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What Dumb PR Pitches Can Teach Smart Cause Marketers

Yesterday in conversation with a new friend in India I learned that I am ‘quite famous’ in India. India is the worlds’ second most populous country, as well as the most populous democracy so it’s a very good place to be famous in. Maybe my new-found renown explains the volume of pitches I get from people who want coverage in this blog (few of which are from India, I hasten to add).

There’s a name for these people. When they send me helpful pitches that are pertinent to I call them PR angels. When they pitch me ideas that are off-topic, over-long, just plain dumb, or addressed to “Dear Alden,” I just call them idiots. (I think it’s clear from a cursory reading of the blog that my name is Paul Jones and that my company’s name is Alden Keene.) And I’m not talking about spam here either. Everybody on earth with an email account… and increasingly a mobile phone… gets spam.

Editors and reporters have started to out the idiots. Heck, even PR people are outing the idiots. It's very chic to complain about PR idiots right now, and who am I to resist a trend?

I’m not going to out any idiot PR people by name. Although I reserve all rights to do so in the future. But to prove my point, here is a short list of subject lines that have appeared in my in-box at one point:
  • “Has Global Oil Reached its Tipping Point?” from a publicist at a major US newspaper.
  • “21 Days to Creating Your Dream Life,” from a book publicist.
  • “Shepard Fairey Auctions Exclusive HOPE Painting,” from a publicist for a painter.
And a personal favorite:
  • “BOARDFEST SNOWBOARD RAIL JAM GOES COED FOR BLIZZARD AT THE BEACH,” from an event producer. And yes, it came just like that in all-caps. There was a day when headlines in press releases had all caps. But that day has long passed for all mailed press releases.
There are lessons in all this for cause marketers, especially for those on the nonprofit side of the ledger.
  1. Don’t Just Throw Your Cause Marketing Proposals Over the Transom. Don’t spam prospects with your proposal. They have to be addressed to someone. And that person has to have agreed in advance to receive your proposal.
  2. Think Hard About the Relationship You’re Proposing. If you’re a small pet rescue charity in Deer Run, Pennsylvania you’re almost certainly barking up the wrong tree to propose a CRM campaign to ExxonMobil. That’s not to say that all successful cause marketing relationships are purely strategic. But very few of them are out and out dumb.
  3. The Format of the Proposal Counts. In general no type should be smaller than about 20 points. Don’t use wacky fonts or weirdly-colored type. And you got keep your deck to 15-20 pages/slides or less. Only Tom Peters can get away with more than that. If it’s on paper; use the landscape format. Use pictures, and plenty of them, but make sure they’re dynamite and illustrate your cause and the campaign well.
  4. Don’t Do Anything Rash If the Answer is No. Unless you’re Susan G Komen, or St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital if you get a form letter back telling you thanks, but no thanks, think very hard before you fire back something venomous. Cause marketing is a race. And as we know “the race is not always to the swift, but to those who keep running.”


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