A couple of months ago I received what has to count as the worst pitch/follow-up to me, to date.

Image: Thomas Hawk, Creative Commons

Surprise surprise, this wasn’t from a “PR person” or “flack;” you know the kind. It was from a sales assistant at a provider of chapter management services, which I was unlucky enough to receive because of my involvement with IABC/DC Metro.

Here’s what happened.

A lady (I’m just going to call her K__) person called me in February to talk about S__ (the company) as a replacement for our current chapter management system. Since I had no idea who she was, and was unfamiliar with her organization, I asked her to email me the relevant information, following which I’d get back to her.

She did as I requested. When I received the information, I circulated it among my board, and was then surprised to find she hadn’t just called me, but several board members, one of whom wondered how she had his work number (my guess was that she probably pulled it off the chapter website). One of them told me he’d do the demo, so I thought, great, that’s it.

Then, she called me again, a few days later.

Was there an introduction, i.e., “I’m K__ of S__ and I spoke to you a few days ago…”?

No. Just, ” “This is so & so” – no affiliation, nothing.

I don’t think I’m in the minority when I say I can’t really remember every single K__ (insert common girl’s name du jour) I come across in the course of my day-to-day work… especially a sales person I’ve never met.

The stated purpose of her call was to tell me I’d get an email from her re: the demo, because the person doing the demo had suggested (according to her) that she email me.

Hmm. OK.

I received this new email – which again she sent to multiple people on our board – and I told everyone else on my board not to worry because we knew who was doing the demo.

Then, I got another email a couple of weeks later… which wasn’t sent just to me, but to several IABC chapter leaders (we were all cc’d, not bcc’d).

Jaw, meet floor.

Image: Clément Seifert, Creative Commons.

That did it. Here’s the email I sent back, without the names (since I, at least, try to care about people’s privacy):

K__,

You’ve emailed and called me so many times about this now, that I have to say this – please stop.

I appreciate you are trying to generate business for S__, but as a seasoned PR professional, I am giving you the following free advice, which you are welcome to take to heart or disregard:

1. With this particular email, you included my email address on a cc list and not a bcc list, which is potentially a privacy violation. That is not a good business practice. It doesn’t matter whether or not everyone copied here is connected to IABC; it is not a good business practice.

2. It is a TERRIBLE idea to email someone, then call to let them know they’ll get an email (as you did with me) and then email to confirm they got an email – or several, because by this time, the person on the receiving end is thoroughly confused. Have you ever read the Bad Pitch Blog? Your job function may be characterized as sales, but sales come from good PR – and this is not good PR.

3. When reaching to [my chapter], it seems you reached to pretty much anyone you could find on our board list, and I know at least one other of our board members was confused, possibly irritated, at receiving the call from you. Never pitch multiple people at the same “outlet” (in this case, organization) at one go. Start with one and if they refer you to someone else, take the direction they give you. Do not try to hit several people at the same time, because all that’s going to happen on the other end is confusion and an irritated President (or, if it were the media, editor/writer).

4. You have already confirmed with me that our chapter’s [relevant board member] is attending one of your presentations – so why on earth was I included on this email? It would point to the fact that you need to “hit” certain people up again without keeping track of your prior communications with them. Again – not a good PR practice (or business practice).

Essentially, you have now turned me off so much to S__, that it’s going to take some amazing cost savings and increased functionality over what we currently use for us to consider you. I will certainly see what [relevant board member] has to say about your service, but after this, please do not pitch us again – if we’re interested, we’ll get back to you.

Let me repeat this: please do not pitch me – or us – again. At least until Dec. 31, 2010, which is when my term as chapter president ends.

Good luck with your work,

Regards,

Not 10 minutes had elapsed, but I got another email from her, this time to the person from our chapter who’s doing the demo and I, to reconfirm the demo.

That one I just let go.

Guess what? They didn’t get our business.

Not only that, but there were several chapter leaders on that cc list who were greatly irritated by her as well and I’m guessing S__ didn’t get their business either.

I didn’t get an apology from her (my email was probably the culprit). What I did get, about a month later, was another pitch from S__, though from a different person.

You can imagine how that went.

Salespeople, listen up.

The folks who write press releases aren’t the only one’s impacting your company’s PR. You do too, sometimes far more directly than they do. And you might want to get some PR 101 lessons from them (and believe me, they do much more than just writing press releases) before blasting emails to anyone you can find online.

I get that you have quotas to meet, and perhaps a portion of your income comes from the sales you generate, and I don’t blame you for trying to bring home the bacon. That’s what all of us do, every single day.

But with every email you write, every phone call you make, you have a choice to start building a relationship bridge with the person on the receiving end… or destroy it before you’re even off the line.

I also understand that perhaps you don’t have the budget for a dedicated PR function. But even if you don’t – no, especially if you don’t – you need to educate your sales force that relationship-building is something you have to be in for the long haul… and treat it as such. There are enough resources you can avail of to educate your team (and if you’re in a pinch, I’ll give you a break on my consulting services, as I’m sure many other PR pros would be happy to do).

And oh, you know those times you mess up (because we all have them)? A short apology goes a long way in mending that broken bridge, assuming, of course, that you’re interested in mending said bridge. If you’re not, no worries. There are plenty of other fish in the sea.

PR and sales are a lot more closely-related than you think they are.

Everyone, not just those in PR, can learn more from:

Shonali Burke
Founder and publisher of Waxing UnLyrical, Shonali Burke helps purpose-driven brands bring big ideas to life. She teaches at The Johns Hopkins University, has gone back to school herself with the Harvard Business Analytics Program, and is creator/lead instructor at The Social PR Virtuoso® online training hub , where ambitious PR pros learn how to unleash their inner Social PR superheroes. Owned by Lola the Basset Hound, she's mad about ABBA, bacon, cooking, dogs, and Elvis, though not necessarily in that order. Wouldn't you like to be in her kitchen?
Shonali Burke
Shonali Burke

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