For us PR and comms professionals, we love nothing more than to chase that all-important coverage. But in the pursuit of achieving greatness for our clients, we often overlook some things that can lead to us not respecting our journalist friends quite as much as we perhaps should do.
That’s putting it lightly. A quick Google search around this subject brings up 243,000 results, and there are many forums where you can see bad practices being called out bluntly. It’s also a pastime for many journalists to very publicly name and shame bad, annoying or downright wrong practices over on Twitter.
Any PR and comms pro worth their salt will not only want to avoid being ‘outed’ by a journalist on social media, but will actively ensure they aren’t doing the things that will rile them up.
So, what should we be aware of and what should we refrain from doing? We asked some journalists nearest and dearest to the Gallium team to find out what they never want to see — and what works for them.
Sending irrelevant stories
Journalists are often paid to write about a specific thing — a beat. This can be quite wide or very narrowly defined. For example, tech journalists may cover just Silicon Valley giants, or only focus on early-stage startups. It’s on us professionals to know what specific area or areas the journalist we are pitching to covers.
Why? Because being irrelevant can get you blacklisted and ignored, according to an editor at a crypto publication. “Our inboxes are flooded with irrelevant stuff, and in most cases there’s been no effort to establish whether it relates to a writers’ particular beat.”
How do we avoid this? Easy: read what they publish. Look at what your target journalist has written about recently, and send stories that are aligned with that.
“Just something as simple as ‘I read your story on crypto regulation, here’s a related pitch’ would be a massive step up,” according to one crypto editor.
Understanding what constitutes ‘news’
As PR and comms pros, one of the most critical elements of our job is getting our clients’ news front and centre. But sometimes, the quality of that news can be questionable.
Or, as a senior reporter at a tech website puts it, “many of the press releases aren’t just irrelevant; they don’t actually say anything. We’re not interested in marketing — we want actual news.”
Besides just getting coverage, we are also consultants to our clients. We have to be on point to make sure everything that goes out is useful to journalists, and by extension their audiences. This means highlighting actual news, not just marketing messages.
Not sure who to go to? Then just email everyone at the publication — surely one of them will pick it up, right?
Wrong. This will certainly hurt your chances of getting coverage in the immediate term, and your relationship with the publication going forwards.
The “scattergun approach of mass-emailing everyone at a publication in the hope one of them will respond,” according to a high profile fintech journalist, is incredibly detrimental to your success. “It’s much better to target one specific writer with a relevant message.”
“Did you get my email…”
It’s 9am and you’ve fired off some hot, breaking news that’s bound to get a heap of coverage.
But you want to make sure that every single journalist on your list is working on it right now — why wouldn’t they be? So, at 9.02am, the phone is in your hand, and you’re punching in their numbers.
This might not be the best strategy. “Following up on press releases multiple times isn’t going to get it published any quicker,” highlights a UK fintech editor. “There’s news everywhere and we try and prioritise as best as we can, but at least give us time to read it first.”
The general rule: if it’s interesting and news-worthy, they will get back to you.
Putting the pressure on
In a similar vein, many journalists are vexed by the constant pressure from PRs to publish material.
“We have a lot of demands on our time, and feature articles sometimes have to get put on the back burner,” highlights the crypto editor. “So emailing every day isn’t going to jolly us along.”
Similarly, a writer for a daily newspaper said that, “if I’ve interviewed your spokesperson for an article, odds are it’s going to take me a little time to write it up, or interview other sources for an article. If it’s in the pipeline, it’s in the pipeline.”
The lesson here being, PRs need to respect journalist’s workload, and accept that for many, it’s not just a case of hitting “live” on a website. Many articles have to go through editorial processes. This means that — especially for longer-lead stories — it could take days or weeks, perhaps even months, before it appears.
Deadlines, deadlines, deadlines
The same daily newspaper writer also added that “PRs really need to understand the deadlines we face, and how that fits into our day.”
Journalists’ lives are dictated by deadlines. So, we PRs need to be aware of the pressure times, and when it is less ideal to pitch or chase.
