In more than a decade of technology journalism, I read – or scanned – hundreds of emails from PR agencies. Why was one pitch any more successful than another?
A PR rep always had a better chance of connecting if the pitch aligned with my current tasks. So being aware of what was on my plate helped. In that sense, I agree with former New York Times technology writer David Pogue, who recently blogged: “Rule #1 for PR folks: Know your target.”
Three Things to Avoid
There’s another angle to Pogue’s know-your-target rule. He thinks that if PR reps did their homework, they would be aware of his pet peeves, which include buzzwords. But Pogue also contends that buzzwords are a “universal pet peeve” among tech writers, which points to a broader rule.
Professional writers dislike bad writing. Most PR pros get that, and so they work hard to clarify their pitches and related press releases. But it never hurts to remind. What follows is a quick look at three elements of bad PR style: overused marketing lingo, unsupported superlatives and gratuitous adverbs
- Buzzwords. Which words bug which writers will vary. A mass-market journalist may put a word like WiFi on the black list, as Pogue did in 2008. A trade journalist will be OK with the jargon – but will want to know which version of the IEEE 802.11 (WiFi) spec a vendor is promoting. The problem is imprecision. Take the classic “end-to-end solution.” Which ends? Where are they? And who owns them – vendor or service provider? As for solution, that word is ambiguous. Does the solution involve software, IP routers, optical transport – what is it precisely?
- Superlatives. Whether by nature, training or learned experience, writers tend to be a skeptical crowd. Calling your end-to-end solution the “best” is the equivalent of a dare. You’re the first? Fastest? Most reliable? OK, prove it. Journalists may have little time to follow up, but if you want to win their trust, avoid goading them into second-guessing you. If you are breaking new ground, let the facts speak for themselves.
- Adverbs. So your end-to-end solution “seamlessly” or “successfully” integrates with something else. That’s not surprising. Could it have integrated in any other way, say “defectively”? Adverbs such as “extremely” or “significantly” beg the same question as superlatives: can you back that up or prove it, please? The list of empty and superfluous adverbs goes on. In a random sample of recent pitches and press releases, I stumbled upon the following: positively, highly, especially, readily, clearly and cleanly. Were any necessary? Don’t think so.
Pitches and content marketing
Journalists are a special case. An editor may be vexed by words that could win over a prospective customer. After all, getting a prospect’s attention traditionally has called for copy that builds enthusiasm and excitement – even hype. But that tradition is changing.
Content marketing – a topic for another day – calls for the kind of precise, factual and clear language that passes high editorial standards. In that model, a compelling pitch to a business prospect resembles a persuasive pitch to a journalist.