{Rules of PR no.7} Top 7 PR Mistakes made with Journalists

Ceci n'est pas un café by Kathfitz via Flickr. All Rights Reserved 2009. 

As public relations professionals we all want our stories out there. We want to promote our clients and their brands. But sometimes our profession is guilty of alienating our fellow communications peers with overkill and lackluster.

1. No knowledge of journalism

There are two reasons for this: public relations students are not taught anything about journalism in their universities and there are, what I like to call, “PR imposters” who, without any real public relations knowledge, call themselves PR pros and sell our profession to the masses.

Countering the former versus the latter is the easier of the two. But at the end of the day, if you want to reach out to a journalist, try to understand them.

A newspaper is not just something you read on a Sunday morning, or during the week with your coffee and scone. A newspaper is a wealth of information. It is put together by knowledgeable people who wish to educate you on the world as it lives its daily life.

The sooner that respect is given, the sooner it shall be reciprocated.

2. Following up on a press release

A journalist is a very busy person. Their days start early and end late. They have morning meetings before they head out into the field and sometimes they get lost finding ‘the field’ putting a dent in their schedule. It is the little thing called human error.

And they are human. They are busy. Just like you and I.

The job of a journalist is to get stories out to the public. These are stories that they deem “relevant information.”

You and I are not the only ones throwing stories in their direction. Journalists get thousands and thousands of ‘tips’ every single day that flood the main news desk as well as their own personal e-mails.

The bottom line is, if it is relevant to them, they will call you.

That is not to say that you shouldn’t follow up at all. But if you do, call them, leave a message and wait at least 24-hours for them to respond.

It is a common courtesy.

3. No Respect for Deadlines

Every newspaper is different. Deadlines can be anywhere from 5 p.m. to midnight. It’s up to you to call the newspaper or ask the journalist when their cut-off is.

That should be the first, no further than second, question out of your mouth.

Respecting the deadline of a journalist will show them that you value their time. They will return the favor.

4. Starting a phone call WITHOUT saying first, “Do you have time to talk?”

Not everyone thinks the same way and we should not assume that just because we have the time, someone else does too.

You call your friends to ask, “What’s up? Do you have time to hang out?” So why not throw that same attitude in the direction of business.

Call up your journalist of choice, and the first thing you should ask them, before you ask the “When is your deadline?” speech should be, “Hi, do you have time to talk right now?”

If your journalist is busy ask them, “When would be a good time to call back?”

Don’t say you will call them back and e-mail them instead.

Call them back.

Staying true to your word and honoring their time will show journalists that they can relax around you. A journalist will be more open to talking to you and running your stories should you prove yourself to be of an accountable type.

5. Calling multiple times per day

As mentioned in mistakes 2, 3 and 4 – journalists are busy.

I’m not saying they should be treated ‘special’ or that they are better than you and I. But that they are human too – and as I’ve mentioned before, they are not story making machines. Their profession just happens to be a profession that will enhance yours should they bite your bait.

If you leave them a message, they will return your call. If they leave you a message, you should return their call.

If you leave them a message with information, just like with a press release, if it is relevant to them, they will call you.

Remember, you are not the only one calling their voicemail and the news desk. So join the line and be respectful like everyone else.

Trust, that if you show to be a respectful professional, they will respect you. Journalists will return the favor and likely give your press release precedence over another.

Remember what your parents told you when you were a kid?

“Respect is earned, not given.”

6. Calling to confirm the confirmation

If you confirm to meet with a journalist at a specific time and place, believe that they will show up. You need not call to confirm the confirmation that you are meeting with them.

That is just bad showmanship on your part and exhibits that you, not only have no faith that they are a free-thinking, rational human being, but that you simply do not trust them.

Journalists are organized; they have to be in their field. They know what is happening and when it is happening. If they pencil you in to their calendar in the “before,” “in between” or “after,” rest assured they will not forget.

Should they leave you hanging? They are human just like you.

Take it as a lesson learned.

Never let your bad experience with one journalist leave a bad taste in your mouth for the rest of them.

The same should apply for journalists dealing with public relations professionals.

Everyone is different. One rotten fruit should not spoil the lot.

7. Pumping with fantasy versus reality

If a journalist wants to use you as a source continuously, they must trust that you are reliable.

Do not stretch the truth or exaggerate your brand or client. It will hurt you in the long-run.

Just like in every profession, people ‘talk.’

It can take years to build a good reputation; it can take minutes to destroy it.

Think before you write.

Remember, you are how you write.

Little Pink Book’s Rule of PR #7:
Treat journalists as if they are one of your target audiences.
Learn what they like and what they do not like.
By understanding them, you are helping them to better understand you.
This paves the way to a healthy working relationship.

–

Sasha Muradali runs the ‘Little Pink Book’ . She holds a B.S. in Public Relations and an M.A. in International Administration.

