PR Ambulance Chasers – What’s the Worst That Could Happen?

15 Aug PR Ambulance Chasers – What’s the Worst That Could Happen?

Corporate executives have been known to wonder—on occasion—if they could be saving money by writing and sending their own press pitches. After all, what’s the worst that could happen? A bad pitch simply fails to get coverage. No harm, no foul.

But there’s a far worse scenario: getting ridiculed in print (or online) for the pitch you wrote. It’s happening more and more these days as reporters refuse to put up with ill-timed and ill-considered pitches.

This week, The Washington Post publically rebuked a host of inappropriate pitches tied to Robin Williams’s untimely death. As the Post points out, there are 3.2 publicists for every journalist, which makes it exceedingly hard to get the attention of reporters, and sometimes leads publicists to take unfortunate advantage of tragic events.

It goes without saying that a major part of public relations is being aware of worldly events and strategizing how your clients can tie into larger narratives. However, when a crisis erupts or tragedy strikes, there’s a fine line between ingenuity and opportunism.

Considering the risk, it might seem wise to simply steer clear of most major events—and it’s tempting to do so at times. But that’s doing a disservice to clients that have valuable (and tasteful) insight to provide.

Knowing when—and when not—to offer your client’s perspective on a controversial topic is part of the professional judgment a practiced PR expert brings to bear.

At the very least, try to ask yourself these questions before risking the “ambulance chaser” label:

Is my commentary truly relevant?

Are you loosely tying together two concepts that don’t really relate? If so, don’t even draft the pitch. Relating human resource management software to a recent office explosion is probably not a fit. Even if you’re able to explain your thought process in the pitch, it will likely leave you looking opportunistic and, well, dumb.

Do you have something truly new or different to offer?

As the Post mentions, many of the pitches it received in light of Robin Williams’s death were from mental health professionals offering their insight. There’s nothing inappropriate about that—but what makes your opinion more valuable than that of dozens of other mental health professionals out there, including some the reporter may know personally? Unless you have something that is actually different than what hundreds of your colleagues would say, don’t even bother trying.

Is this the right time for my pitch?

While it’s important to strike while the iron is hot, keep in mind how people may be processing an event as it unfolds. Would you be better served to hold off a few days? If it’s a major event, the coverage is likely to linger past the initial “breaking news” phase of the reporting. Read the coverage; see what’s being reported on, and take note of where there might be an appropriate gap.

In short, do your research. Be aware of what’s going on in the world, and—most importantly—make sure that with every pitch you send, you’d be proud to have it printed word for word with your name attached.

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Kathryn Kaplan
kkaplan@speakerboxpr.com
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