3 Ways to Write Press Releases That Piss Off Journalists

07/29/2014 04:06 pm ET | Updated Sep 28, 2014

You pitched your services as a PR guru and got your clients to agree to a decent retainer for those services. Go you! But now, your client, who thinks he should be GQ's Man of the Year, is buggin' out because your pitches go unanswered.

It's impossible to guarantee placements and you've told your client this, but he's not happy. Is there anything more you could do? Or just do differently?

It's highly likely that there is something you can do -- avoid the mistakes you've been making.

Pitching isn't an exact science, that's for sure. The editors, journalists and producers on the receiving end of your pitches might delete them immediately because a few terrible PR people have ruined them for all others, or maybe your pitches aren't the right fit for the content they edit because you pitched the sports editor a story about an education company.

Assuming you're pitching editorial decision makers who don't completely despise PR and that you're not making the totally amateurish mistake of pitching journalists who don't write about what you're pitching, you should have a fairly decent chance of getting some attention from those you're pitching.

So what's going wrong? Well, here's a list of ways you can suck the life out of a PR pitch and piss off the people you decided to send it to.

1. Target the wrong people.
Targeting the wrong people at a publication, TV show or radio program will most likely get you an immediate "delete." Don't send pitches about breastfeeding pumps to an online magazine for young women in college. The quickest way to insult an editor is to make her think you didn't even skim the headlines on the magazine's blog.

The best way to avoid this mix-up is to come up with a one-sentence answer to the question, "What recent article or show segment she ran is similar to the story you're pitching?" If you can't answer this, you shouldn't be pitching that specific person. Also note that it doesn't hurt to include this "Why I'm pitching her" statement in your email to the producer. She'll appreciate the consideration you gave her in writing the email and spend more time considering it.

2. Pitch your client, not a timely idea.
Expert pitches are common -- "You write about internet security, here's a guy whose company works in that space" -- and too often, they're just that. You wrote a pitch telling the reader that your client has credentials to speak about business topics, but you don't illustrate what he thinks and the way he'll communicate those thoughts in a potential interview. The journalist may save your email, thinking This guy might be a good fit for that cover story in three months, and forget in the meantime.

Want a placement this month? Think of newsy angles you can pitch that give that editor the "gotta have it now" feeling. Is there a recent development making big headlines that you can tie your client to? Get a quote from your tech expert client on how small business owners can use the latest products announced by Apple and send that

There's a career expert -- Ford R. Myers -- whose PR rep sends monthly pitches with very specific topics, such as "10 Mistakes Job Seekers Make... And How to Avoid Them." I always enjoy reading these pitches because they include actionable tips and bright ideas from Myers. These pitches help the reader understand what the story is and exactly what the source has to offer.

3. Write a vague headline.
You're sure to win them over with a pitch that has a vague headline like "Career expert available to talk about job hunting." Who wouldn't jump on the chance to interview that expert? He sounds like he's got great ideas for job hunters! Or wait, is he ready to talk about how the way people job hunt affects HR executives? Who knows? Your reader, the person making editorial decisions, doesn't. She'll probably delete your email because it requires just too much brain work to figure out whether your source is right for her story about how corporations use online recruiting.

The headline of the pitch should be as specific as possible. Instead of "The trials and tribulations with receiving venture capital," it should be "7 Dos & Don'ts of Securing Venture Capital." Instead of "Building an army of advisory board members without high-level connections," it should be: "5 Ways to Build Your Advisory Board without High-Level Connections" (and you'd better spell out exactly what you mean by "high-level connections" because it seems vague to me). Keep in mind that headlines with numbers are particularly strong, usually, and odd numbers have traditionally captured more attention than even numbers because they're so specific.