An article in Ragan’s Grapevine discusses how PR should carefully craft its pitches nowadays since these could turn into disparaging stories.
The article says journalists, and even bloggers, have become sensitive to pitches that seem to profit from tragedy, especially after Sept. 11 and hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Several examples are cited of pitches that have backfired as negative stories.
On Sept. 11, just after the terrorist attacks, the PR firm PAN Communications issued the following pitch for its client, U-Promise - a company helping families save for the children’s college fund: “Unfortunately, today’s crisis in D.C. and New York is not the only crisis to hit American families. There is also a HUGE debt crisis in America, which is only augmented by parents’ lack of savings for college …” The pitch was printed and criticized in The Wall Street Journal as tasteless and the PR company had to “apologize profusely for its staffer’s poor judgment.”
On Sept. 8 this year, in the wake of hurricanes Katrina and Rita, blogger Paul Kapustka of the Advanced IP Pipeline blog from CMP wrote: “Like the stuff left after the flood waters recede, the inevitable PR pitches related to Katrina are starting to surface, and they stink. We’re not naming names-yet-but please, please, rethink that press release that cites your company’s product or your company’s executive as the thing that could have cured Katrina’s ills. Maybe spend a little time first helping those directly affected, instead of trying to use their misfortune for your firm’s gain.”
In late September, San Francisco Chronicle business columnist Alan Saracevic reprinted the following pitch that infuriated him: “With Hurricane Rita dominating the headlines, I thought it would be interesting to look into an interesting trend-how Internet e-tailers, such as (heartless, idiotic firm’s name withheld), have become integral in providing supplies during natural disasters because of their virtual location.”
Saracevic commented: “Where do you even begin to hate this PR pitch? I mean, to use the death and destruction of the entire Gulf Coast to promote your Web site is not simply obscene, it’s psychotic.”
The Grapevine doesn’t see the last pitch as tasteless but points out that this is the risk PR communicators now take - straightforward business pitches could be taken the wrong way and could be turned into negative news. They therefore recommend having pitches checked internally for appropriateness and quality before sending them out.
Gerard Braud, president of Gerard Braud Communications and a former journalist, is cited saying pitches need to be read carefully to catch any unintended tones of poor taste: “You have to pass the pitch through your cynic filter, since the reporter is the ultimate cynic.”
PR communicators, be warned.