Much of what PR people do to anger reporters and editors could be avoided. Considering how PR and journalists work together, the lack of understanding is surprising. Although some PR pros know how to pitch press releases and story ideas well (and follow the established pitching etiquette), journalists complain that they are inundated by those who don’t.
“One of the real travesties of higher education in this field is that there is no cross-training. It would help us address the perception that we don’t understand the jobs of the people we pitch,” comments Shawn Paul Wood, a PR executive at Ketchum, in PR Newser.
Key Principle: Getting under the skin of a journalist now undermines future placements. Know and avoid the pain points journalists have with PR.
Here are the main ways PR people anger journalists.
They don’t write well (or to journalism’s standards). Exclamation points, all caps and superlatives do not impress. Skip the theatrics and focus on a clear, concise story to drive engagement. “While PR students learn the history of Bernays, Lee, Burson, and Edelman, journalism students are taught how to write a concise story and make the 5Ws work for them. That’s what makes a good pitch — not a six-paragraph email,” Wood writes.
The Fix: Use journalism’s standards and formats in all press releases – and pitches. The AP Style Book, now available as an interactive ebook, is the best reference.
They don’t respect journalist’s time. Journalists work on deadlines. “Those deadlines aren’t flexible, and they certainly aren’t going to get met if you try to talk their ear off on the phone,” says Mickie Kennedy, founder of eReleases.
The Fix: Know in advance when deadlines are for any news source. Deadlines for digital journalists are different from print journalists or broadcasters. Contact them by phone only at times well removed from deadline. Even then, it’s important to get to the point and respect their time. When calling reporters, ask if it’s a good time to talk. If not, schedule the talk for another time.
They’re difficult to reach. When reporters call or email spokespeople, they expect prompt responses. They also expect press releases and websites to contain contact information.
The Fix: PR must be immediately accessible to reporters – especially after issuing a press release. Include contact information where you can be reached. Monitor email and texts frequently. Answer all calls that come in on your contact phone number.
They send irrelevant stories and pitches. Sending releases to every journalist on a huge email list annoys most on the list.
The Fix: Segmenting email lists by type of stories reporters cover delivers better results. Researching publications and what they cover helps PR target their pitches and earn the appreciation of reporters.
They play coy. Too many pitches about products lack substantive information about the product. Too many pitches offer to send the most valuable information in a follow-up communication or bury it in a long message.
The Fix: “Simply put, if you have truly interesting information, put it in the pitch itself,” advises Katie Burke at HubSpot. “Whatever you do, don’t put the onus on the reporter to go through you to get through the interesting part of the story — lead with what will make the story compelling for him or her and make it as easy as possible for the reporter to learn more.”
They are annoying. Failing to accept “no” for answer is probably one of the surest ways to earn a reporter’s enmity. If reporters don’t respond to your email or social media interaction, calling them on the phone is unlikely to spark their interest, Burk says.
The Fix: Cold calling is highly unlovable. Confine phone calling and messages to reporters who have requested follow-ups and those you know well.
Bottom Line: Many PR pros exasperate journalists. Fortunately, PR can avoid annoying reporters and gain their respect. Researching publications and being respectful of their time are the most important steps to winning appreciation and media placements.
William J. Comcowich founded and served as CEO of CyberAlert LLC, the predecessor of Glean.info. He is currently serving as Interim CEO and member of the Board of Directors. Glean.info provides customized media monitoring, measurement and analytics solutions across all types of traditional and social media.