This article originally ran on PR Daily in January of 2017.
Depending on which reporter you ask, PR pros can either be angels or demons.
Though the two communication-industry professions are often seen at odds with one another, potential rifts are made bigger by common, yet deadly, media relations sins.
These bad behaviors can get your pitch thrown in the garbage, make you the subject of a #PRFail tweet and ensure that you don’t see your story—or client’s name—in a headline:
1. Not providing enough information.
Journalists are up against deadlines and are often trying to complete the work meant for two or more, especially with shrinking newsrooms and a scramble for eyeballs on published content.
Don’t make their jobs harder by making them hunt down information that you could easily provide, including expert quotes, meaningful statistics and high-quality images and videos.
— Vicky Cervantes (@flvickster) January 6, 2017
If you don’t give journalists enough information, don’t be surprised when you see inaccurate details that tarnish your coveted client coverage.
— Steph Puls (@StephPuls) January 2, 2017
2. Being too clingy—or ghosting.
If there’s one thing reporters don’t need, it’s incessant follow-up emails and phone calls to an already overflowing inbox and voicemail.
Dear PR people: If I didn’t respond to the first email, I’m not going to respond to the second, third, fourth or fifth ones. Please stop.
— Luke Simcoe (@MetroLuke) November 20, 2016
Though it can be frustrating not to hear from journalists—and persistence can pay off, sometimes—don’t follow up more than once (and if you do, give it at least 24 hours). Instead, focus on building a relationship. If you open the line of communication long before you pitch, you have a better chance of having your email recognized, read and welcomed.
Just as annoying as a PR pro who won’t take no for an answer is one who is too busy for a reporter’s time.
I *love* when a PR person emails, and when you reply, you get their out of office email.
— Emil Protalinski (@EPro) November 21, 2016
We all have busy schedules, but this isn’t Tinder: Playing hard to get won’t help land you coverage.
3. Refusing to accept that your story isn’t news.
Some stories do not have to be told.
Just got a press release about Ryan Seacrest and his designer tuxedo. Note to self: Review all PR subscriptions in the New Year. #prfail
— Karen Dybis (@kdybis) January 1, 2017
PR pros are often put in a tough position when their clients insist on landing headlines but have nothing of value to share. Do your best to redirect their enthusiasm and desires toward providing expert commentary on a trending topic or crafting an evergreen press article, because no one wants to hear (or write) about your new office, promotion or “game-changing” product.
Tip: If no reporter is biting, it isn’t a story that must be told.
“Here is a press release from a month ago, but nobody has written about us yet, so maybe you could?” #PRFail
— Haje Jan Kamps (@Haje) November 2, 2016
4. Trying too hard to steal the spotlight.
I marvel at some PR’s attempts to link current affairs with their irrelevant client pic.twitter.com/gNJYbEdJWr
— Guy Pewsey (@guypewsey) November 10, 2016
The bad behavior is made worse when it’s sprayed out to every journalist you can think to email.
‘Hello, this is a PR person. We wondered if you were interested in a story we dropped hours ago somewhere else.’
— John Hyde (@JohnHyde1982) September 20, 2016
Though it’s tempting to contact many in hopes of increasing the chances of a response, properly vetting your story—and the recipient—can yield much more fruitful results.
Some PR pros have dropped the façade and don’t even hide their attempts to pitch irrelevant press releases:
“Hi, Laura: I saw your tweet/story on X, and thought you’d like to see this press release/blog post on Y, a completely unrelated topic…”
— Laura J. Nelson (@laura_nelson) January 5, 2017
If you’re one of them, your honesty won’t save you. Instead, comment on and retweet the journalist’s story, and then focus on producing a juicy angle to they’d be hard-pressed to reject.
5. Speaking in jargon.
You might hear it in office meetings, on “Shark Tank” and at tech summits, but that doesn’t make it wise to repeat in a press release or pitch.
You’re a PR, not a cowboy. Please stop “circling back”, “looping round” or “chasing down”.
— Becca Caddy (@beccacaddy) November 16, 2016
Rather than using terms such as “game changer” and “unicorn,” explain why your client, product or organization is worthy of a story. You can do this through outstanding storytelling, compelling data and enticing quotations.
Tip: If you find yourself relying on buzzwords and millennial-speak, you’re trying too hard.
A press release for a Valentine’s Day product used the word “bae” in it. I. Just. Can’t. #PRFail
— Karen Dybis (@kdybis) January 10, 2017
Some brand managers have gained favor with younger consumers for this tactic, but save it for Twitter and Facebook.
6. Not being professional.
Sending out pitches and press releases that are obviously templates, not proofreading your work and ignoring publications’ guidelines are all ways to ensure that your email will go straight to reporters’ virtual trash bins.
You will also profoundly annoy reporters by telling them how to write or edit their articles.
What is it with PR people emailing after articles are published, asking you to add an unrelated plug for their client? Stop it! #prfail
— Claer Barrett (@ClaerB) January 12, 2017
Respect journalists’ time by double-checking guidelines and preferences before sending your pitch. Asking for the help of a knowledgeable co-worker can help you catch any outstanding typos and AP style errors, which will also increase your chances of acceptance.
Font, formatting and attachments also matter. Some journalists hate Word documents, whereas PR Daily and Ragan.com editors request them. Others can’t stand being sent headshots to accompany guest posts, and most reporters agree that both PDFs and crazy fonts should be saved for birthday parties, not media relations efforts.
Tip: Comic sans should
only be used for speech bubbles never be used.
Word of advice: If you want your company to be taken seriously, don’t send out press releases typed in comic sans. #PRFail
— Kara (@thebostonista) January 11, 2017
If you require help with this, please visit Comic Sans Criminal.
7. Not doing your homework.
The job of a PR pro isn’t easy, and media relations is no cakewalk. Don’t make it appear so by resorting to lazy tactics (such as using old reporter lists and an email template for mass sending) or sending irrelevant pitches.
Taking the time to research your recipient—and double-check your story—can save you from completely missing your target when you pitch:
— Sascha Camilli (@saschacamilli) January 12, 2017
A garden website sent me a pitch for a piece on growing tomatoes. Why? Because I wrote a review of Attack of the Killer Tomatoes #PRFail
— Cynthia Boris (@Cynthialil) September 21, 2016
It can also save you from ruining an opportunity to build a relationship with a reporter. (No, people with unique name spellings don’t appreciate your guessing.)
— Caitlin Kelly (@CaitlinKellyNYC) January 9, 2017
What sins would you add to the list, Ragan/PR Daily readers?