Copyright © 2009 Sasha H. Muradali. All Rights Reserved.

Comments

  1. Hi Sasha,
    I have been following your blog for a while now. This is another good post with some great insight. However, I think you are just a bit too respectful of journalists. It is not a good idea scaring people off contacting journalists. In my experience; journalists would rather have a call too much than one to few, burning them of a great story.

  2. Hi,

    I’ve been told that before — I’m just too nice! But I think it’s different if you have a great story, versus just pitching your client. You know soft news versus hard news and all that type of stuff.

    In my experience, journalist like that you are a PR person who is around and keeping in touch with them, but when you over do it and treat them as an outlet for your client they get really angry.

    One place I worked at served as the inspiration for “Calling to Confirm the Confirmation” — needless to say, there was yelling and screaming involved. lol

    Thanks for your feedback, it is much appreciated. Let me know if you have any other suggestions. I’d love to hear/write about them 🙂

  3. kellyrohder says:

    Hi Sasha,
    I think you're right on. I was a journalist before becoming a PR professional, and I think my training on the other side has helped me greatly in building relationships with the media. Another thing I would add–which perhaps many of your readers already do–is to send news releases already written in AP style. Most papers I've worked for and with use this, and when I've sent pieces out to my contacts for a story pitch, they appreciate that I've already taken the time to write in a ready-to-be-published format.

    Kelly Rohder

  4. HI Kelly!

    That's so true! When I was getting my PR degree at UF we had to take 3
    structured journalism classes (one of which was Reporting.) Reporting in
    particular was very rigorous and very in your face. We were constantly put
    on deadlines and get had to become stringers for the local papers in
    Gainesville. If you stories got published you got extra credit.

    I think this helped me understand journalists a lot more, too, because I
    stayed on as a stringer for a year instead of one semester. All of our PR
    and journalism stuff has to be written in AP Style — that's what all of our
    papers used too. So when I was getting pitched too by PR people with their
    news releases, that certainly helped!

    Thanks for the comment 🙂

    Sasha

  5. Exactly! I think that's a great idea for PR students–sounds like a fantastic program. I studied journalism and English/Lit in college, so I had NO idea when I got into PR what standards were followed. All I did was create story pitches based on what I would have wanted to know about as a journalist. It's served me well so far. 🙂 Sounds like the same thing has helped you, too. Following professional blogs like yours also help! Thanks for sharing your thoughts about the industry–they're insightful and thought-provoking.

  6. It's a good list, Sasha. But regarding #1: the PR program where I went to school (Minnesota) is in the School of Journalism and Mass Comm… All students, no matter their focus, are taught about each of the other tracts. I'm not sure what it's like elsewhere, but I do know more than a few schools that are set up in a similar way. The problem is with PR pros who major in something other than PR (yes, even communications). PR pros should have an understanding not only of journalism and reporters/editors, but also of the industry in which they are working. That's hard to fake (editors will see through it).

  7. kellyrohder says:

    Hi Sasha,

    I think you're right on. I was a journalist before becoming a PR professional, and I think my training on the other side has helped me greatly in building relationships with the media. Another thing I would add–which perhaps many of your readers already do–is to send news releases already written in AP style. Most papers I've worked for and with use this, and when I've sent pieces out to my contacts for a story pitch, they appreciate that I've already taken the time to write in a ready-to-be-published format.

    Kelly Rohder

  8. HI Kelly!

    That's so true! When I was getting my PR degree at UF we had to take 3

    structured journalism classes (one of which was Reporting.) Reporting in

    particular was very rigorous and very in your face. We were constantly put

    on deadlines and get had to become stringers for the local papers in

    Gainesville. If you stories got published you got extra credit.

    I think this helped me understand journalists a lot more, too, because I

    stayed on as a stringer for a year instead of one semester. All of our PR

    and journalism stuff has to be written in AP Style — that's what all of our

    papers used too. So when I was getting pitched too by PR people with their

    news releases, that certainly helped!

    Thanks for the comment 🙂

    Sasha

  9. Exactly! I think that's a great idea for PR students–sounds like a fantastic program. I studied journalism and English/Lit in college, so I had NO idea when I got into PR what standards were followed. All I did was create story pitches based on what I would have wanted to know about as a journalist. It's served me well so far. 🙂 Sounds like the same thing has helped you, too. Following professional blogs like yours also help! Thanks for sharing your thoughts about the industry–they're insightful and thought-provoking.

  10. It's a good list, Sasha. But regarding #1: the PR program where I went to school (Minnesota) is in the School of Journalism and Mass Comm… All students, no matter their focus, are taught about each of the other tracts. I'm not sure what it's like elsewhere, but I do know more than a few schools that are set up in a similar way. The problem is with PR pros who major in something other than PR (yes, even communications). PR pros should have an understanding not only of journalism and reporters/editors, but also of the industry in which they are working. That's hard to fake (editors will see through it).