When Not to Pitch: During an Earthquake (or a Hurricane)

Dear PR colleagues: Pls do not pitch earthquake-related stories unless you rep an earthquake preparedness company/expert.

I wrote that tweet Wednesday afternoon in response to a tweet from Forbes media reporter Jeff Bercovici that he, like every other reporter it seems, had received an irrelevant earthquake-related pitch from a PR pro.

And Friday afternoon, I tweeted this as Hurricane Irene beared down on the East Coast:

Oh wow. Bad PR RT @ShopWiki_Hlth_B Be prepared for Hurricane Irene with this awesome waterproof mascara by @LorealParis

*Headshaking* Far be it from me to fault my many excellent colleagues in the PR business, but let me be blunt, fellow PR pros:

Please stop being stupid with your pitches.

Too harsh? Maybe. But let’s admit what every professional must know: a pitch about how your social media guru client can extol the power of Twitter when the earth is rumbling, or how your client’s waterproof makeup would be great in the torrential rains of a hurricane is not good PR. It’s irresponsible PR, in my opinion.

PR should stand for more than glomming on to the latest public emergency or catastrophe. Our greatest value is to aid in society’s informed decision-making. How exactly does pitching a social-media guru about earthquake response via Twitter add to the public’s greater knowledge?

We’re better than this. We all know that these inane and irrelevant pitches do nothing to improve public relations’ reputation or value. It does the exact opposite, actually.

Then again, PR isn’t alone in trying to take advantage of the earthquake for its own gain. As Digiday’s Brian Morrissey pointed out, Mashable almost immediately published a post Wednesday about how Twitter led the way in informing East Coasters of the 5.9 tumbler. Equally galling, Technorati (That site still exists?) ran a bizarrely-headlined post titled “Twearthquake.”

The mainstream media wasn’t much better. Scores of articles ran in the dailies and online late last week detailing how Twitter, Facebook and other social networks were instrumental in informing people of the impending earthquake (apparently, you could read about it in your Twitter stream 15 seconds before you felt the quake … cool!). And that led, inevitably, to the media critiquing the media on how the media reported the story. Yet another in a long line of process stories that the public generally hates but the media love to write.

Long story short: We all can do better. PR pros, the media and our clients.

For PR, we need to be especially vigilant in educating clients when it is and is not appropriate to pitch the media following emergencies or natural disasters. As I noted at the top of this post, there is a time and place for most pitches. Just make sure they’re relevant, lest you want to end up on another of Michael Arrington’s long line of rants against PR firms.

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