Top 8 PR Pitch Phrases I Hate

As a writer, I’m blessed to have PR peeps contacting me 24-7 about the latest, greatest news. Quite frequently, however, their pitches are bland and unrelated to my work. Many of the pitches I receive fall under one of the following categories:

  • Irrelevant: Mashable is a tech and digital news site, why do I get pitched by health insurance providers and car dealers?
  • Poorly Written: Typos are passable (not really), but please do not ramble. It’s confusing. Get to the point.
  • Too Lengthy: If all pitches could be less than four sentences, the world would be a better (more productive) place.
  • Boring: ENTERTAIN ME, PEOPLE! I stare at two computer screens for a living. Give me some action; don’t put me to sleep.
  • Annoying: If your pitch sounds like this (“Buzz word. Buzz word. Buzz word. Buzz word.”), I will delete it immediately.

After nearly a year at Mashable, I’ve accumulated a hefty load of email and tweet pitches and have developed a keen hate for a few overused phrases. Please help out the world and never use the following phrases in pitches to your favorite reporters. (Note: actual examples included below.)


1. & 2. “Circle Back” / “Follow Up”


Example: “I wanted to circle back with you and see if you had a chance to review the details below regarding our latest initiative.”

When a PR rep emails a reporter and doesn’t get a timely response, usually he or she assumes the reporter’s “email may not be working” or that perhaps the “email was caught by spam.” Usually this isn’t the case. Most likely, the pitch was dry, confusing or lengthy, and the writer didn’t have time yet to contemplate what in the world the message was.

In any case, hasty reps usually resend the email, in an attempt to “circle back.” Circling back (or following up) usually entails back tracking, though. You’ve just put yourself on my “annoying” list, lady.


3. “Put Out Some Feelers”


Example: “Just putting out some feelers to see if you’re interested in covering our startup.”

Gag. Are you a lobster? An ant? A slug? Ick. Please keep your feelers to yourself, creeper. Feel free to get back to me when you’re a human again.


4. “Gauge/Re-Gauge Your Interest”


Example: “Following up with you regarding our email exchange below to re-gauge you’re interest in speaking with [Company X].”

Much like putting out those good ol’ feelers, PR professionals often like to “gauge” a reporter’s interest on a particular topic. If the reporter doesn’t happen to respond, a follow-up email may ensue, in which the PR rep attempts to “re-gauge” the writer’s interest.

Yes, we’re glad that you’ve got our best interests in mind, but if we were truly interested, we’d probably be knocking at your door first.


5., 6. & 7. “Industry Leading” / “Revolutionary” / “Groundbreaking”


Example: “Our startup is revolutionizing mobile video delivery to make it easy, fast and fun.” (From a little known startup that was founded in 2007.)

PR peeps love buzz words. “Hey! Let’s say our service is industry leading, revolutionary or groundbreaking! That will get ‘em to write about us!”

No. No, it won’t. That will get us to promptly delete your email or respond with a short “not interested.”

It’s especially saddening when a pitch is full of typos or requires me to read it thrice in order to understand it. Here’s one I received last winter: “This new line of Batteries are revolutionary that provide an opportunity for retailers to offer strong green stories and for consumers to do their part to help the environment without taxing their wallets to do so.” Yikes.


8. “Did you get my email?” / “I noticed you didn’t respond.”


Example: “How have you been? Did you get my email? I can resend it.”

If all other tactics fail, the average PR professional has one last option: resending… over. and. over. again. Usually, this method is accompanied by some amendment that asks if the reporter has received the email. Then, the PR rep tries to figure out what might have happened during the transmission process. Here are a few common excuses that PR pros use for resending pitches:

  • The PR rep fears that the reporter’s email provider might not be working correctly.
  • His or her crappy pitch might have fallen into the spam filter.
  • The reporter may have been too busy to read it, so they wanted to “put it back on her radar.”
  • The reporter might have accidentally deleted the email.

Message to all PR folks: email works. And when it doesn’t work, the email provider usually sends a message explaining the delivery error. It’s not the email provider, it’s you.


Conclusion


If you work in public relations, it a good idea not to completely annoy the reporters you work with. Try to limit the PR jargon and just be a human.

For some additional tips on pitching tech reporters in particular, check out this video from a panel I spoke on last winter about “Demystifying PR for Startups: Identifying Your Target Message and Your Reporter.”

Readers, let me know which PR pitch phrases you hate in the comments below!

Photos courtesy of Kalexanderson, Jenny Downing & Kevin H.

