Why The Economist thinks PR pros have it wrong

An article details five things PR types get wrong when pitching reporters. The truth is: the author’s right. But it’s time to shift the conversation.

It’s that time of year when journalists get sick of PR professionals and lament about the industry in high-profile publications.

This time? The Economist.

The subject? The five things PR pros get wrong when “reaching out to journalists.”

The author lists:

1. Dear [[Firstname]]. Forgetting to do the mail merge when you send the blast email.

2. Dear Firstname. Having the journalist’s name in a different font or color.

3. Dear Ms. Lastname. Not knowing the gender of the person you’re emailing. (This isn’t hard to find with a quick Google search.)

4. The completely inappropriate pitch. We’ve covered that on Spin Sucks and Ragan.com a thousand times or more. Do your research. The media database companies are there only as a starting point.

5. Following up on the follow-up to a follow-up. My favorite thing in the world is when I delete a pitch because it’s irrelevant (do not get me started on why I don’t respond to every email) and the PR pro resends it with “resending to get this at the top of your inbox.” Seriously? Seriously.

The entire industry isn’t wrong

Here’s the problem.

I don’t disagree with this ranting article. The author is right. These are all problems that are seen day-after-day in the inboxes of journalists and bloggers.

But…it does get a tiresome to be beat up on all the time because some in our industry can’t get it right.

I’m not going to rehash all of the things you should do to get your story placed (do your research, build a relationship, make the subject relevant, don’t harass).

Media relations done well

Rather, I’d like to focus on the underlying message of his article: Ask for what you need after you build a relationship.

The language of emailed requests has unwritten rules, and many of them are just like the rules for meeting people in person when trying to make a deal to mutual advantage. Make eye contact, shake hands, and ask for a name. Remember the name. Ask questions; learn about the other person. This signals a willingness to take the next step in building trust. Don’t constantly push in a direction the other person clearly doesn’t want to go: That is conversational incompetence. Find out where the journalist wants to go, and see if you can get there together. If it doesn’t work out, take no for an answer, and try again elsewhere.

Think about your media relations efforts as the same as networking (or dating, for that matter).

Would you go to an industry event, where journalists were a’plenty, and hand your business card to every one of them, saying, “I have the best story for you!”?

Of course you wouldn’t.

You would go to the event, meet journalists, ask them questions, find something in common, ask for their business card, and follow-up a day or two later (or three, if you follow the “Swingers” rule).

We can’t change the PR industry overnight, but we can certainly show journalists there is a symbiotic relationship.

Do your homework, apply some elbow grease, and get to work.

Gini Dietrich is founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, Inc. A version of this article originally ran on Spin Sucks.

Topics: PR


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