Journalists have a long, long list of things they hate about PR people—and they’re not shy about sharing their opinions.
There are countless articles, blog posts and tweets from reporters telling PR folks what we’re doing wrong and why they can’t stand us. Some even say they’d rather have a “literal infectious disease” than be on our email lists.
Others just wish an elephant would sit on us.
To all the PR spammers who use those randomized-address email services so you can’t filter their messages: I hope an elephant sits on you.
— Max J. Rosenthal (@maxjrosenthal) September 25, 2018
Journalists certainly have a right to be frustrated with bad PR tactics. (There are some truly awful ones.) However, these smug folks who love to put us on blast and mock our profession should look in the mirror occasionally. For all their complaining, reporters have some bad habits of their own.
Here are seven that drive PR people crazy:
1. You don’t respond to pitches.
I know so many excellent, thoughtful PR pros who consistently get crickets despite always crafting targeted, tailored and on-point pitches.
Most reporters will say, “I get so many emails a day. It’s too much, and I’m too busy.” I get that. However, even some of the busiest, most high-profile journalists take time out of their day to respond to pitches. Take former New York Times reporter Stuart Elliott, for example. Everyone in PR and marketing craved coverage in Elliot’s column, so everyone pitched him. Despite the deluge, Elliot responded to every pitch he got. Every. Single. Pitch.
Obviously, it’s not practical to respond to every pitch that lands in your inbox, but a simple “No thanks” or “I’ll pass” is enough to let someone know the story is a no-go. This small courtesy saves everyone time and prevents needless follow-ups.
2. You abandon stories (and then ghost us).
Stories get cut all the time. It’s incredibly disappointing for PR pros and their clients—especially when we’ve lined up interviews and gotten everyone’s anticipation up—but it happens.
What’s not OK is when you’ve spoken to a company’s executives for a piece, and then you disappear—without even telling us you’re not going to write the story. PR is all about managing expectations, so if we can at least have a heads-up or a sense as to why the story got canned, it helps soften the blow. A short email would suffice.
3. You break embargoes.
Some publications don’t honor embargoes. That’s fine—but if we send you an embargoed pitch, mention that up front so we can follow up when the embargo lifts.
Please, don’t just run the story without confirming, only to have us find out hours later through Google Alerts that our client’s big news crossed the wires three whole business days before it was supposed to. (That one happened to me.) Worse yet, don’t say that you agree to an embargo and then run your story early anyway.
This isn’t just a matter of professional courtesy: Many journalists and editors may not realize that a broken embargo could cost us a client.
4. You’re not open to new sources.
Writers often play favorites when it comes to their sources. They have their immediate go-to people and quote them repeatedly, and they are simply not open to working with new PR pros and experts.
This lack of willingness to connect with new people creates a lack of diversity of thought that many industries—particularly tech and advertising—desperately need.
Journalists often sport snarky statements on their social media profiles such as, “No, I don’t want to talk to your expert.” It’s a shame, because they’re missing out on some brilliant people who are flying under the radar.
5. You resort to “mean girl” tactics and drag PR people online.
Every day, it seems, journalists blast PR people online for what they deem to be terrible pitches. Some especially mean-spirited reporters get a kick out of revealing specific names and agencies.
Look, we all get unsolicited emails, and most of us just hit “delete.” There’s no need to shame anyone.
This sort of negativity and spite just fuels the needless disdain and distrust between journalists and PR pros.
6. You don’t reveal your communication preferences.
There are multitudes of ways to get in touch with people now, and every writer has a pitching preference. DM and you get blocked? You respond to Signal only? Email is your best bet?
PR people aren’t mind readers. If you want better pitches, clarify your communication preferences.
It’s incredibly helpful when journalists list the best ways to pitch them. Some will write blog posts about it or pin a tweet to the top of their page. Others, meanwhile, seem to relish keeping PR pros in the dark.
7. You show up to interviews unprepared.
We do a lot of work in advance to make sure a writer is well-prepared for an interview with our client. We’ll send background info, headshots, bios and press releases, and yet I’ve witnessed reporters showing up late and utterly unprepared to conduct the interview.
I understand this might not be your “dream” assignment, and that my client is not Beyoncé. Still: Show up on time, prepare, and be professional.
Reporters are juggling a lot and newsrooms are spread thin, but at least show a modicum of respect by prepping for interviews.
Ending the cycle
PR pros and journalists are locked in a cycle of miscommunication and frustration. It doesn’t have to be like this.
We need more professional decency—on both sides. I encourage journalists to try being more responsive and courteous. Be open to building relationships. Even if you’re annoyed, keep in mind that there’s a human being just trying to do a job attached to that pitch.
In return, we’ll do our best to respect your beats and preferences, so we can keep bringing you helpful sources and stories for your readers. Even when you wish for an elephant to sit on us.