet despite them saying these things, PR people just can’t stop calling! Apparently the approaching-sociopathic pitching technique that nobody likes has not slowed down at all, because PR gurus like this guy are telling new PR people to call reporters, or saying that in fact the reason you’re not getting called back is anything other than nobody wants your pitch on the phone.

Wait, sorry, just adding one other thing:

Public Relations’ pathological love-affair with cold calling is as confusing as it is unethical, and it’s actually really easy to spend literally your entire career never having done it and still succeed. I know several people in PR making six figures who haven’t picked up the phone and just randomly called someone in the last 5 years, and I want you to know it’s very much possible.

I also want you to know if you are going to be that person who responds and gets mad at me for this, you are mad at me for saying that you are bad for actually harassing people, and you are defending something that in any other context would lead to a cold call to the police. If you’re a manager saying that it works, and that reporters actually don’t know what they want, you’re a bad person fundamentally, to your core.

Anyway, here’re some alternatives. If they seem obvious to you, well, you’re just so special, and I think you’re amazing.

Take every moment you spent on the phone and read instead

Sit down and work out how many minutes or hours a week you spent cold-calling. Write down everyone you called, along with their outlets. For every call you made, read an article that said reporter wrote. Alternatively, simply take that time and for every hour you spent cold-calling, read the top ten stories off of, say, The Next Web, or if it’s a newspaper, perhaps read the entire business section. Run out of stuff to read there? Go and read some specific blogs in your industry. For example, if you’re an enterprise PR person.

Why? Because when words go in brain, brain become even more better! Public Relations professionals have a significant issue with learning about the basic parts of their industry and keeping up with current affairs. Most people I’ve met that think cold-calling is great are also people that have giant holes in their brain where geese have nested (Paraphrasing John McCain’s brain as described by Chapo Trap House’s Virgil Texas) instead of actual information about their given industry. The best way to succeed in PR is to begin with a rounded knowledge of what’s going on in your industry. 

Try talking to the reporter before you pitch them

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, being an actual human being with a brain that discusses more than how much coffee you drink and your stupid job is going to do wonders for your career. Want a reporter to like you? Follow them on Twitter, respond to things they say on it that aren’t about work and/or perhaps try and grab coffee or drinks with them.

While you should obviously remain relatively professional (For example, don’t turn up and immediately start telling them about your childhood, or get vomit-drunk, or both), don’t just talk about work. In fact, don’t even talk about work until they bring up work. A great deal of reporters I’ve met after asking them out for coffee to talk about what they write about naturally bring it up, almost as if they realize that they’re having a professional interaction.

Humans like other humans. They don’t like work-bots that can only discuss the tiny bubble around their industry. I can’t teach you to be interesting, but I can teach you to not be as boring as you can be.

Cap your pitches at 120 words (and shorten your subjects)

Finally – asphyxiating your writing is the key to success!

Imagine you’ve received an email. It’s asking you to do something, and it’s offering very little in return beyond the possibility of being something you might be interested in. If you received that email, wouldn’t you just want to get it over with? The same goes for reporters! 120 words of objective, well-stated stuff is all that you need to create to make yourself better at PR.

Take those superlatives and put them in the garbage, because nobody cares even how good something you’re pitching is unless you say why. If you’re saying it’s the best, there better be an objective way to define that beyond “they pay me money to say it is.” Compare it to other products, talk about why it’s good, do so in short as if talking to a really bored teenager, and you’ll do far more good than your 300-word hell-mail about how your Revolutionary Client Is Being Revolutionary.

Really though… be a human

In nine years of PR I’ve learned that, even with some moderation from person to person, being myself was the best strategy. Some reporters may need slightly more than 120 words, but only if it’s in a strictly informational way, but most want a straight-forward reason to even read what you sent, let alone write about it. If you are that person on Twitter that isn’t saying “hey, did you get my email?” or just tweeting about your job, perhaps they’ll actually like your real personality. If they don’t, well, at least keep your emails short, read their writing before pitching them and never call them. That’ll put you head and shoulders above the industry standard.