If memory serves, I actually went so far as to tell her it is my policy to say no to pitches in which the phrase “reaching out” or any of its variants is applied. It was a ridiculous, ornery reply to a well-meaning request for coverage, for which I apologize.
However, the “reaching out” phrase rankled me, and I am trying to figure out why. One reason is its overuse. This phrase -- “reaching out,” “reach out,” “reached out” or whatever form it takes -- is certainly overused in the p.r. biz today (and in many other places too).
Every day, it seems, I am on the receiving end of pitches that go something like this: “Hi! I am reaching out to you today to tell you about [insert celebrity’s name] new show in which [he or she] plays a [insert description of troubled character]. Please let me know if we can chat about this soon! [etc.].”
Parenthetical note: And while we’re on the subject, the word “chat” is a mistake too. “Chatting” is something you do with your friends. Communications professionals should not invite professional journalists to “chat” with them. “Chatting” makes a subject seem frivolous or unimportant. And even if most of these pitches are frivolous or unimportant, publicists should at least pretend they are not, out of respect for a journalist. Is that asking too much? Probably.
The reason the overuse of a phrase such as “reaching out” in publicity pitches is such a turnoff is because it smacks of laziness, as if the writer couldn’t be bothered to find another way to say “I am contacting you.” Why not just lead the pitch letter with the thing you’re trying to pitch? Obviously, you are contacting me -- this email is from you, right? Using the words “reaching out” makes a pitch seem tentative or weak, as if the publicist is dipping a toe in frigid water and expecting it to be too cold to swim in.
In addition, the phrase is so omnipresent today, you get the feeling it’s some sort of namby-pamby Millennial-speak. It brings out the grizzled journalist in me when I read it and think to myself: “C’mon, kid, out with it already.”
Besides, “reaching out” is really a phrase better applied when seeking help, not publicity for a TV show. Charitable organizations “reach out” in this way. Generally speaking, the publicists I hear from every day do not represent charities. They are not “reaching out” to me to ask for my money or time. They are “reaching out” to enlist my support for a very commercial enterprise. It just comes across as unseemly, grasping and pleading. Zombies “reach out.” Unless they too are the undead, publicists should not be grasping at me like zombies in "The Walking Dead" with their arms through a cyclone fence.
“Reaching out”? Please give it a rest.
I could go on, but I think the point is made. Look for future columns in this space on the overuse of other words and phrases in the media today. “Drilling down,” “doubling down” and “taking a deep dive,” beware -- your days of reckoning are near too.
Zombie photo from “The Walking Dead” courtesy of AMC Networks.