One More Bad (Bug) Science Pitch

9 September 2013 by Matt Shipman, posted in Uncategorized

Specimen [BMNH(E)1015020] is the property of the Natural History Museum, London (BMNH). Image copyright © Z. Lieberman 2012

I recently ran a post on what we can learn from bad pitches that public relations (PR) folks make to science reporters. I asked science writers to send me some bad pitches they received (and there were some doozies), but couldn’t find room for them all. Here’s one that’s worth highlighting.

Gwen Pearson is better known in the science writing community as Bug Girl. An entomologist, science communicator and prodigious blogger, she has shared her love for the insect world on Bug Girl’s Blog for years (fun fact – she’ll be joining the team of Wired Science bloggers soon!).

Bug (I still call her Bug, even though she no longer writes under a pseudonym) sent me a pitch that she had received in 2012. She encouraged me to share it, without making her anonymous, so I will. (I am, however, making the PR person and related organization anonymous.) I have two reasons for sharing this pitch. First, it’s kind of amusing. Second, and more importantly, it is a good example of how not to pitch. More on that after you read this email exchange:

Email #1 from “Anonymous Pest Control Association”

Hello,

Do you screech when you see a spider or go berserk when you encounter a buzzing bug? If so, we’ve got the perfect contest for you!

The [Anonymous Pest Control Association] has launched the “Show Us Your Scream” photo and video contest on its [APCA] Facebook Page, which encourages consumers to submit their best shrieking, shouting, screaming reactions they have when seeing a creepy, crawly pest.

One grand prize winner will be awarded a day of scream-inducing fun with a free trip to a local amusement park, valued at $4,000. Consumers can also check out all the amusing entries and vote for their favorites for a chance to win a $500 Visa gift card.

Would you consider posting about this fun contest to help us to spread the word? Please let me know if you have any questions or would like more information about the contest. For official rules and details, please visit [website].

Bug Girl's icon (Image credit: skepchickjill)

Bug Girl’s Response #1

This is the most depressing contest I have ever heard of.

Way to encourage entomophobia and excessive chemical use in the home.

SIGH.

Email #2 from “Anonymous Pest Control Association”

The contest is in no way encouraging excessive chemical use in the home. It is simply asking consumers to record their reactions to seeing bugs, which are often hilarious to watch. That’s the joy of the contest!

Essentially, we are trying to spread awareness about bugs, and I thought that was also the goal of your blog. I apologize if I perceived a different message, and I am sorry if I offended you in any way.

Bug Girl’s Response #2

You are spreading fear of insects, which is not the goal of my blog.

I normally support [APCA], because they promote IPM [integrated pest management] and responsible pest management.

Encouraging people to be frightened – and have an extreme reaction like screaming – is not conducive to either of those goals.

[End email chain]

Where the Pitch Went Wrong

The first problem, and the biggest problem, with this pitch is that the PR person obviously has zero familiarity with the person he/she’s pitching.

To even the most casual reader, Bug Girl’s Blog is clearly focused on how amazing insects are. You don’t have to read the post titled “Shiny, Purple Insects will Blow Your Mind with Awesome” to know that Bug Girl really likes bugs. (Another clue? She calls herself Bug Girl.) Yet, the PR person asked Bug to promote a contest, funded by an industry group, which revolves around the idea that bugs are horrifying. There is a fundamental disconnect between the blogger and the pitch. This is why PR people need to do their homework before pitching. An occasional off-target pitch is understandable (I’m certainly guilty of it). But glaringly obvious ones like this are definitely avoidable. So avoid them. (Reporters don’t like off-target pitches, but bloggers are more likely to react strongly to an off-target pitch. Again: do your homework.)

The second problem with the pitch is that the PR person didn’t drop it once it became clear that Bug Girl was definitely not interested in promoting the contest. Maybe the PR person thought the initial pitch would backfire, and Bug would write a post slamming the contest? I don’t know. I do know that when a reporter or blogger makes it clear that they’re not interested, you should take the hint.

The third problem is that the PR person then tried to make a case for her pitch: “Essentially, we are trying to spread awareness about bugs, and I thought that was also the goal of your blog.” No. No, no, no. If the writer thinks your pitch stinks, you are not going to win her over by debating the point. Reporters/bloggers don’t have time to argue about how good or bad your pitch was. Move on.

But the PR person did get one thing right: he/she was polite. This doesn’t make up for all of the things that are wrong with the pitch, but it does matter. Rude behavior alienates people. It actually makes me angry. The PR person ended his/her second email with this: “I apologize if I perceived a different message, and I am sorry if I offended you in any way.” I wouldn’t have sent a second email at all, but if you’re going to send a follow-up email, that’s a good way to end it.

Leave a Reply


× 7 = fifty six