Twitter PR hashtag offers tips in what not to do

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Surely you heard the one about the PR pro who tried to send a pizza to a CNET executive editor but had it delivered to the wrong city.

Or the restaurant critic who received a pitch that began, “I want to formerly introduce myself.” Or how about the beauty editor who checked her inbox to find an email that began, “Dear Sir.”

No? Then you haven’t checked out the Twitter hashtag #PRfail lately, which is full of cautionary tales about the glorious world of publicity gone wrong.

Far be it from me to gloat: PR is a thankless job, and my editors would be happy to fill you in on my own past goofs. Still, #PRfail might make you consider better targeting your pitch, rereading that email one last time, or standing down instead of launching a breakfast sandwich war with the mighty tamale.

I discovered #PRFail recently when I tweeted about the latest in a string of pitches I have gotten with the salutations, “Dear [blank space for reporter’s name]” or “Hi [blank space].” I always delete these unread. The next line usually reveals the pitch is wildly inappropriate for PR Daily.

When I checked out the #PRfail hashtag I had appended to my tweet, I saw why some reporters get so cranky. Not to excuse the click and dial tone you hear when you politely phone a newsroom, but it turns out that clever “Fifty Shades of Grey”-themed pitch wasn’t so original after all—or so says Ben Griffiths, city news editor of the London Daily Mail.

Scroll through the tweets, and you’ll learn that the lady with the Twitter bio “Beauty editor Polly Blitzer & her team are changing the world one lip gloss at a time” doesn’t appreciate the implication that she has a hairy chest and leaves the toilet seat up.

Similarly, a blogger named Grace (“Nutcase. Humous Addict. Persian – Like the Cat … Newbie Health/Fitness Addict. Abuser of Beauty Products”) didn’t like the kerfuffle over an event invitation that was rescinded.

There probably is a back story here, but nobody likes having the party rug pulled out from under her.

Before approaching female journalists, consider the case of Melissa Matheson, editor of mX Sydney and a Daily Telegraph columnist. (“For the record, tights are not pants,” she wants you to know.) She did not dig the creepy gift somebody sent.

For that matter, insurance broker turned journalist Mark Geoghegan—“I want to know all about everything, everywhere”—absolutely does not want to know about a least one thing: “a flexible new car insurance policy.” (“NO!”)

@BiculturalMama tweets to ask, “Why were there no Asians on the Fresh Off the Boat blog tour?” while @legalfutures is unimpressed with a study some eager professional tried to push: “Just had PR about the best law firms on social media – looked interesting but then learned ‘sample’ was 15 firms.”

Even communications pros have joined in the fun, as Gustavo Ramos, a hospital marketing coordinator (“Soccer Fan. 100% Tulense. Tweets are mine. Se habla español”), jabbed McDonald’s about picking a breakfast war with the wrong demographic.

Surely all of us have pitied a brand for trying to get something fun going in social media, only to have someone come along and barf in the punchbowl. ( Gawker, we’re looking at you.) But if you’re eyeing a hashtag campaign, consider the cautionary example of Britain’s South West Trains, which tried to drum up some love with this request: “#SWTValentine Tweet us messages for a loved one – we’ll display it [on a lighted signboard] outside Twickenham Station.”

The only thing the poor slowcoach did was stir up taunts like this from Angry Commuter: “@SW_Trains roses are red, violets are blue, I’m late getting home, all thanks to you.”

Ditto from Lauren Easter, who, for the record, seems to spend her allotted social media time doing little other than tweet about late-running trains.