Journalists and Public Relations pros: The Great Divide

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

Janet Newenham, a top Irish travel blogger and journalist said: “I think one of the key elements of a successful PR pitch is personalising your approach. Get to know the journalist, do your research and only send them work that is extremely relevant to the area they already write about. I like it when PR companies build a relationship with me over time, and don’t just email to send me press releases and pitches. It’s also important that they read my work, I love receiving emails that let me know they have liked a particular article I have written.
“The biggest mistakes include not addressing me by name, sending me a pitch that is in no way relevant to write I write about or sending a pitch that would take me all day to read. Keep it short and snappy, picque my interest and I will probably ask for more details.”

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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Do you agree? What did we miss? Leave a comment.

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14 thoughts on “Journalists and Public Relations pros: The Great Divide

  1. Candice Sabatini says:

    Great article. Many of the comments resonated with me, though I also realize that PR people have to send out so many pitches, it really doesn’t bother me if they haven’t tailored their pitch specifically to me. The two things that are EXTREMELY important to me are that the pitch is short and to the point at the beginning. Give me the Who, What, When, Where & Why. Then you can go into additional details that I’ll read if I think it may be for me. I receive over 200 pitch emails a day, and I don’t have time to read through a 600 word pitch before getting the point. Second big point is that the subject line of your email is very important. Don’t try and tease me with vague headers. Subject lines such as “Your readers want to know about this”, “Quick Question”, or “Hottest trends for Summer”, don’t tempt me to open. Tell me the name of the client in the subject line. Last week I got an email with the subject line “Free Food”. Aother journalist I ran into yesterday asked me if I got that email and when I told her deleted it as spam, she told me that it was an invitation to a 9:00AM press event where they’d be serving breakfast. She declined the invite as she found it so insulting. A terrible new trend is how many PR people are now pitching advertising and trying to convince me it’s editorial. Your client’s sale at Macy’s is advertising. Your client’s new ad video that will be shown on television is advertising. Funny how they have the budget for print, newspaper and television ads, but since I’m digital they think that my site is a hobby, I’m stupid, or I’m in the business of giving away free ad space. I guess that lack of ad money is why they think we’re so desperate for free food. 🙂 Lastly Umaima Tinwala, your comment resonated with me. I go to a lot of press events, and if a brand doesn’t want to invite me to theirs, that’s their choice of course, but don’t then ask me to write about it afterwards.

  2. Eugenia says:

    I agree with these points. What really disappointed me was the fact that some PR companies do not even want to do a quick Google research before calling a journalist. And that is in the Internet era! It’s so weird and is not respectable from their side 🙁

  3. Vanessa says:

    Great post – I totally agree about how important it is to be personal… know the person’s name as a BARE minimum. And getting to the point quickly is a serious win 🙂

  4. Laurie Humphrey says:

    I’d add one – follow up with a phone call. I too have worked both sides of the desk and I can count on one hand how many PR people actually called in a year to make sure I got the release. It is the simplest thing to call, but too many people follow up with another email. Big mistake!

  5. Andria says:

    These are fantastic tips to consider globally. As a media relations specialist with nearly 20 years of experience, I can assure you that while traditional media is significantly important, few public relations account team leaders give credence to the guidance media relations specialists provide…our goal isn’t just to get a placement. It is actually three fold: 1) To provide resourceful stories ideas and resources to reporters and engage in discussions to learn more about their needs so we can better align with their needs; 2) To take all key learnings back to the account team leads and provide new insights they can share with clients– not only sharing key learnings, but helping the account team and clients grow in understanding about what reporters want and 3) To help clients better understand the media environment, and marry them to what reporters need. This is a process that organically flows…instead of pushing the client story onto reporters, I work with reporters on what they need for their audience. Currently, I’m freelancing so should you like to chat further or brainstorm about a project please feel free to contact me at

  6. Eat Drink Stay Dubai says:

    This is such a lovely, and wise, and amusing article.

    It isn’t meant to be amusing, but I’m visualising all those conversations of each point in my head – and find the Dubai ones particularly close to home.

    Come on now, some pitches are like that drunken guy that tells every girl in the club that she’s the most beautiful. Sadly, that usually ends up even worse than planned.

    Cheers for optimism 🙂

  7. Hannah says:

    As a current PR student in the midst of my undergrad, I find this article very resourceful and definitely one I will continue to use as reference. I agree with all the arguments made, however, I find the last statement arguable. Don’t get me wrong, I agree that as a PR professional, it is immoral to simply only invite friends who are journalists. I agree that you want to appeal a spectrum of journalists whose writings are most relevant to the event and who you believe would write the best feature. However, I think one could argue that if you don’t get a release, or are not invited to a certain launch, it is not necessarily because “the PR agency thinks it’s not up your alley” but as mentioned in the subtitle “Do: Read your journalists work” it may be because the event/pitch is in no way relevant to write the journalist already writes about.

  8. Ken Curran says:

    Great tips there. As a national newspaper journalist now working in PR I would suggest keeping press releases to a minimum and include contact details for the person quoted in the story.

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