A PR Pitch to Die For

Tough job, but someone’s got to do it. Or do they? This will appear in tomorrow’s Washington Post. It’s a reason why Kevin and Richard created the Bad Pitch Blog . More importantly it provides a good example of when a PR firm lacks the temerity to advise a client to abandon an ill-conceived story idea. Thanks to Brian Connolly for flagging it.

Undertaking a Difficult Sales Job

PR can be deadly hard

By Gene Weingarten

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Washington Post

I solemnly swear that what follows is an actual phone conversation I just had with an actual person.

Me: Hi. From time to time I talk with public relations people, and sometimes I confess I feel as though I am talking to soulless machines. But as soon as I read your name I knew there would be something warm and comforting and human about you.

Heather R. Huhman: Thank you!

Me: I am in receipt of a pitch you sent to a reporter at The Washington Post on behalf of a client. I am summarizing here, but basically you begin by noting that The Post has recently been covering the controversy over the sale of port management contracts to an Arab Muslim country. Then, employing a non sequitur of breathtaking proportions, or possibly one of the most tasteless transitions in the history of written communication, you say that, in a related development, you represent the National Funeral Directors Association.

Heather: This is making me nervous, as a PR professional.

Me: So, I kept reading. And, basically — correct me if I am wrong here — in an effort to garner good publicity for your clients, you are proposing a positive story on how funeral directors will be helping us bury our dead in the event of a terrorist holocaust that will annihilate thousands of people.

Heather: Well, you are incorrect. That is not in context.

Me: Okay, here’s the context: “To follow-up on the articles being written in the Post about Bush’s port deals, John Fitch, VP of Advocacy for the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA), can discuss how America is planning to handle the potential mass fatalities from a terrorism standpoint — and perhaps more importantly to you, how small business owners (funeral directors) will play an important role. Most funeral homes are owned by the same family for an average of four generations.”

Heather: Well, yes. The roles they will play in mass fatalities.

Me: I hope you don’t take this the wrong way, but I think I love you.

Heather: Okay . . .

Me: What is love but a feeling of intense empathy? I can’t imagine many more difficult jobs than being the PR person for the Funeral Directors Association.

Heather: Actually, it’s a blast! When I call people, and I say I am calling on behalf of the National Funeral Directors Association, they say, “Omigod, is it my time?”


Heather: Well, I enjoy it.

Me: You poor baby. It’s not like having to drum up fluffy publicity for Hasbro toys or the state lottery or the puppy and kitten industry, is it? You really have to work at this, don’t you?

Heather: I like to think I always work very hard.

Me: I’m not without a heart, and, frankly, Heather, it is nearly breaking. I’m going to make you an offer. I am going to ease your burden. I will print whatever positive things you say about the funeral directors, right now. I will suspend all journalistic skepticism, because I feel so sorry for you. Go ahead. Anything you want to say about funeral directors, and it goes from your mouth into the pages of The Washington Post, unedited and unverified. Go crazy. Lionize them! Lie!

Heather: I really can’t comment on that.

Me: What?

Heather: I’m only qualified to speak on the mass fatality issue.

Me: My God. You are a saint.

Heather: If you knew more about it, you’d understand. If there were an avian flu pandemic, what would happen with all of those bodies? I know this sounds morbid, but . . .

Me: Stop!

Heather: . . . but what would happen if 1.9 million people died in months? We don’t put people in mass graves like some Third World countries do. What happens to all those bodies?

– – –

I simply couldn’t let her go on. Heather might not be my choice for, say, an inspirational speaker or toastmistress at a Goodfellows banquet, but she is a PR person, doing her job. I wish Morticia, I mean Heather, only the best — a client that is easier to represent, such as the American Association of Nose-Pickers and Sexual Deviants.

Gene Weingarten’s e-mail address is weingarten@washpost.com.