Our new recruit national news journalist Jaymi McCann tells us what we’re doing wrong.
The relationship between the journalist and the PR is a complex one, formed of both need and resentment in equal parts. There are some brilliant PRs out there. Competent, knowledgeable and quick to respond, they are the ones getting their clients in the papers every day. But there are others. And if there is something journalists love to do it is gossip, about nightmare experiences with those on “the dark side”. So, to help you avoid becoming the topic of conversation down The Cheshire Cheese or any other hack haunt, here is a list of things PRs do that journalists hate, so you can avoid doing them at all costs.
1. Not knowing the journalist’s patch.
As a news reporter on the Sunday Express I covered a pretty wide range of subjects, however, one subject that I have never written about is the city. Stocks and shares are just not for me. But that didn’t me receiving hundreds of emails about business news every day. They clogged up my inbox, hid the actually useful emails and were just plain annoying. Do a bit of research. Find out what the journalist writes about most frequently. Do a cuts search on them. The PRs I have responded to most positively, and have had the best working relationships with, have clearly already done their homework.
2. Not knowing the journalist’s readership
This is unforgivable particularly in papers. Each publication has a pretty strong identity and you should know it. But actually read the papers. The number of times I have been pitched a story that we have already covered would shock you. When I meet PRs for a meeting it is really obvious if they haven’t read my publication recently and, to be frank, it is insulting.
Also keep abreast of news. Know who owns each paper, who the editors are, what the latest movements are.
I’ve even heard of PRs not knowing that a newspaper had shut down months after the fact. That just makes you look bad.
3. Not understanding that we can’t just print an advert.
This one is pretty simple really. If I have a story I have to go to my news editor, who then goes to the overall editor, and there needs to be a pretty clear news angle. I can’t just publish something that publicises your product for no real reason. I can’t use vanilla quotes that are all about the product you’re trying to sell and have nothing of any value in them. This is a two way street, give the journalist something actually interesting to print and the chances are they will print it for you.
Ooh, this one grinds my gears. Don’t pretend the story is more than it is. If you are going to make grand claims, have something to back them up. Otherwise when I pitch the story to my news editor and come back with something lacklustre (or not related to the original pitch at all) then it is me who looks a fool. And it is me who gets it in the neck when there is a gaping hole in the paper.
On a similar note, don’t offer a story or an interview to a publication if you don’t know the client will be happy with it. Backing out when the client learns it is a paper they aren’t keen on is bad form.
5. Phoning to let a journalist know you have just emailed them.
If you have emailed them, assume they will see it. Chase it up with a second email a few days later if you want to highlight it to them again but don’t call about something you have just emailed about.
To be honest for some journalists phoning at all is a cardinal sin. When researching a journalist try and find out how they like to be contacted and when is best. Some don’t mind a phone call, others hate the time it takes out of their day. We have all heard the stories of poor junior PR’s being yelled at down the line from some furious hack. This really can be avoided (although I make no excuses for a journalist’s rudeness).
6. Not communicating.
Don’t go silent when a story isn’t working out as you had hoped. Or when a case study isn’t contacting you. Or when the client is being difficult. Tell us it is taking a little more time and please can we bare with you.
Yes we are on a tight deadline pretty much constantly and yes we might get pissed off, but clarity is so important. Plus we might be able to help get the ball rolling. The silent treatment is an awful lot worse than facing up to the music. Communication is key. And what are we all here for if it isn’t to communicate?