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72 Comments

  1. How do I get in touch with tech journalists?…

    To build a bit on Anuj’s answer, I think one of my answers to a similar question will suit your needs. Here it is: If you are cold-calling, make your pitch short and interesting. Also, avoid buzz words. (At least that’s what works for sites like Mash…

    Reply

  2. What is the best way to get bloggers and relevant media to write articles about your start-up?…

    If you are cold-calling, make your pitch short and interesting. Also, avoid buzz words. (At least that’s what works for sites like Mashable and Techcrunch bloggers.) I would assume that most bloggers that write about start-ups would have similar senti…

    Reply

    1. Hi Erica,

      I just came across your blog and love the insights you provide. I do communications for a startup in Berlin and will definitely use your tips for our launch.

      Cheers from Berlin!

      Reply

  3. Erica, great article! You have a fresh blog; I love it! Clearly, you are doing something right. Keep it up. I am glad I came across your blog.

    Reply

  4. Instead of complaining about getting follow up emails when you don’t respond to an initial email, why not simply respond? Write a polite, rejection template, paste it in, and click send. Not hard or time consuming for you at all.

    You say PR are reps should act “human”. Why don’t you take your own advice? Part of being human is empathizing with others, including those contacting you with story ideas.

    Another aspect of being human is making mistakes. You cite typos as “not really” passable, and yet you’ve made one in the first sentence of your conclusion (“it [sic] a good idea”). Judging by the quality of the queries in HARO emails, there are plenty of reporters who write sloppily too. You aren’t a higher life form than PR pros; you are both human.

    Reply

  5. Whoa, I think I have to hang out on your blog for a while now!

    Great stuff here again Erica. I will be taking notes of these and double check each time before I send an email off from now on! :)

    Reply

  6. As a long-time PR professional, I have nurtured many contacts, primarily with local press but also national.

    One thing I have found important is to know the journalists’ areas of interest and to not bother them with irrelevant press releases. When they see something from me, they rarely ignore it. When I don’t get ink or broadcast news from it, at least I usually receive a return phone call or e-mail, usually in thanks.

    One challenge is telling a client that the story is not newsworthy.

    I won’t risk my reputation for an annoying little egotistical corporate press release demanded by higher-ups who have no idea of how PR or journalism works. “Breakthrough,” “industry leading” and “revolutionary” (thanks for the buzzwords, Erica) are part of the common verbiage some clients or higher-ups in corporate organizations want added to press releases, when the product demonstrably does not have any of those characteristics.

    Never, ever, risk your good reputation by exaggerating to the press using such words as “breakthrough” when it is not the truth.

    Reply

  7. Great article – I work in PR and always try to avoid those sorts of phrases. It’s definitely up to PRs to educate their clients too – and tell them straight that words like ‘revolutionise’ aren’t press friendly.

    Interesting what you wrote under points 5/6/7:

    “No. No, it won’t. That will get us to promptly delete your email or respond with a short “not interested.”

    If every journalists replied and said ‘not interested’ it would completely negate point 1 – the unnecessary and annoying ‘circling back’ or ‘following up’!

    And before a journo turns rounds and says ‘Do you know how many emails I get a day!!’ I realise that it isn’t possible. But a PR can dream…..

    Reply

  8. Overall I consider PR peeps very helpful. But this post reminded me: today I requested a headshot of a source from a PR rep at a major firm. In return I got a low-res, black and white photo embedded in a Word doc. Come on people!

    Reply

    1. You’d be surprised how little people on both sides of the media divide know about proper size/format requirements for photo needs. Or, sounds like you wouldn’t be surprised. :)

      Reply

  9. I spent years as a TV news reporter and worked in major markets. Two years ago I jumped ship and became a PR professional.
    YES, many PR professionals cannot write well. Yes, the shorter and more direct the better. No! Hell NO to the idea that if you didn’t get a response from a reporter you shouldn’t continue to follow up or pressure them.

    Apparently you don’t understand that the news cycle constantly changes. As a veteran reporter, I assure you that the story I didn’t have time for this week when I was slammed with breaking news, I may be grateful to get next week when the scanners are quiet and my sources tell me they have nothing worth reporting. Reporters are pushy and tough. So are successful PR pros.

    You really should know what you’re talking about before you shoot off your keyboard!

    Reply

    1. Chris – I don’t think Erica (or anyone) was saying a publicist shouldn’t follow-up with reporters. It’s more in the approach, and the presumptions. Why bother saying things like “I hope this e-mail didn’t get lost?” Just be straight: “This event/promotion is coming up, and wanted to see if you needed anything from me following the material I sent you.” Or whatever. Erica’s post was complaining about “pitch phrases,” not “PR tactics.”

