Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Tired of Poor Pitching

I'm a fan of The Bad Pitch Blog by Richard Laermer and Kevin Dugan — it's a regular must-read for public relations professionals. It is to that blog that I must give credit for the idea behind this post — a bad pitch.

The longer I'm in the journalism/PR fields, the more my name gets out there on random mailing lists of companies and people looking to sell something or hoping that I'll write an article or blog post about them. Most of them, like many of the companies Laermer and Dugan 'highlight,' do a poor job of this, simply because they are using outdated, traditional methods of pitching and primarily because they are mass mailing without taking the time to craft a real, dedicated pitch or without trying to learn anything about me as a practitioner or writer.

So, who am I about to call out? That would be Vycor Medical Inc., a "medical device company that designs, develops and markets next (sic) generation neurosurgery retraction devices." Bored yet?

Oh, where to start about the suck that is the e-mail I received today...

Salutation — There barely was one. The e-mail started, "Please let me know if you would like to connect with..." Well, don't try to get me excited or anything. The pitch didn't address me by name and provided little call to action up front. An ill-formatted link (they placed the full URL in the middle of a word, i.e., S"URL"ite) just made it even worse. Then, "Merilee" signed her first name, even though (A) I don't know her and (B) she never bothered to introduce herself in the e-mail.

Hed — "Vycor Medical's Revolutionary ViewSite(TM) Neurosurgery Retraction Devices Adopted by the North Shore-LIJ Health System" was the three-deck headline. Not only is the headline boring and way too technical, but also it's unrelated to anything I've ever written about for a news site or blog and also unrelated to virtually any entity for which I've ever done PR.

Sub Hed/Dek — A 52-word subheadline in italics is pretty much where I stopped paying attention. Get to the point already!

Dateline — Bohemia, N.Y. What? I could probably Google Maps this location, but instead, I'm just left wondering why I was sent this release. There's no topical relevance for me, and now I find out there's no geographical connection either. I've been in New York for less than an hour my entire life.

Lede — The lede and nut graf here are long, filled with URLs in parentheticals and riddled with technical jargon that tells me nothing about the newsworthiness of whatever it is Vycor is promoting (I'm still not sure, though I think it's some tool that makes brain surgery easier).

Content — The news release was lacking an actual narrative of any kind. The quotes within were stuffy and sounded as though they were crafted specifically for *gasp!* a news release. This isn't the way to catch a reporter or anyone else's attention. After rereading a few times, it seems this entire annoyance of a pitch was to announce that a health system in New England has adopted the company's neurosurgery technology. Again, tell your local paper, tell a medical journal — but why pitch to me? And why do it in such a boring way with a cookie-cutter, traditional news release? (A little research about me if they were going to pitch to me would've revealed that I'd prefer a well-done social media release.)

Boilerplate — As Bob Roseth would say, boilerplates are fine if you're from Purdue (home of the Boilermakers). But to refer to the BPB folks again, there's no better way to end on a lame note than the boilerplate. Words in Vycor's actual body copy — 252. Boilerplate words — 577. If your boilerplate crap is more than double the length of your 'news,' it's either probably not news or your boilerplate is too long — or in this case, both. The lengthy, mostly useless, legal jargon-filled ending to this release moved my snooze into a coma. End with something more useful and interesting, and link to this info if needed.

Final thoughts — To make matters worse, when I went to Vycor's Web site to find a copy of this news release to which I could provide a link, well, it wasn't there. In fact, the most recent release on the Web site is from 2008. If you're going to mass e-mail pitches with your Web site URL plastered all over them, wouldn't you at least make sure your site looks up-to-date?

The image included with the news release (above) is probably the most well-done part of the whole ordeal. The design is actually sort of interesting, even if the messaging seems more geared toward medical professionals than someone who would be interested in talking to company executives about publicity.

Has anyone else out there received similar pitches? What are your thoughts about companies that take this shotgun approach? What are your thoughts about folks who still use traditional news releases with corporatespeak and giant boilerplates?

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