Oh, Mary

“Shame on You”: How To Successfully Offend Several Journalists in One Day

March 4, 2019
Josh Galassi

It’s the kind of email no publicist wants to get:

“This is grossly exaggerated and feels like it’s bordering on sensationalism.”

“I found the way you frame [your pitch] to be really troubling.”

“Please remove me from whatever list you have me on.”

“Shame on you.”

And yet this is exactly what happened to me with a very specific pitch I had written. In drafting it, I had done taken all the right steps; I did my research, was able to cite factual, reputable data, and was able to present it all in – what I thought – a realistic yet eye-catching manner.

It backfired miserably. Sure, journalists were responding to my pitch (yay!), but not in the way I had anticipated. By the end of the second day of pitching, I had offended a total of two journalists, both of whom took issue to the words I had written. Reading their responses (as shown above), I could feel the heat blazing from their keyboards – and it burned.

Of course, my first reaction was to defend myself. How dare you shame me. I pompously thought. I did absolutely nothing wrong, it’s not sensationalism if it’s real!

But then the panic to set in.

Did I go too far? I worried. Had I falsely represented my client? Should I pack up shop, and assume a new identity?

Mind racing, I decided to step away for a moment and speak to my bosses. My pitch was factually accurate and compelling, and I shared with them the responses I was getting. My pitch tapped into emotions to tell a complex story, a story I was proud to tell. That said, we ultimately determined it was best to hold off on pitching anyone else. After all, we are in the business of relating to people, not offending them.

Pushing whatever pride I had aside, I eventually responded to both journalists, apologizing for any offense taken and promising to do better in the future.

While I hope to avoid going through an experience like this again, it did teach me a valuable lesson.

As public relations professionals, we are taught to push the envelope, to catch the attention of journalists, who quite frankly, often view us as vexatious pests. But at what point do we, as attention grabbers, draw the line?

So many times, particularly in writing, it is easy to get swept up in the theatrics and not take into account the impact our words can have. Especially in our field, where so much of our work is done over email, it is admittedly all-too-easy to see people as mere pixels or names on screen, and not necessarily as, you know, humans.

If this experience taught me anything, it’s that our choice of words deserve to be given more thought and consideration, every time we write. We owe it to ourselves, and to others, to think about the people reading our emails.

As public relations professionals, we owe it to the media we work with to see them not as just another contact on a list, but a person with lived experiences and yes, opinions. We owe it to ourselves to be humbled when called out, to not automatically go on the defense, and to reassess when things go sideways. While it’s never fun to receive an email proclaiming “Shame on you!”, we can use these instances to learn and ultimately grow. Best of all, there is often no new identity required.