      Reply

  10. I’m a techie, not in PR. Yet, I have seen times when email doesn’t work and you don’t receive an error message. Once, I sent an email to someone and never heard back. I assumed they were busy, etc. only to find out later they never received the email. A few weeks later? The email arrived to her inbox, after the fact and too late to matter. Thank god it wasn’t important but I can see how if my job depended on making sure I actually had made contact with someone (and it was time-sensitive) I’d touch base with them and make sure.

    I love your writing style – came through from Mashable and have to say, I enjoyed the article even though I don’t have to worry about PR pitches! Will have to bookmark and come back again.

    Reply

  11. Great reminders but ironic that there should be a typo following a sentence that stresses how irritating you find them.

    “It’s especially saddening when a pitch is full of typos or requires me to read it thrice in order to understand it. Here’s one I receive last winter:”

    Think you mean ‘received’.

    Reply

  12. Great and interesting read. As a PR professional I couldn’t agree more with all the comments mentioned. The reality is that sometimes the media lists we work with can be irrelevant, never an excuse, but I can imagine can get frustrating for both parties involved [both the PR and journo].

    As much as media follow ups are part of what we do as professionals, if no response is given to an email pitch I consider that it has been deleted or ignored because of its irrelevance. That is when calculated phone calls to relevant media to possibly set up media interviews come into play. When I say calculated…. you know that it is relevant to the journalist, it is something they would be interested in and you know that it is news worthy.

    Reply

  13. Erica,
    Thanks! Sadly, our PR department has fallen victim to using #4, as we’re noticing “gauge” is the new “follow-up” or “circle back” – or has been for a while. I think we should just get to know you guys, not guess or shutter at the thought of calling you up or second time e-mailing you, beginning the copy with “just”. I think that’s for Twitter ;)

    #4 deleted permanently.

    Reply

  14. Hi Erica, what a good read. And as a PR I understand and share your dislikes for most of the “tools” referenced above. My take is you have to be confident with the stuff you are sending out in that it is informative and comprehensive and that your target audience will like it. And if they don’t, change it and don’t make them like it.

    Also, following up without any new information is like writing a follow-up story in newspaper using the same information from yesterday. Pointless.

    Reply

  15. Thanks for the post Erica! It’s great to be reminded about ways us PR folks can do our jobs better. I have to jump in here on the topic of follow-ups, though. There are many times when I’ve had a reporter say to me “Thanks so much for following up. I meant to respond to you but I got sidetracked with something else.” That’s turned into a story several times. I don’t do more than one follow-up (don’t want to border on stalking), but some reporters do seem to appreciate it.

    Reply

    1. Great point, Kari. I think what it comes down to is knowing the reporter, their beat, their interests, their preferences, etc. That sort of relationship-building can usually only be established once you’ve found a story idea that really clicks… and sometimes you only know it clicks when you’ve followed up. The definition of a catch-22?!

      Reply

  16. In defense of the PR side, I think many of us also hate words like “Industry-Leading,” “Revolutionary,” “Groundbreaking,” and my least favorite, “Innovative.” I’ve been in so executive leadership on high-visibility press releases and launches where they insist those words must make it in.. no argument. I’m sure many of you on the agency side have seen this. Sometimes we’re handcuffed by the man.

    Reply

    1. As someone who’s worked on both sides, I understand your frustration, Sarah, but I also think it’s the job of communication pros to make their bosses/clients understand that using such trite phrasing will not only get them nowhere, but possibly have negative repercussions.

      Reply

  17. “Mashable is a tech and digital news site, why do I get pitched by health insurance providers and car dealers?”

    Whew, it’s not just me then. I’ve covered almost exclusively A&E for most of my journalistic life, yet somehow I get on these PR lists for medical/pharmaceutical clients. Worse is when local PR folk I know personally just include me on blanket email lists that include clients such as doctor’s offices and real estate developers. You KNOW I don’t write about that stuff. Why not develop SPECIFIC lists?

    Reply

      1. Ha, yeah. I have multiple media lists for one company based not just on very specific interests, but also regional relevance, timeliness (so, someone getting an advanced press release might not be the same person getting a media alert) and specialty (general A&E editor vs. book reviewer, for example). The best PR folk I know/work with know their lists inside and out. Sadly, “the best” is a minority.

  18. Great post, Erica (particularly number three – do people actually say that??). I think the best advice is what you closed with. “Try to limit the PR jargon and just be a human.” It makes it easier on everyone.

