Watch where you’re pitching

So last week I get this pitch – it’s an infographic about…actually it wouldn’t be fair to identify the person who sent it, it’s just an infographic and it concerns a technology issue. The covering note says the PR executive thought it might work for my blog.

Nice though it would be to think that this blog is getting noticed, it would be a completely  wrong thing for me to include so I disregard it. My best guess is that many people have had a similar note because we’re on a list of technology journalists. That is of course fine and respectable.

Then this morning I get the follow-up note to ask whether it’s any use for my blog. I reply and explain I’m not sure which blog she means. “Your technology blog”, comes the response.

Pitch to something that exists

I’m racking my brain here trying to think of anything at all I write that could be construed a technology blog. Let’s discount anything that’s been dead (or which someone else has taken over) for a year or more; this is a paid, professional PR person and part of her job is to keep up to date with who’s doing what.

So I can confirm here: I do not and have not recently written a technology blog at all. You can pitch what you want at it, since it doesn’t exist I’m positive it will do you no good.

This isn’t the first time I’ve been aware of people pitching to nonexistent publications. A colleague of mine used to work on a magazine that closed down. She had a call from a PR person asking whether she’d be able to include the case of wine she’d just sent by courier (which my colleague hadn’t received). No, she replied, the magazine has closed. “But I’ve sent the wine now!” came the angry response; fascinating, said my colleague, where did you send it, since we no longer have an office?

Again, for several years I was associated with a section in the Guardian called “Small Business Solutions” (then “Business Solutions”, then “Business Sense”, but it remained focused on the small business market). I didn’t edit it, but was in it so often a number of people got the impression I did, so they sent me pitches. More than once I had a pitch offering me a new director of a small business client for the “people page”.

You know what’s coming next. I worked on that supplement for nine years and we never, literally never, had a people page.

Do your research

Here’s now it works. PR people pitch ideas to journalists and whatever some hacks tell you about resisting the approach and getting sucked into the PR machine, we need it. Without ideas and fresh input we dry up, it’s as simple as that. So however reluctant or damned rude some journalists are, they need you but we do get a lot of pitches so they need to be sharp.

And one way you can sharpen them better than some of the competition – and as you’ll have gathered this was true as of this morning – is to make sure you’re pitching to a publication or part thereof that actually exists. This is fundamental market research. Yes, the amount of blogs out there makes it difficult to keep track of us all but there are press agencies out there which specialise in this sort of monitoring. It’s part of the PR job, and if you went into it voluntarily then it’s reasonable to expect you to make the effort.

Overall the quality of pitch from PR people has shot up in the 26 years I’ve been a journalist. But the schoolchild errors are still being made – and failing to check that your target publication actually exists is probably the worst.

For information on Guy Clapperton’s media training sessions please click here.

The language question

I’m off to Poland today for Professional Outsourcing Magazine, helping to judge an awards scheme and to attend the gala dinner and presentation. I’m looking forward to it – the magazine’s been a pleasure to work on for this last year and there will be people I know there.

Often I visit other countries and speak. A couple of weeks ago I faced an international group for media training, which was fun and stimulating. There are a couple of things to bear in mind when you face a multilingual audience.

Ignore the obvious

On two occasions I’ve been advised to speak slowly to give the other language speakers a chance to keep up. That’s actually so obvious I wouldn’t have mentioned it here if people hadn’t been drawing it to my attention already.

Something on which you do need to focus if your audience will have English as a second language is the quality of the AV. Last time I presented to a tiny group I was using a video to illustrate a point, but the speaker on the TV set wasn’t working. We put the volume as high as we could on my iPad but the back row struggled to hear. Would they have stood a better chance if they’d been English speakers by birth? Probably. Would it have been a better idea if I’d brought a backup speaker just in case? Absolutely, and I’ve acquired a couple. Lesson learned.

The other thing to watch is humour. It doesn’t necessarily travel, no matter how hysterical you might consider your own brand of comedy.

A few years ago I was presenting on social media in Italy, just after the fall of media mogul Silvio Berlusconi. One of my slides had a picture of Rupert Murdoch. I said “I don’t know how this man affects the non-English-speaking world. He’s a media magnate who has undue influence in our political world and many of us can barely believe it – I explain this in depth because I know nothing like that could ever happen in Italy.”

One person laughed uproariously but otherwise there was silence. No reaction. I started to wonder about actual violence from the audience if I’d offended them that badly.

I continued with my next point and then the laugh came – I’d forgotten about the gap while the interpreter caught up with me. Of course they loved the Berlusconi gag, they just hadn’t heard it yet apart from the fluent English speaker, who had laughed immediately.

Lesson learned again – allow a gap for the interpreter! And given that humour relies largely on timing, think very carefully about how important a joke might be when that timing is going to be in the hands of a translator rather than your own.