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June 22, 2009
The Pitch That Cried Wolf
You know if you’re doing PR (“Everyone does it, just some have it on our business cards!”) there’s danger whenever you push the Send key. There are only so many reporters and bloggers covering the field or industry you play in, whether it’s automotive technology, software, clothing, or architectural design. With time and experience, you will wind up speaking to them all one day—or their brethren. In a world of instant communication and shrinking inner circles, a PR person who cries wolf with a few off-the-mark pitches is blackballed in a hurry.
There’s nothing the media dislikes more than vapor or non-story, so don’t pitch it. Click over to Business Wire, PR Web, or any of its ilk on a given day and you can count up hundreds of thousands of dollars spent propagating vapor news. “Small Company A Signs Agreement with About-to-Fold Company B” or “InterSliceTech.com Launches Bleeding-Edge Customer Tracking Functionality.” Find us a journalist who actually wants to write about topics like that (how do they affect anyone else besides the people who wrote the releases?) and we will tip our hats to that PR person (who has a reporter cousin, of course).
The danger in vapor is that it builds a name for you quickly. The wrong name. If you’re dabbling in handheld technology, say, and you pitch Jason Kincaid, well-known gadgetry guy from TechCrunch, on every software upgrade then for sure he’s going to learn very rapidly not to take seriously any pitch you send his way. Who cares? The danger is that when you have real news, the kind that matters, such as the launch of your new device that makes the iPac shake in its boots, Jason will not pay attention because you’ve proven yourself to be a vapor merchant. Bad.
Before you blast out a cluster bomb of e-mails or send that release over the wire, consider long and hard what’s interesting about it. Is it fascinating just because you’ve spent three tireless months working on the content? Is it amazing because your latest noodling brings you one step closer to a competitor that no one’s ever heard of? If that’s the case, hold off and wait ’til you have something worthier of the presses; in other words, don’t believe your own story too much.
Larger public companies are especially guilty of pushing vapor into the press. There’s a theory out there, one I have never subscribed to, that if you don’t have a steady, weekly stream of information crossing the wires—also known as “the machine”—your business’s progress has sunk to an uncompetitive pace. Remember that with public companies, their news unfortunately engenders an article or two (unfortunately, because it makes the firm think that what they put out is urgent, and so it compels them to keep the vapor machine oiled).
Yet when this non urgent news pushing firm truly has something worth chatting about, the press may not bite. Actually, they just won’t. Everyone at the firm scratches their heads and wonders why. But reporters and analysts and podcast-planners are glazed over from the hundreds of news-free missives shot through that PR cannon. And they are all too familiar with firms that cry wolf.
The takeaway is that vapor works rarely—let’s say never. All right it did for Seinfeld. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. But….if what you desire is respected coverage continually, sit on the vapor (“Our CEO sneezed today—gosh!”), and leave it off your missives. You’ll only numb those who should care and rightly notice that what you do is (we hope) important.
Being important is paramount.
For charming and short discourses like this, come over to Twitter where I promise funny and/or sarcastic tweets, depending on what time of day it is.

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Richard Laermer is CEO of New York's RLM pr, representing, among others, e-Miles, Epic Advertising, Yodlee, Revolution Money, Group Commerce, Smith & Nephew, and HotChalk. He was host of TLC's cult program Taking Care of Business and speaks on trends and marketing for corporate groups. You can read Laermer on The Huffington Post and on the mischievous but all-too-necessary Bad Pitch Blog. For more like this, follow him on @laermer.

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