    Reply

  19. @Andy, Like Erica, I get a ton of bad PR pitches and could have written the same post — and I don’t even work for Mashable, hahaha.

    Seriously, I do respond to some pitches and when I do, I always ask, “How did you hear about me?”

    The best PR people — those who get my attention — always have the same answer: “We’ve been following your blog for a while now.”

    Meaning — they give me a pitch targeted to me and my audience because they know what I write about.

    Reply

  20. Items 5-7 are good examples of buzz phrases that give journalists righteous license to make fun of public relations professionals.

    Item 8 is thinly veiled desperation: “Please respond, so I can note on the pitch report that we talked and you were not interested.”

    It’d be an interesting exercise to take your last year of news releases and email pitches and produce a tag cloud…

    Reply

  21. I’ll echo what Julie said and note that reporter follow up has always been my least-favorite part of my job at an agency. On the other hand, I disliked telling my boss (and now, having younger staff tell me) “I didn’t hear back,” even more. Knowing what a reporter wants (i.e. knowing that if a reporter doesn’t respond, it’s because they aren’t interested…) looks a lot like apathy and an unwillingness keep the best interests of the client in mind. Plus, it always sounds better to tell a supervisor or a client, “we’re following up,” (read: I’m doing my due diligence!”) than to say “we haven’t heard back.” It’s all part of the client service package.

    So I’ve gotta say that, while I’m not defending the PR pros who follow up poorly, are annoying, overuse silly buzz words and generally don’t understand what reporters want, I have to defend the practice of following up. It’s what our clients and our supervisors expect, so we as PR pros have to do our due diligence. And honestly, I’d much rather get a response, “Sorry, not interested,” from a reporter than receive no response at all.

    Reply

    1. I completely understand that not getting a response is worse that getting a “not interested.” As a reporter, I deal with my fair share of no responses, too… hard to imagine, right? “A reporter would like to cover my client [or my company, in some cases]… oh, I think I’ll just skim over this email and not respond.”

      I try to respond to as many horrible pitches as possible… but sometimes I think to myself, “This flack obviously didn’t do his/her research. Why should I even waste my time to respond? That’s like rewarding poor behavior.”

      Reply

  22. Great points and video. I must say I hate email, I am still waiting for that one thing that will kill off 95% of email. I think Twitter should beef up their DM capabilities. I think this could be an email destroyer. Don’t you think “Innovative” should also be included within the jargon that you hate? What is so innovative about your company, did you invent electricity? haha

    Reply

      1. On a side note…Are you located in London? Why are the times 8:15PM in the comments ;-)

  23. Great post, Erica. Every senior manager should take this article and distribute it through their agency.

    That was, hands down, the part of agency life I hated the most as a younger professional – many firms are structured so that junior employees ‘prove’ their billable hours by sending a certain amount of pitches and follow-up emails to reporters. On one account of mine, three follow-ups was the rule (which is obscene.) Annoying is annoying…but you have to feel just a little sorry for the 22 year old on the other end of the email who is directed to do this to keep their job. The sad thing is that they’ll get one good story out of it, grow up to be a manager and then pass on the relentless pitching strategy to the new guys.

    Reply

    1. Hey, Julie! Good to see you on my blog! Nice words coming from someone who knows how to work well with writers (yes, you). Thanks for giving me insight into the other side of email – I didn’t know that quotas existed. Iiiiiinteresting.

      Reply

  24. Nice blog post and blog. I’m happy to say I haven’t ever circled back or re-gauged anyone. I’m not even sure how to put feelers out there (that’s just weird!) However, I did follow up with a editor today after he initially showed some interest. Turns out the guy left the publication a few days after we spoke. I talked to the new editor and a reporter has already been assigned to the story. It goes to show that following up isn’t always bad.

    Reply

    1. You’re right. “Following up” is one of the least annoying phrases on this list, and it’s probably a good idea to follow up as a PR pro. But most of the time when I don’t initially respond, it’s out of disinterest. So, a follow up doesn’t really help build interest in most cases… it just annoys me.

      Reply

  25. Great reminder of what it’s like on your side of the fence :-) It would be great sometime to hear some thoughts as to what tech reporters do like, given the daily barrage of new sites and apps!

    Reply

      1. Erica – Please! Write post on your favorite pitches. All I ever seem to read are journalists/writers posting what they DON’T like. Not all of us PR folks follow such bad practices. Really. We don’t!

      1. Maybe you should work full time in PR, Erica. That way you might see what it’s like to have to pitch your guts out when your livelihood depends on it!

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