The inbox and the telephone are tools of the trade for a journalist. They can be useful platforms that deliver the next exceptional story or be the bane of their existence.
While it’s their job to be open to unsolicited pitches, journalists draw the line at certain tactics that they will not tolerate. Do one of them even once, and you could get blacklisted forever.
While PR pros should know better, it’s worth revisiting these basic rules for successful pitching. Bad behavior, just like bad pitches, can come from individuals, PR professionals, corporate staff, influencers or bloggers. Don’t be that person.
Here are the top five things that will get you banned by journalists:
Never lie to a reporter. They are smart, trained professionals who will find out the truth eventually. Any of these behaviors will portray you as less than truthful to veteran journalists:
- Outright lies
- The omission of key details
- Withholding information
- Not presenting a ‘downside’ to the story, the product, or the main subject (that you are aware of)
Journalists never appreciate being blindsided or embarrassed when information “they should have known about” comes to light after they have pitched a story to their editor—or even worse—after it has been published.
While your initial pitch should be brief, once a journalist has expressed interest it’s time to reveal everything you know, or risk being banned later.
2. Offering bribes
Do not offer any kind of compensation for coverage, including money, gifts or barter offers. Offering to share the article with your army of followers on social media as an incentive to write about you, your product, or client, is also taboo. Gifts of any kind, including an offer of any form of compensation, are against journalism’s code of ethics and will get you shown the exit faster than you can blink.
Instead, pitch a better story that they will want to write about. Make sure it’s on a topic that they cover.
3. Pitching the same story
Most journalists prefer or insist on an exclusive on a story. If you are pitching more than one outlet on a story with the same angle, you need to let the journalist know up front.
Don’t pitch the same story that has been covered before in a similar outlet or market, and definitely don’t hide the fact if it has. Journalists like to be the first to break an original story. No one likes to be a copycat.
Instead, find a new angle or an update to your story that hasn’t been covered before. Offer the journalist an exclusive for a limited period, and you will have much greater chance of success.
4. Making demands
There is no situation where it is appropriate to make firm demands or requests of journalists. This includes asking for specific placement, insisting a photo or hyperlink gets included or any other requests.
Whether or not a journalist or publication decides to run a story is at their discretion. They do not work for you.
The specifics of what they choose to include in their coverage is totally up to them. Asking nicely, pleading or hounding them will get you banned from ever working with them again.
5. Late or missed deadlines
Journalists work on deadlines, and as a reliable source, you want to meet requested delivery dates for information, a quote, or a photo that has been promised.
The worst thing you can do is leave a journalist hanging on a story or miss a deadline by which you agreed to get back to them. Not returning calls in a prompt fashion, can also cause them to miss a deadline altogether, which can be catastrophic on their end, giving them a good reason to decide to sever your relationship.
Things happen in life. Perhaps you can’t gather the information they are seeking from you or can’t get approval to use a photo they requested. Let the journalist know as soon as possible so that they can find an alternate source or kill the story with enough time not to leave a blank hole in their publication.
Think about how you can make it easier for a journalist to do their job. By bringing them excellent stories, and following these simple guidelines, you don’t need to worry about being banned. They might even start seeking you out when they need a source for a story.
Jane Tabachnick is a PR professional, writer, and book publisher. A version of this article originally appeared on Muck Rack, a service that enables you to find journalists to pitch, build media lists, get press alerts and create coverage reports with social media data.