I do PR for tech startups at Genesis Investments. Thinking up ways to make journos’ life easier. Life is for learning!
Getting featured in trusted outlets helps to build a personal brand, sell more, or find investors. Almost everyone wants to see their name or company in the media. But what is the best way to communicate with the editorial team? It is often a mystery.
Helping the journalist is easy. Just offer an exclusive story, come up with the requested commentary speedy, and stop calling after every release.
Pissing off a journalist is harder. These guys get thousands of emails, ignore weird messages, and aren’t surprised by almost whatever comes their way. But if the PR people overdose, journalists might be hurt deeply.
Luckily for us, Twitter was created for sharing upsetting cases among other things. Let’s use it to take look at the workday troubles of editorial team members.
Here is the selection of infuriating PR people phrases:
1. Please, do reply, I’m not asking for too much!
Chris Stokel-Walker, who writes for BBC News, New York Times, and Wired, revealed a message from a PR person that angered him:
A pitch in PR is a short letter in which the author tries to engage the journalist with news or an idea for a story. Chris adds up sharing that he receives 15 new emails per hour and literally cannot reply to each of them:
If Chris spends only 3 minutes replying on each pitch, he will get back to everyone after only 2 years of 12-hour uninterrupted effort. And that’s not counting the new emails that will come in during that time.
Journalists’ answers are rare, but not because they are greedy. They are actually human beings with a limited amount of time per day.
What is the best thing to do? Imagine you have written to a journalist. You check your mail several times waiting for a reply. If in a few days (3-7) there is no word, you can send a follow-up. This is another letter in addition to the previous one. It must contain new information: numerical data, a reference, or a new asset. If the journalist does not show any sign of interest after this, just back off.
2. So… When the story will come out?
Wudan Yan, a journalist who writes for the New York Times, asks not to be questioned about publication deadlines:
The editorial boards of major media outlets may employ full-time journalists, contributors, columnists, and freelance journalists. They all write articles.
Also, there are editors. These people check the content and decide if and when stories should be published. This process is not up to others who write.
Another journalist, Meehika Barua, who writes for Vogue Magazine, Guardian, and Washington Post, commented on the previous tweet. She implores PR people to stop doing that:
What’s the best thing to do? Imagine you want to know when the article comes out. Keep in mind how newsrooms are set up and wait. Don’t make the person get distracted by constant publication date queries. If you ask that often, the story will probably come out anyway. But the journalist will not consider you as a brilliant and nerve-saving source for the next article.
3. I’ll be sitting with you on the call with the CEO
Whoever you are at the company, you don’t need to be on the call with the reporter and the CEO if you’re not the CEO. Journalist Sharon Green, who writes for The Age, Herald Sun, and Bride magazine in Australia, doesn’t understand why third parties want to be present for interviews:
In the comments to the tweet, colleagues agree that this feels like unnecessary micromanagement and there is no chance for a good story to come out after such communication.
What’s the best thing to do? Imagine you want a journalist to invite your company’s CEO for an interview. Compose a pitch, introduce the CEO and give the journalist a personal email for the direct approach. Say that you are always available and willing to help if needed. And don’t get involved.
4. Oh, personal encrypted mail. I’ll write to make sure a journalist notices!
Better not to. Unfortunately, the proof tweet of CBS News journalist was deleted shortly after publication, but the respectfully blurred screenshot is enough to get the idea:
Journalists have multiple mailboxes. PR people can accidentally or purposefully find not the one intended for the job. There are even special tools to hunt those personal addresses. Using them is taboo. No one will be happy to see a work-related query in a place where it is less expected.
What’s the best thing to do? Imagine you need to find a journalist’s email. Research the author’s profile on the media outlet. Google first and last name and look for a personal blog or website. Visit the Twitter profile and check the header. More often than not, one of these places will tell you which email or social network works best for a journalist to receive pitches. Only use it.
5. I’m so sorry about the accident with the horrific injuries. By the way, I could write a column about it!
In late February, famous American golfer Tiger Woods rolled over in his SUV and was seriously traumatized. He had several open fractures and serious foot injuries.
All the world’s media, including CNN, BBC News, and the New York Times, reported on the accident. Later that evening, Ross Andersen, Deputy Editor of major media outlet The Atlantic, shared a controversial pitch:
Ross refrained from commenting except for a brief sigh of shock and disappointment. In the comments to the tweet, his colleagues wrote that it was immoral and disgusting.
What’s the best thing to do? Imagine you want to get published when you have something to say about breaking and loud news. Keep humanity and ethics first in mind. Be especially careful with sensitive topics such as in the example above. In the U.S., there is a term an ambulance chaser for lawyers who chase ambulances and want to quickly turn an injured person into a client. Don’t become a PR ambulance chaser.
How to find such Twitter treasures yourself:
I found all the examples for this article through typing searches for bad PR pitch, the worst pitch of the day, PRs please stop, and PRs don’t.
Thousands of similar posts can be found by two hashtags: #PRfail and #PRfails. If you subscribe to the tags, new tweets from journalists will appear in your feed even if you’re not following them. That’s handy.
When working with journalists, awareness of mistakes and embarrassing situations is just as important as monitoring successful PR cases. When you reach out to a journalist, remember: you will get either luck or experience.
Even if one day you find your pitch with your name blurred in one of the #PRfails tweets, it’s an experience. You need to take a lesson from this, shift your focus from self-promotion to genuinely helping the journalist, and move on. And, please, always prioritize empathy, sincerity, and caring.
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