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Should PR Pitches Mention the Competition?

Ken Gaebler

Ken Gaebler

Companies that hire our Chicago PR firm often hate their competitors.

OK, maybe hate is too strong of a word. They dislike the competition.

So, when, on occasion, I tell them that a PR pitch should mention their competitors, they give me that “Are you nuts?” look. “Why on earth would we give them a plug in our PR pitch?,” they ask.

Listen, trust me, there are times when a PR pitch is better because it mentions the competition.

This is particularly true in emerging business categories.

As the business owner or senior marketing executive, would you rather have no placements at all or be part of a trend article or industry roundup that mentions you, as well as a few other players in your space?

Mentioning the competition just might be the only way to get a placement. If you are the only ones doing something, that may not be news. If there are five companies doing it,that may be evidence of a newsworthy trend.

Many of you who read me regularly (all four of you) know that I run Resources for Entrepreneurs. We get pitched by PR firms all the time.

One that just came in, prompting this blog post, was pitching us on writing about a suite of web-based software applications for small business owners. The PR pitch centered around how web-based software is changing everything for business owners.

Well, that’s a very old pitch. Walker Sands was using that pitch back in 2002 for some clients, when it was somewhat novel to use Web-based applications, such as online payroll or web-based CRM, for business. You shouldn’t be pitching that basic of a pitch about web-based software in 2010. It’s going to fail on anybody over the age of 28, who will recognize that either a) you are trying to trick them into writing something that has been covered ad nauseum, or b) you just don’t get it and actually think the pitch is newsworthy.

If this particular agency had pitched us with “Here are six great online applications, from six progressive companies, that small business owners can use to improve their productivity and grow their business,” we might have bitten on it. That would be a useful read for a small business owner, don’t you think?

Sure I could do that research myself, but the job of the PR firm is to make our job easy, right? They do the work, I run the story. Force me to put the pieces together, and odds are it will never get written.

Problem is, to get that story, the PR firm might have had to  include their clients’ competitors in that list. I’m guessing they were not too eager to do that, but it would have been a much better strategy.

So, if you are looking for PR, start with recognition that, with high probability, the world doesn’t revolve around you. Your company, alone, is probably not newsworthy. Your product, alone, is probably not newsworthy.

However, tie what you do into a larger trend and mention several companies that support the trend and you are much more likely to get coverage.

Yes, you may have to mention the competition that you dislike so much. (Even better, mention similar companies that are not directly competitive.)

But, do it with a smile. A group mention is almost always better than no mention. More importantly, journalists will give more weight to the company that helped them to write the story, so you will usually get a better mention than your competitors.

The bottomline? If you are in an emerging industry where a rising tide will lift all boats, don’t be spooked when your PR firm discusses mentioning competitors in their PR pitches. In certain instances, it’s absolutely the right thing to do.