As a journalist, a significant part of my job is contacting and coordinating with public relations professionals. We need each other: They connect me with great sources for my articles, and I get some publicity for their clients. It’s a symbiotic relationship that generally tends to work out very nicely, and I can honestly say that the majority of my interactions with PR reps have been positive.
I know there are other journalists who share my opinion, but I also know there are some writers who absolutely hate working with the other half of the media industry. They’re the ones who automatically delete press releases, hang up when they get pitched via phone, and grow more annoyed with every follow-up email they receive from a PR agency.
This negative journalist attitude seems unfair and maybe even cruel to PR folks who are just trying to do their job, but it often stems from one too many bad experiences with a publicist. This is unwelcome news for entrepreneurs and small business owners doing their own PR, who may naively reach out to a member of the press with the very tactics that turn journalists off to working with PR reps in the first place.
While each journalist has his or her own style of work and communication, here are some general do’s and don’ts when you’re trying to get the attention of the press.
Personalize your pitch. This is a pretty simple one, but you’d be surprised how frequently people forget to replace the “X” or “First Name” when they’re sending a cut-and-paste pitch, or worse yet, send an email with the wrong name. Using the incorrect name demonstrates that you haven’t taken the time to look at whom you’re contacting, and makes me less likely to open the email. Acceptable ways to address a journalist are by his or her first name, or Mr./Ms. Last Name. Do not call me “Dear Sir/Head of Business News Daily,” as I am neither of those things.
Research our publication. I always love it when a publicist or entrepreneur emails me and references other work that I’ve done for Business News Daily. Knowing your audience is a big part of success in just about any industry, and if you’re sending a media pitch, the writer will be more open to your suggestion if you can prove that you’ve done your research on the publication.
Be flexible. Oftentimes, it’s just not possible for journalists to write your story exactly as you pitched it. I may make a suggestion for a different story that you or your client can contribute to instead. Publicity is publicity, so if you want the attention of the press, be flexible and take what you can get.
Follow up if we don’t respond. Like most members of the media industry, I get a lot of emails in any given day. I try to respond to as many of them as I can, but sometimes a few of them get lost in my inbox or end up in my spam folder. If I don’t respond to you within the week, feel free to shoot me another email to ask if I received your original message. If I don’t respond to your follow-up, I might be ignoring you. Which leads me to….
Stalk us. A surefire way to get on a journalist’s blacklist is to bombard him or her with an endless barrage of communications. Calling us within hours of sending your first pitch, or emailing us several times a day is not doing you any favors. On a related note, one of my biggest pet peeves is being contacted via my personal phone number or email address when I know for a fact that a publicist has my work contact information. The situation is different for freelance writers, but this is my full-time job, and I like to keep my personal and professional communications separate whenever possible. If it’s 2 p.m. on a Wednesday, I’m in the office. Please don’t call me on my cell without trying my work line first.
Assume that we will write about you (or your client). It irks me when I receive a pitch that reads, “Let me know your availability for a phone call with (client) this week.” What if I don’t want to set up a phone call because I can’t write about your client? Sending me your pitch does not entitle you to coverage, so it’s always better to go with conditional phrasing: “Let me know if you’re interested in a phone call,” for example.
Argue with us if we reject your pitch. Feel free to ask for feedback as to why, but if I say I can’t write about your pitch, don’t ask if I’m sure and tell me to reconsider. Yes, I am sure. No, your begging is not going to change my mind. I have a full editorial calendar and deadlines to meet, and if you’re not the right fit for my coverage area, move on to the next media outlet.
Be afraid to reach out in the future. If I reject your current pitch, it doesn’t mean I will automatically reject any and all future correspondences from you. Check in from time to time — something that isn’t a good fit now might be better suited for a future story.
The frustrations of media professionals, no matter which side of the equation they’re on, are often the result of unrealistic expectations of what the other side should know about how they do their jobs. Both parties in the journo-PR relationship — and entrepreneurs trying to promote themselves — would do well to adjust those expectations and exercise patience, understanding and common courtesy with one another. Remember, a little bit of respect goes a long way.