‘I Hope All Is Well’

US map with clusters

This is the opening line for far too many PR story “pitch” letters emailed to journalists. To call it a cliche would be to state the obvious. In fact, it’s such a hollow greeting — often sent to reporters with whom the publicist has no prior relationship — it becomes a non-starter, if not a catalyst for the reporter to expose the sender in a caustic tweet. At no time is this more true than the present day.

The New York Times’s Brooks Barnes posted a piece late yesterday in which he echoed what many of his beleaguered WFH colleagues in the fourth estate were no doubt feeling:

“Silent scream: All is actually the exact opposite of well!”

The piece, “The Art of the Pitch in the Midst of a Pandemic,” actually sympathized with a PR community wherein many clients still expect their agencies to garner “earned media” attention for their products and services, even during these dystopian times. He writes:

At first glance, Ms. McCormick’s note, forwarded to me by a nonplused recipient, came across as offensively extraterrestrial. What planet was this person living on? Then I felt an emotion approaching compassion: She was just doing her job.

I remember in the aftermath of 9/11, I was asked by more than a few reporters whether it’s OK to recommence story-pitching to journalists. Unlike most of my industry colleagues, I noted that there were many legitimate and helpful story ideas to which journalists might just be receptive. They included anyone or anything that helped consumers cope with the anxiety and uncertainty wrought by that unprecedented attack on our country.

The same goes for today. News orgs are hungry for bona fide experts who can make sense of the myriad questions Americans have about coronavirus and its effect on our everyday lives. Even lifestyle media, e.g., entertainment, food, travel, home…would be willing to entertain a story angle with a natural tie to the current crisis. Yet, many in our profession do not have the temerity to tell their clients that certain business-as-usual story pitches simply do not pass muster, and can actually do damage to the brand being pitched, e.g.,

“Latex has become an inescapable fashion sensation, with designers creating unique and innovative looks for both on and off the runway…”

As my old friend and astute former colleague Howard Bragman noted:

“I understand that people are worried about their businesses, and rightly so. It’s awful. But my personal belief is this: It’s OK to say nothing for a while.”

The bottom line: tread lightly, my PR brethren, or risk damaging your client’s reputation, not to mention your own.