The writer adds, “if you’re emailing or phoning before 10am, I’m not going to be able to respond as I’m planning the day’s stories. If you’re doing the same at 5pm, then you are way too late unless it is a longer-lead story.”
The key is to make sure you give journalists as much time as possible to get a story and write it up.
If you have some big news, let journalists know about it under embargo — something they are often more than happy to accept — so they can plan around it weeks in advance. This also means you can see the story go live when the news breaks, and increase chances of getting good coverage.
Not giving the full picture or being inaccurate
It is rare that PRs outright lie, but there are too many instances of “mis-truths” being given, or poor judgements that reflect badly on the sector.
The UK fintech editor highlights times where, “PRs have pitched an introductory chat, but then labelled it as an interview, expecting coverage from it. Or, they have scheduled a meeting but not checked availability on either side, which just wastes time and leads to awkward conversations.”
Another journalist covering the PR and marketing industry stated that they often see “pitches and press releases that miss out vital information. Then when you call to ask the question, the PR doesn’t know and says they will get back to you when you’re on deadline. Maybe they’ll get back quickly but in practice it could be hours or days.”
Again, this wastes time and effort. So it’s important PRs give the full picture — from the perspective of both the news they are pitching, and how they conduct business with journalists.
Making things difficult
“Press release on PDF. Why?”
The PR and marketing journalist highlights this point succinctly. Our aim is to make journalists’ lives as easy as possible. This includes simple things — such as making sure information can be easily copied across to the document they are working on — to bigger aspects, such as being available to answer questions.
Some additional bugbears from this journalist include PRs sending press releases that require additional information, but then “aren’t contactable on the phone, or don’t include their phone number in their email signature.”
“Or, picture download links that contain a dozen options of around the same quality,” they add. “It’s a pain. Better to attach one or two decent pictures and say you have more if needed.”
Like we must do for clients, PRs must also make sure they support journalists’ and make collaborations as efficient and convenient as possible to better ensure coverage is secured.
“Can you put the brand name in lower case?”
Sometimes journalists don’t get it one hundred percent right, and we need to correct them. But PRs should still be careful here, and only focus on corrections needed for accuracy.
“If you ask me to correct something that goes against editorial standards and policy, I’m not going to do it,” says the daily newspaper writer. “We’re not in marketing. So, won’t be using the ‘brand’ spelling if it is going to get me in trouble with the sub-editors.”
As well as being careful not to push the envelope too far on editorial standards, PRs would also be wise to pick and choose their battles on other corrections.
“I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been asked to backlink. If we don’t do it for Apple, odds are, we aren’t going to do it for you,” they add.
The comments from the journalists we spoke to all come back to a single theme: PR and comms pros need to find the right balance on giving feedback to a journalist and be mindful of editorial policy.
Flooding their inboxes
Think about the number of emails you receive. It feels like a lot, right? The average journalist can expect around 500 emails a day.
“My inbox is a hell-scape. I can’t keep on top of it and meet deadlines at the same time. So sending me several emails on the same story is a sure-fire way of getting you listed in my spam folder,” the daily newspaper writer highlights.
This also means that it is hard for stories to stand out, especially if you are cold-pitching journalists. “To stand out, it has to be a hot story, or I have to know you,” they add.
Getting to the crux of a story is vital in an environment where you are literally competing with hundreds of others.
Comms professionals should avoid “press releases that don’t get to the point in the first sentence. There are too many ‘drop’ intros, with colour and scene-setting before you get to the news,” said the PR and marketing journalist. “I don’t have time to read waffle. Please get to the point.”
Be the best
There are a lot of bad practices out there, and PRs have been rightly called out on it.
This makes it important to really understand the journalists you are targeting — what makes them tick, how they need to work, and the best way to get a story the attention it deserves.
As an agency staffed with ex-journalists, we pride ourselves on really knowing our media, and focusing on building long-lasting and mutually beneficial relationships to maximise the chances of success. As consultants, we also provide the right guidance to clients to ensure we don’t cross the line with journalists.
So, if you want to increase the success of your PR and earned media efforts, get in touch with us today.