Journalists and PR pros have a love/hate relationship.
Reaching knowledgeable experts we’d never have found if not for their reps? Love it.
Finding inspiration for new and unique story angles through the pitches we receive? Love it.
Sifting through hundreds of new and follow-up emails a week from PR reps (all of whom expect a timely response), searching for one gem we can actually use? Really kind of hate it.
Media relations are a two-way street, and there are things that both sides can do to make the other’s lives easier. However, much of our frustration on the journalist’s end comes from bad PR practices—and it’s not always the reps’ fault.
Not everyone in PR has worked in journalism and vice versa, so there are bound to be fundamental misunderstandings about what the other side’s job entails.
Although reporters’ experiences vary, there are a few widely held opinions about working with public relations professionals. I asked my Twitter followers in the PR industry for questions they’d like to ask journalists.
Here are the best ones, along with my answers:
Answer: I don’t mind two or three pitches a week from the same person, if the PR rep has great sources and well-researched story ideas that will fit our publication. What gets irritating is when we can tell someone is just copying and pasting a pitch just for the sake of pitching us.
Definitely don’t make more than one new pitch a day, though. I once got three from the same person in a four-hour span.
Answer: We love all of these types of pitches, because they serve different purposes. A specific story idea can be an addition to our editorial calendar or, more likely, the inspiration for a related angle for which your client can offer insights.
Introduction emails are great, too, because we can file them and refer to them if we’re writing up something the client can speak about. Product pitches are tricky, because not every publication does product coverage.
My advice is to do thorough research, and if a reporter says the site doesn’t cover products, pay attention.
Answer: We are always open to new story ideas; that’s how we build some of our editorial calendar. I’m not sure about other publications, but Business News Daily doesn’t make its calendar available to PR pros.
A good tactic is to ask a reporter what he or she is working on. That way, you can look through your client roster and see who might be the most appropriate fit. I have quite a few PR contacts who don’t even pitch me anymore; we just work together that way, and it seems to be mutually beneficial.
Answer: Breaking news is pretty much the only good reason to pitch on nights and weekends to a reporter with a standard Monday-to-Friday workweek. You can certainly send non-breaking pitches, but you probably won’t get a response until they’re back on the clock.
Some publications hire after-hours and weekend editors specifically to review story ideas during those times, so check into that before you pitch.
Answer: There’s no “set” time that all reporters like to be pitched. It’s completely dependent on an individual reporter’s schedule and work flow. I wrote this article, in which I tracked my inbox for a week to see when I was getting the most pitches.
I like to get pitches early in the day, before I start writing. Other reporters may prefer the end of the day so they can get a jump on the following day. Ultimately, just keep doing what you’re doing—we’ll see it eventually.
As for phone pitches, most journalists I know don’t like them. With an email, we can read, process and respond when we’re ready.
A phone call tends to interrupt our work flow and forces us to switch gears in order to think about your pitch. It also puts us on the spot to give you an immediate answer, or at least to remember to follow up on it later.
Answer: Don’t send more than three emails about a single pitch. If we don’t respond the first time, it could be because it got lost in our inbox, or we read it and forgot to answer, so a follow-up is an appreciated reminder.
If we don’t answer the second or third time, there’s probably a reason for that.
Clients and their content
Answer: This is such a difficult question to answer, because sometimes there is a legitimate reason to use the same source for a story shortly after they’ve contributed to an article.
Every publication has its own guidelines about repeat sources, and obviously if there’s a good opportunity, don’t be shy about offering your client’s expertise. I would say in general, though, you should wait a couple of months before suggesting a source again.
As for a different source at the same company, that’s tricky, too, because in most cases the person is representing the company as a whole. In that case, it depends on how different the content is: For example, if the company’s CEO had a quote in a leadership/management article and a few weeks later the CMO wants to talk about marketing, that might work.
Answer: Infographics should never be text-heavy. They should present information—in most cases, the most important statistics or facts you want to present—in a visually engaging way.
Although BND doesn’t publish outside infographics, I do share links to them on my social media accounts. I usually look for something bold and colorful that makes numbers and stats pop.
Answer: Yes, definitely connect with your media contacts on LinkedIn. I would say the protocol is the same for connecting with anyone: After your initial contact (probably via email), send a request so you can stay in touch.
You could send a request to a reporter before emailing him or her, but most reporters know that if they get a LinkedIn request from a PR pro, a pitch is almost certainly coming their way.
If you connect afterward, it feels a little more like networking and less like, “What are you going to ask me to do for you?” Of course, you can research us all you want on LinkedIn before you reach out. I do it all the time.
Answer: Some love it, some hate it.
Those who like it think it’s a fast, effective way to receive the basic facts about a pitch and make a quick decision. Those who don’t think it’s crossing a line, because Twitter usually serves as a space for both personal thoughts and professional insights.
Social media is fantastic for making connections and initial contacts. My preference for social media pitches is when a PR rep tweets or messages me asking the best way to contact me for a pitch. Then I can DM the person my email address and stay on the lookout for the pitch.
Answer: We might not actively research PR pros on social media the way they do us. Still, when you follow or connect with us, we do look at your profiles and posts to get an idea of who’s working with us and what kinds of clients you represent (given that many PR reps tweet about client mentions and industry issues).
On that note, I don’t think there’s a point to having separate personal and professional accounts. It feels less than genuine, and it tells us the person isn’t able to censor himself enough to make his non-professional Internet presence acceptable to professional contacts.
Journalists are human beings, not content-producing robots. We want to know that the PR pros we connect with are human, too.
Answer: HARO is a hugely helpful tool for writers who need sources, and I love how many otherwise-unknown people I connect with through the site. Still, the number of responses I get is overwhelming.
I can always tell when a HARO query has gone live, because my inbox count jumps up by the dozen in a matter of minutes. For my own sanity, I immediately move HARO emails into a separate folder that I sort through all at once, after the submission deadline ends.
The number of replies varies by the subject matter; I’ve gotten anywhere from 20 to more than 100. When I read through these pitches, what I generally look for is someone who has given me enough information to answer the question but doesn’t ramble on.
Because a lot of the answers start to sound the same, especially with general business/leadership topics, it comes down to how well written it is. The person who said it best usually gets the press mention. I’m a writer; appeal to my love of words.
Anything to add, fellow journalists? We’d love to hear your take on these questions.