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How To Avoid Practicing Spray And Pray PR: Balance Volume and Value

Date published: November 20, 2013
Last updated: November 20, 2013

It’s easier than ever for marketers and PR professionals to reach thousands of people simultaneously, but seasoned professionals avoid mass distributions like this for good reason. Outreach is no longer solely a numbers game; these days, it’s the balance between quality and quantity that has shifted into sharp focus for brands who want to maintain their image and their relevancy. Let's talk spray and pray PR.

What is spray and pray PR?

The term “spray and pray” began as a combat term for firing automatic weapons without taking proper aim. This means that those with greater skill and finesse will more likely claim victory. Does this sound familiar?

Spray and pray PR embraces the idea of “the more, the merrier” where marketers mistakenly assume that everyone needs to know about their widget or their website in hopes that a few media contacts will feature it. What these scammers don’t always recognize is that the response rate diminishes as they send more poorly targeted emails – and their brand’s image suffers too.

First, focus on quality

The first step in moving towards higher-quality pitches is to understand where you want to land on the spectrum of emails that people receive each day. Learn which subject lines spammers are using, and work to make yours personable and unique. Conversely, don’t assume familiarity by using slang or failing to open your message professionally – being overly casual is also a red flag.

The most important element of a pitch email is a specific and relevant point of interest for the recipient. Convey why their audience would be thrilled to hear about whatever it is you’re pitching – some even find it useful to provide recipients with options for angles or suggestions for how to feature the product. This relevance is essential, whether you are sending an individual email or you’re messaging 20 people at once.

But what about quantity?

Those who argue that PR isn’t a numbers game may end up with a seriously flawed strategy. Since you’re relying on others’ preferences and calendars, predictions for success are no more than educated guesses. Welcoming a higher-volume backup plan is an essential step in getting the word out.

Building lists may be time-consuming, but consider it an investment in your future efforts. Emailing segments of people all at once helps improve organization and following up. For a “mass” email to be successful, the list has to start small and continue to get smaller until the contacts so closely resemble each other than a blanket pitch would still read as highly personalized (a list of 20-50 contacts might be appropriate, depending on the angle you’re taking).

How to qualify lists

Here’s a handy list on lists:

  • Define the list by the pitch or angle you intend to send (you can edit it later, but it’s important to have a solid starting point)
  • Filter as much as you can in the search before manually checking each opportunity
  • Set aside top tier sites (highly trafficked, dream placement opportunities) for one-to-one outreach
  • Remove contacts with whom you have an existing relationship or have missing or incomplete information and contact them individually as well
  • Finally, take the time to visit any sites you will be reaching out to – are they up to date? Are they spot-on to your niche? Are they likely to welcome your email?

Test your balance

So how do you find the happy medium between volume and value? Keep in mind these takeaways:

  • Find a balance between general and overly familiar language – be a person, not a spambot
  • Use small lists and go through them two or three times to ensure the contact quality
  • Develop the pitch before the list – not the other way around – so that you can have solid guidelines for qualifying contacts
  • Know when not to use a template: priority placements, friends, and those with missing information

While the ideal situation is to email each individual with a personalized, from-scratch message, deadlines can mean that isn’t always possible. Mass distributions of all sizes should be approached carefully and reviewed often for their effectiveness. Any reply emails that claim you’re spamming or that you’re reaching out to the wrong people should be red flags. If your pitch or your niche was off, reevaluate your plan of attack.

Just remember numbers matter, but at the end of the day, it’s relationships that really count.

How do you balance value and volume when pitching?

Image credit: James Cridland

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