Journalists and Public Relations pros: The Dos and Don’ts
The relationship between journalists and Public Relations pros is an interesting one. I’ve contributed to national newspapers as a journalist, run several blogs, and I work in Communications for multinationals – so I’ve seen the debate from all sides. Here, I’ve put together some advice for PRs looking to bridge the divide in what can, at times, be a fractious relationship.
One of the funny things about many of the articles I’ve read on how PR folk should pitch to journalists is that they are often written by PR folk themselves. Surely, the better people to ask what journalists want are journalists – and that’s exactly what I have done. Read on for top advice from print, broadcast and trade journalists.
Do: Explain why this matters to the journalist’s audience
Deirdre O’ Shaughnessy, Editor and occasional presenter of Cork’s 96fm Opinion Line in Ireland, said: “Suggesting a spokesperson to me without giving me any information on what they can talk about, their personal story, a topical story they can comment on, or any other remotely interesting information that might actually make them of interest to our listeners is not doing your job. In fact, you’re asking me to do your job for you.
“My first concern has never been helping you to promote your event. My first concern is to provide good content to our show’s listeners. Yours is to make me believe your client will deliver that.”
Don’t: Send it last minute or forget to include photos
Carolyne Allmark, a journalist with Time Out Abu Dhabi, said:”I prefer to get pitches by email so if it’s any good I can call you if I need more info. My biggest pet hate is not getting the information in enough time to do anything with it! At a monthly magazine, we need to receive information at least a week, ideally two weeks before the end of the previous month, wherever possible. Obviously that’s not always possible and we can publish online in between, but we love getting stuff with plenty of notice, and high resolution pictures that we can use well in advance.”
Do: A basic Google search BEFORE you call
Georgina Enzer, Managing Editor of CPI Financial, said: “I have been called up twice in two weeks by PRs from different companies who not only didn’t know my name, but called the magazine I was working on by a competitor magazines title. Now, I am not self-important enough to think that everyone must know me, but a quick Google search or, even, checking on our company website will reveal both my name and my job title. Small things such a knowing my name/what my position is in the company goes a very long way towards me wanting to give you a few minutes of my time, and even attending your event/publishing your press release (and this works for all editors).”
Don’t: Forget to come back on follow-up questions
Rachel McArthur, journalist and founder of Dubai Ink Content, said: “A good PR professional is someone who is happy to talk at all times – not just when they have an event or press release. Love PRs who take the time to build relationships. Even if you want me to come to your office, I am more than happy to. It makes the world of difference (to both of us) knowing who you are dealing with. And they’re the ones I am most likely to reach out to when I need a quote from an expert or something.
“I have lost count of the times I have reached out with a query, only to have my email(s) not even responded to. Granted, a lot of times it is down to the client themselves, but clients need to understand that it’s just like customer service: they can’t just acknowledge good feedback and ignore complaints.”
Do: Read the journalist’s work
Dont: Use the scattergun approach
In this post on The Media Network, Helen Spearman, Editor and founder of The Mothership, said: “Do your research. On me, on the magazine, on our readers. Know what’s in the title’s sections, and understand why that client would or would not be appropriate. By all means make suggestions, but not scattergun, vague suggestions about including it ‘somewhere’. Put some thought into what would work and where in each title. Yes, it’s more work, but there’s something to be said for quality over quantity, and building relationships with journalists. A quick personal email will do so much more good than banging out an anonymous mail merger effort.
“I’ve worked in PR and marketing, I’ve sent those mass mail outs, and heard the echo of my inbox when journalists don’t reply. I get it. It’s easier to send that press release to everyone, and then tell the client how many editors have received it. But the long-term effect of all those emails to all those (disinterested) editors is very, very damaging.”
Do: Get to the point
Emmet Ryan, Journalist with the Sunday Business Post in Ireland, said: “I get too many press releases to count – in the region of 500 every week. The biggest mistake people make is not getting to the point quickly enough.”
Don’t: Forget to invite relevant journalists (and not just your pals)
Umaima Tinwala, a Dubai-based lifestyle journalist, said: My pet peeve is when I don’t get a release, or am not invited to a certain launch because the PR agency thinks it’s not up my alley. What makes matters worse is when the same PR exec will email me a post event release, and expect me to do a feature. “Please cover the event I did not deem you worthy to be invited to”
“If it’s not something I can write about, I will decline the invitation. But I hate it when I hear about an event I would have loved to cover, and then realise the invitees were all friends of the PR and marketing people who will just publish the release verbatim. In these situations, I feel bad for the brand/client who is losing out on a really good feature. But I guess that’s the way the industry operates here.”
So there you have it – some top tips for PR pros on approaching journalists. Since journalists and PRs have different goals in getting a piece published, there will probably always be some back and forth between the two professions – but by upping our game in our pitches, we can build those all important relationships and work together in the long term.
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