Interview: Kevin Dugan and Richard Laermer

Authors of the BadPitchBlog

Authors of the BadPitchBlog

PR professional Kevin Dugan learned first-hand how bad pitches can be these days when they started blogging and became recipients of their peers' work.

So, in order to combat the rising tide of uninformed, unfocused, or just tasteless pitches spreading around the internet, he teamed up with RLM PR CEO Richard Laermer to create BadPitchBlog. Posts range from advice to real-world examples of how bad pitches can be. The pair give bad pitchers and their agency two chances before they expose them. They talked to, via e-mail, about the blog, their targets, and how this helps the industry. What made you and Richard team up for this? Were bad pitches something the two of you had been discussing?
Kevin Dugan:
My blog, Strategic Public Relations, went live in July of 2002. Since then I've experienced first hand how bad the media have it. But I've been hitting delete while our industry is characterized as everything from "flacks sending out spam" to [crap].

After reading Full Frontal PR, I interviewed Richard for my blog. We stayed in touch and I pitched him on the idea for the BadPitchBlog. His expertise and sense of humor have been a perfect fit. What reaction have you had from the rest of the industry? Have bloggers been supportive? What about PR professionals who don't blog? Have they had a different opinion?
The response has been extremely positive from media, PR people, and bloggers. A review of the blog's comments (a blog's heart and soul) will tell you we're off to a good start. When we started, I was unsure how long the blog would last. Two weeks in, we can see we've touched a nerve and plan to continue in earnest. Do you think that agencies don't spend enough time thinking about who/how they pitch? Has it gotten worse or better over the course of your career?
Richard Laermer:
"Agencies don't spend enough time" is probably a leading question but what the heck! It has gotten 20 times worse because, as I have learned [while] giving talks to PR people, no one is trained how to write a pitch or give one. They are just tossed into the fray. And what a fray it is. People make lists and they say "well my job is to toss them into the ether." That is not PR. As a matter of fact it's anything but. It's just ruining the equity they have with a reporter who may be actually the right one for them to be pitching but will shortly hate them for having the nerve to send a first draft that in fact makes no sense. I see it even in my own agency but I've been cracking down a lot – these days we are very careful maybe even more so because of BadPitchBlog. Why not? Everyone is a target. We all have to think about the tiny number of reporters out there today compared to even five years ago. And these folks are not going to take the time to let us correct ourselves. Once bitten...

The big agencies that spend time sending boilerplate and boring pitches with more emphasis on wordage than content, are being pushed off the stage by marketing folks who think "I can't put our company's name on that crud." That's a welcome sign of the times. We get business that normally wouldn't come to smaller companies. It's too bad reporters who hold high disdain for the PR industry get [their opinions of the industry] from those boiler room shops, and we have to [educate them] to see "PR people can help."

Competition is healthy. But it amazes me to see the crap people think is news. I see companies like AOL put out releases about corporate division heads sneezing and think, "Wait. Why not avoid sending out releases that people won't read and instead go out and spot trends and [land] them in the press?" But unfortunately that does not seem to happen. A lot of folks are told what is "news" by their superiors who are just covering their asses. Maybe it's too much work for the managers of PR agencies to have to deal with. I know it must be tough for someone to stay on top of the agencies to get them to think, but then again we are in PR so if we can't look good, who does? What is the overall goal of the site? If it is to shame the profession into pitching better, well, many PR professionals have been shamed by Gawker and others for their poor pitches. Will public outings make things better?
Shaming the guilty parties into pitching better implies they have shame. The 9/11 aftermath, and more recently the death of Coretta Scott King, have shown us the depths [to which] bad and insensitive pitches can plummet.
As much as I'd like to reform the guilty parties, I'm not holding my breath. But if we can help students and young professionals avoid pitching pitfalls, it's a start. We all learn from our mistakes, maybe we can learn from someone else's too.
The site has three goals: engage practitioners and students in a dialogue on honing media relations skills; entertain the industry and the media by venting about bad pitches; and create a line in the sand between public relations professionals and the "flacks sending out spam." Do you think PR professionals are pitching blogs too much these days?
Quality is the issue, not quantity. Thanks to RSS and Google, blogs represent uber-networked media opportunities. This technology, fueled by a passionate opinion, makes bloggers influencers. You can also call them snarky nerds, or citizen journalists. Public relations professionals are missing a valuable opportunity by not pitching them.

Just know going in that it requires even more time and customization than pitching media. It's worth it when you consider that blogs are not mainstream, mass media, but micro-niche media. So if you get your widget client on a widget industry blog, you can rest assured you are hitting your client's target audience. What is your advice for creating the perfect pitch, from release creation to implementation? What are the major flaws of bad press releases?
The BadPitchBlog has just begun to answer the first part of this question. The major flaws we've seen so far are news releases that contain no news, are poorly written, or are long-winded (sometimes they're all three).

Another trend we see we're calling the kitchen sink approach. Folks throw every piece of information they have into an e-mail in the hopes a reporter will sift through it as if they were panning for gold.

This is lazy at best. It also shows desperation and a misunderstanding of the lifecycle of a pitch. Getting a reporter interested in your story is arguably the easiest part. It is in the space between this initial response and the published story that the real work takes place.


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