10 steps to avoid winding up a journalist
Vicky, our media expert tells us about her days as a journalist and what used to wind her up a treat from the PR professionals. If you need help in talking to the press, then why not drop Vicky a quick email - firstname.lastname@example.org
I’ve taken my fair share of flack for making the jump from the news room frontline to the ‘dark side’ of PR.
It’s a bit of an in-joke in the press game that those who swap 14-hour days, rubbish pay and constant criticism for the relative calm of daytime working hours in the world of PR have obviously sold their souls to the devil and taken the easy way out.
But, like it or not, us journalists and PRs (speaking from both sides of the fence) need to get on. PRs need the press to print/report on their clients. Journalists are always grateful for interesting newsworthy content when they’ve got never-ending column inches to fill.
So what’s the problem?
Journalism’s a tough job - whatever the size of the publication or media outlet in question. It’s a busy, demanding, high-pressured, often thankless gig and (from my experience) the average day generally contains more swear words than an extended edition Chubby Brown DVD. Therefore it’s wise to tread carefully when dealing with our journalist buddies.From a PR POV, here’s some surefire ways to piss off the press and kiss goodbye to that coverage you’d got your hopes pinned on. You’ll be wanting to avoid these common PR faux pas if you stand a chance of making mates in the media. You can thank me later.
1) Send press releases to journalists who clearly have no interest in what you’re talking about...
“Hi…(enter chosen name of journalist who has never written about this subject and never will) I am delighted to attach a press release about the benefits of choosing only the best quality tyres to publish in your beauty magazine aimed at teenage girls.”
Don’t bother wasting your time. The press release will go straight into the trash bin (virtual or otherwise) if you’re lucky and, at worst, you’ll end up blacklisted with a rep for being clueless and annoying. When creating target lists for press releases only send it to journalists with an interest in the topic.
2) Did you get my email?
You sent an email about your client’s charity fundraiser a whole 30 minutes ago and they haven’t replied with an update. What to do? I think we should give them a follow-up email/call just to check they’ve got it, right? Wrong! It’s completely fair enough that you want to keep tabs on your story and make sure everyone’s got the info they need, but leave a reasonable amount of time before picking up the phone. Nobody likes being pestered.
3) Will you be able to send me a copy of the article once you’ve published it?
Errrrmmm, let me think about that. No. Do you think yours is the only story being dealt with that day? Or that minute come to think of it? Time’s precious in a newsroom and no journalist is going to spend it monitoring the progress of every story on your behalf. They already think they’ve done you a favour getting it published in the first place, so it’s not an idea to push it unless you fancy being blacklisted as a right royal PR pain in the ass.
4) Can you send me a copy before you print it so I can check it first?
No. Just no.
5) TELL THEM YOU HAVE AN AMAZING STORY!!!!!:
Telling a journalist what exactly constitutes news for their own publication is always a good start. And, while you’re at it, why not go the whole hog by throwing in some capped up letters and exclamation marks?!!!!!! Obviously these are both very bad ideas unless you wish to guarantee your press release ends up deleted without a second look. Instead politely suggest you have an article that you think the journalist in question will be interested in whilst letting the facts speak for themselves.
6) Bombard newsdesks with too many press releases:
Journalists’ inboxes are busy old places so before you send one out have a think if it’s really worth it. Don’t just bombard them with any old waffle. Is it really important to a reader that your client’s office kitchen has been redecorated? Some things are destined for the in-house newsletter, not the wider world. Sending a barrage of non-newsworthy press releases will only increase your chances of journalists ignoring you when you really do have something to say.
Journalists are taught early on to separate the wheat from the chaff and if anyone can smell out bullshit it’s a trained reporter. Get rid of the superlatives and quit pretending to be the Shakespeare of the PR world. Simply tell the truth, get to the point and spare the world your flamboyant, over-written language and unnecessary puns. Nobody wants to read it.
Which brings us to the mega-spin (often the reason PR gets a bad name). If your client’s had to rise prices, just say so and explain the reasons why. Trying to spin an issue into a positive when it obviously isn’t ain’t going to fool anyone. (Here’s an actual example: Press release with the title ‘Car parks to be modernised’ which actually translated to ‘car parking charges being introduced’. Funny enough, it didn’t slip under the net)
9) Pack your news release with lots of technical jargon:
Journalists are generally underworked and looking for ways to fill the time in a day so a nice, chunky news release packed full of industry or issue-specific technical jargon will be just the ticket for guaranteeing coverage. Or not.
10) Only be helpful when you want something from them:
Always remember that this relationship is a two-way street. You want journalists to cover your news so make sure you’re available to provide information when they ask for something back. That’s unless you want your next big news story to end up straight in the bin, of course.
PR peeps take note: Annoy the press at your peril.