For an industry that prides itself on managing reputations, PR could do a lot better at managing its own. People look in distrust when they hear you work in PR; an industry seemingly composed of spin doctors, gatekeepers, and master manipulators. They're not to blame. It's how we are often portrayed on film and in popular culture. What’s most concerning, though, is that our reputational crisis hurts our relationship with the allies that matter most; journalists. Now that’s something we can't ignore.
It’s time we point our fingers at ourselves, and do something about it. The only way to do so is by taking a long, hard look at how our industry does things, from a journalist's perspective.
Because on the other end of a press release, journalists are experiencing a different reality. Below, we’ll share often-heard frustrations that journalists have voiced over the years and what you can do to mend the PR pro/journalist relationship, once and for all.
1. Reaching out to journalists, without having researched them
Hey, #publicrelations pro’s...ongoing reminder to follow journalists on Twitter BEFORE you pitch us. That way you know what we cover and you will know I NEVER use pitches, so take me off all your lists. #PRFail— Caitlin Kelly (@CaitlinKellyNYC) September 14, 2021
There are a plethora of tools out there that will help you build a press list in a matter of minutes. That does not mean you no longer have to research your press contacts. Media databases are no shortcut to a successful pitch, only to an email address. You can’t just fill in some parameters and click send. In order to send a resonating pitch, you will have to make sure that email address belongs to someone who’s interested in the news you’re about to share. If you've ever sworn by the 'spray and pray' method, I’m afraid you may have already been blocked by the former Editor-in-Chief at Wired (and publicly shamed!). Even more suprisingly, we caught the names of big PR agencies like Edelman or Weber Shandwick, which goes to show that the lack of proper research is not a rookie mistake. We can all be guilty of it at some point in our careers.
“So fair warning: I only want two kinds of email: those from people I know, and those from people who have taken the time to find out what I'm interested in and composed a note meant to appeal to that (I love those emails; indeed, that's why my email address is public).”
Chris Anderson, Former editor-in-chief @ Wired
Not doing research on journalists is just plain lazy. And there are no excuses, really. A simple Google search will help you find a journalist’s beats, their location, current media outlet, and most importantly, their most recent articles. Be thorough in your research, too. Just because a journalist covered digital nomads once, doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be interested in your HR news.
If you want to take your media relations to the next level (you should!): you could build a feed that brings news together from your entire press network. Here’s how.
2. Sharing “news” that isn’t newsworthy
Do not send pitches stating "BREAKING NEWS" about a deal closing.— Ellen Chang 張 心 瑩 (@EllenYChang) September 1, 2021
It's only news when a deal falls apart because regulators did not approve the merger.
Breaking news is a term that journalists use, not PR.#PRFail
We hate to break it to you, but some news simply isn’t newsworthy. It might feel that way to you and your team because it’s what you’ve been hearing about and prepping for, day in, day out. However, if you want to be successful, you have to put yourself in a journalist’s shoes to understand how your news will be perceived. If you want to check if something is newsworthy, share it with someone who isn’t knee-deep in your industry and test their reaction. Ask your neighbor or the person sitting across from you at your local coffee shop. By running your ideas with someone external to your company or industry, you might find what it is that makes it interesting for the rest of the world.
3. Forever following up
no better way to get me to delete a PR pitch than to use “PLEASE READ!!!”— Jonathan Borge (@senorborge) August 10, 2021
A good PR pro knows the difference between persistence and intrusiveness. Sending a killer press release and a carefully thought-out pitch is a perfect game plan. According to Muck Rack’s State of Journalism 2021 report, 94% of journalists prefer to be pitched in a 1:1 email, while only 10% of journalists like to be pitched via phone call or text.
If your email goes unanswered, and you do decide to follow up, be aware of the timing. According to the same study, 86% of journalists are okay with a follow-up email within one week of the initial message. Meanwhile, only 14% prefer a followup over one week from the first pitch. If you’ve followed-up once and have still have not received an answer, chances are that the journalist is simply not interested. It’s important to know when to stop reaching out, as your constant follow-ups can jeopardize future positive responses from these reporters.
Looking to perfect your pitch? Here's how to do it right according to three seasoned PR pros.
4. Sending embargoed news for absolutely anything
A PR person asked me to sign an NDA this morning in order to receive embargoed news. This is a new low.— Scott Nover (@ScottNover) August 13, 2021
Journalists hate your embargoes. Besides being another barrier to publishing news, embargoes can dissuade journalists from covering a story if they have already been broken by another outlet. Instead of using embargoes on every release you send, try offering one or two outlets exclusive coverage of your story. This way, both your brand and the journalist will have more control of your news. Plus, you'll start building that coveted credibility every PR pro craves.
5. Copy-paste chaos, typos and massive zip attachments
tw-align-center August 27, 2021
Recent studies show that only 3% of journalists respond to the pitches they receive. So if you’re ever lucky enough to have yours picked up, make sure you don’t waste a journalist’s time. That means no typo’s, clear copy and certainly, do not leave any valuable information out.
This is your one shot to success. Leave a good impression by offering a journalist everything they might need to write your story. A great way to do so is by sending them a link to your online newsroom, which should include spokesperson contact details, an archive of previous press coverage, and of course, a powerful media kit.
S.O.S.: Save our Reputation
We won’t say everyone in PR is doing a shitty job. There are tons of brands out there doing inspiring and meaningful work. We see you! But there are A LOT of PR practitioners out there, and we’re not all on our A-game. Some of us have been in the game too long, others too short without any proper training. However, to change the negative perception of our industry, we need to take this critique seriously and work on it. If you agree, please feel free to share this article with your colleagues and network.
We’re here to say our industry (and practitioners) deserve a lot more respect than we get. If anything, over the past 18 months, we’ve learned that PR teams are essential assets for any organization. Insensitive, tone-deaf, and unresponsive brands don’t survive, and PR teams give brands the antenna which is so desperately needed to create resonance.