16 things every PR should know before contacting a journalist

From copy approval to kisses at the end of emails, there are some lines that shouldn't be crossed

11th October, 2016
16 things every PR should know before contacting a journalist
Long rambling emails are just going to be deleted or ignored

Can’t live with them, can’t live without them is the general attitude of journalists to public relations professionals and vice versa. Both sides help and hamper the other’s work, but mostly we tend to realise that we are necessary evils in each other’s lives. With that in mind, I’ve put together a list of tips for PR people that might help these relationships run a little more smoothly.

1) Get to the point

Long rambling emails are just going to be deleted or ignored. Explain the pitch in a couple of sentences. Do not include jokes – they rarely work.

2) Attachments

For the love of God just paste the press release into the body of the email instead of attaching it. Attachments take at least ten seconds to open. At that stage, my mind has wander… oooh shiny.

3) Press releases

Read and re-read your press release before sending. So many of them are recalled over silly mistakes. Make sure your spelling and grammar is perfect. Don’t use American spellings. Don’t be overly enthusiastic by describing the “world-class company” or the “market-changing product” – we’re just going to delete that rubbish.

4) Exclusive

Exclusive means no one else has it or will have it until we run it. This may come as a surprise but we do have the ability to google and see if the line is already out there.

5) Information

Often I only agree to an interview after confirming with the PR that I will get a specific piece of information. I then ask the client that question and they look at me blankly. Do you think I will forget to ask? Or that I’ll write the piece regardless of whether they tell me or not because I did the interview? I won’t. I have dropped stories because of this. Believe me, journalists have lists of PR people and agencies that play these games and will just ignore future communications from them.

6) Know who you’re pitching

Read the newspaper. Every week, people ask me to include their story in my “column” in the paper. I run the Media and Marketing section. I do not write the column in the section. Conor Brophy does. Keep your lists updated and ensure you know who is doing what in each paper. It is easy these days – most people have their titles on Twitter.

7) Too much communication

I know you have to justify billable hours to your client but really, emailing a pitch, then calling the journalist ten minutes later, and then emailing it again to “make sure we got it”, is a pain. We will start screening your calls.

8) Email etiquette

If I email you a question, answer via email. Don’t “call to discuss”, especially if it is just a quick fact check.

9) Picture perfect

Photos are important. We have no problem dropping a story if you don’t deliver on the promised visuals.

10) Newsworthiness

Existing is not news. Having a founder who has a great personality is not news. Also I don’t care if you won the “company that most cares about puppies” at the Global No one Has Ever Heard of These Awards Awards. Awards are not news. Unless you won a Nobel Prize. Even then, it’s unlikely you can get me a new line on it by the time Sunday rolls around.

11) Copy approval

More and more often we are getting requests to look at the article before it is printed. This is against our policy and will not happen. Don’t even ask.

12) Questions in advance

Likewise, we’re not going to send the questions in advance. It makes the interview stilted and that will not reflect well on you, us, or your client.

13) Sitting in

Having a public relations professional sit in for the interview is highly irritating. Besides, if you are doing your job and you have prepped your client correctly, then you will not need to sit in.

14) Think about schedules

Journalists that work for Sunday newspapers tend to get very, very busy on Thursday and Friday. If you have something time-sensitive then by all means contact them. But if you have something that does not need to be discussed until the following week, wait until Monday. Easy.

15) Don’t ask for the PDFs

You were busy over the weekend and didn’t pick up the paper? That’s not the journalist’s problem.

16) Being overly familiar

Sending kisses in an email to someone you have never met is weird. Mentioning you liked the picture they put on Instagram the previous week is unsettling. But the absolute worst is ripping a journalist’s photo from social media to use on some kind of promotional material. That’s just downright creepy. Stop it.

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