If you are in charge of a PR team of any size, you should have had to do this — listen to your team pitch the media, critique them following the call, and watch them grow.
First, if you have never done that, turn in your APR certification or brass name plate. Second, if you have, then you have felt the cringe factor when a hard-working (or suck-out-loud) team member is speaking with a member of the media and trips over his or her tongue.
The pitch is off. The talking points are missing. And the end is near. *CLICK*
If you understand that cringe, then get our a pen and paper, high-five me, and write down the 5 things to never say during a media pitch.
1. “It’s on the website.” Seriously?! And don’t act you don’t know at least one person in your own agency who has committed this flub. If you are in the middle of a pitch, you beg sweet baby Jesus for one thing — a question. If a reporter is asking, that means he or she is also listening. As busy as you think you are, a reporter is that much busier … and for real. So, whenever you tell a reporter that whatever mundane thing that was requested can easily be found on the website, you are really saying two things: A.) Go get it yourself. I’m not your maid, Holmes! and B.) I’m too lazy to know that myself. Annnnd you have just been blacklisted. Congrats.
2. “Slip in a mention of the company.” Come here for a second, Sherlock Holmes. Go investigate the words “payola and plugola.” After that question, you are asking a reporter to violate about eight statutes of the FCC Code of Ethics. Oh yes, it’s illegal. If you are getting a sniff in a larger trend story, thank God you are in it and leave it at that. If you get a mention in the story, it’s considered news. If you don’t, it would be considered advertising. And if that is where you see your skill set, this ain’t the place. Besides, it increases the cringe factor on the other side of the phone.
3. “Did you get my press release?” As a proud hack-turned-flack, I can honestly tell you that there are few things in the PR vernacular more agonizing than this idiotic phrase. Why? The average reporter — not your morning anchor, not the evening news producer, just that dude or chick covering another traffic accident — gets about 1,000 pieces of communications daily. If you have the right email, they got your press release. If it got their attention, they’ll holler. Given the daily communications statistic, give it some time, and if you must follow-up, do not ask that question. Your email will be blocked. Your calls will be ignored. And your mama may be cussed at a little.
4. “Don’t quote me on that.” Hey, flack. You ever heard that there is no such thing as “Off the record?” Of course you have. Guess what that phrase would be classified as? Yeah. Unless you know the reporter’s significant other, call him or her “friend,” or have traipsed past the “I just talk to that person at work,” then assume this dumb sentence isn’t going to work. If you are angling for a story, they are angling for a sound bite. And they could give a crap less from where it comes. If you offer it, you may be classified as “a source,” but word will get out it was you. There is no switch on the wall for “on the record” and “off the record.” It’s called your mouth not working before your mind tells it to do so.
5. “This is a perfect fit for you.” Aw, that’s sweet you know what his or her boss is thinking, much less the reporter in your cross hairs, but no flack is really that good. There are pitch meetings, editorial meetings, team meetings, and meetings to have meetings of which you have no clue has occurred between your brilliant scribbling that pitch and telling your PR director, “I got it!” You either sound desperate, beyotchy, or ignorant. You don’t know that for sure, so don’t say it. “Good fit,” “Nice idea,” or even “I can see this in your publication,” but never “perfect fit.” Why? Because half of the journalists are divorced and they have heard that phrase one time too many already.