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PR reality check: The world is melting, but your PR pitch doesn’t have to get burned

By Patrick McCaully, Vanquisher of Vanilla PR, Pointman News Creation

Close-up on a yellow PR key on a white computer keyboard

I get it, you’re super excited. Version 5.0 of your “robust solution” has the whole company buzzing. Maybe you’re “reimagining the landscape” of something or “revolutionizing the lives of human beings.” That’s great, but it’s not necessarily news.

Consider this: the least number of journalists in history are generating the most media content in history—often for multiple platforms. They REALLY don’t have time to waste on non-news.

Frankly, simple product announcements and “we exist” or “we’re amazing according to us” types of press releases didn’t work well BEFORE two years of COVID. Imagine how little journalists care about them after two years of hourly breaking business and health news based on the pandemic.

But all is not lost...

You can still break through an insane pandemic news cycle with your press release and pitch, but they have to be relevant to a current crisis, funny, relentlessly positive or genuinely interesting. Put yourself into the mindset of an exhausted journalist (which is pretty much every working journalist). Send them a press release that would be newsworthy to someone that doesn’t work at your company (or get paid by your company as a consultant).

Yes, I said press release!

What I am about to tell you goes against 99% of current online opinion. I have proven time and time again the press release is not dead! In fact, it’s just the opposite. (So says the #1 boutique PR firm in the world.)

Yes, non-newsworthy and uninspiring press releases are dead. R.I.P. I’m all for that! But well-written, clever press releases that are actually newsworthy are still absolutely the preferred way for media to get information and use it to create stories. (If anyone ever pushes back on that, ask them how much time they’ve actually spent in a newsroom.)

Relevance revolution

If you want to get earned media coverage, you first need to find a way to be objective about your own news. Forget what’s personally important to you. Consider what’s important to everyone else, and what will resonate with news media. Media relations is a meritocracy. It’s about the best story, not about who you know. The best idea can and does ultimately win the media coverage, but you have to present it in the most newsworthy way.

This is why you need a Trojan horse.

At Pointman News Creation, our whole approach is based on Trojan horse tactics. We create something that is independently newsworthy then relate it back to the client in a clever way. This tactic allows the press release or pitch to be seen as not entirely self-serving and enables the client to get past the gates and walls of the assignment editor or journalist to tell their story.

Christmas was a wonderful time of year to test COVID clear.

To cite a recent example, we worked with Rapid Test & Trace, a Canadian provider of COVID rapid tests, around the Christmas holidays this year. The “vanilla” approach for the campaign would have been to play it straight and ride the wave of COVID coverage with a “We’re open for business!” type of pitch. Instead, we employed the Trojan horse tactic and hit media with a one-two punch.

First, we created a humour-based card campaign to help Canadians with “the hardest holiday conversation,” which was getting Canadians to take a rapid COVID test BEFORE meeting up with friends and family. Rapid Test and Trace created a series of five COVID-inspired holiday cards; then we wrote funny poems for the inside of each card that sold the premise, such as:

#CANCEL COVID CHRISTMAS

With Holiday cheers and candy cane flavour, I'm using this card, to ask a small favour.

We'll celebrate the season; we are super keen. But we don't want to invite COVID-19.

With the warmest of thoughts, while wishing you the best

I'm asking you and yours to take a rapid COVID test.

The second “punch” on the Trojan horse approach was to conduct a survey of 1,000 Canadians and ask different and unexpected questions. We ended up with results such as, “7.7% of Canadians said they could never ask friends and family to take a COVID test and 6.3% would like to ask but can’t.”

Ultimately, we were out with a very topical pitch, when it was relevant, using humour and the suggested awkwardness of the situation to land major earned media coverage.

We provided the media with two potential avenues of interest and strong visuals (the holiday cards), as well as a video from animated readings of the cards that the client produced.

192 media hits later, Rapid Test and Trace became the dominant rapid test provider at a crucial time to provide Canadians with tests.

The point being ...

Your pitch doesn’t have to be vanilla or matter-of-fact. Canadian media can indeed be very conservative, but at the same time, they are very receptive to humour-based or survey based-pitches.

One last thing

Timing is everything. COVID is one thing, but massive international stories, such as the invasion of the Ukraine, trump just about everything in business media and beyond. If something like that is happening, do the right thing personally and professionally and hold your pitch until it’s over.

So, the world may be melting, but your pitch doesn’t have to get burned. Consider using humour, surveys and general cleverness to get your Trojan horse past the gates and secure earned media coverage. Playing it straight just doesn’t cut it anymore.


Patrick McCaully is the Founder of Pointman News Creation, the #1 Boutique PR Agency in the world (as ranked by Clutch.co.) Prior to his current role vanquishing vanilla PR, Patrick worked in the newsrooms of three of Canada’s four national broadcasters. For nearly eight years, he suffered hundreds, if not thousands, of bad PR pitches and vowed to fight the villainy of vanilla PR.

We hope you enjoyed this guest post on PR from Patrick McCaully, Vanquisher of Vanilla PR and Director of International Media Domination at Pointman News Creation, one of our valued member businesses.

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