Oct 18, 2002
SUMMARY: This article contains a few home-truths from the journalist's point
of view about why PR people are hard to work with. Chances are
your company commits at least one of the sins mentioned. Here is
your chance to stop it and make journalists love you.
Ever heard of 'Whack-a-Flack'? It is an online game where
journalists get to pelt hapless cartoon characterizations of PR
pros with pointy paper airplanes made out of bad press releases.
More than 7,000 journalists, reporters and writers have played
the game, repeatedly, since it launched last year. Why?
As the Managing Editor of an email newsletter entitled
'MarketingFame,' I have interviewed more than two-dozen other
journalists to learn what PR people do that makes them so annoyed
that they might turn to games such as Whack-a-Flack. Our
interviews have included journalists at The Wall Street Journal,
BusinessWeek, The New York Times and Business 2.0. Here is how
PR people make their jobs miserable:
Pet Peeve #1: You never read, never even glanced at my
publication before you pitched me.
You know how annoying email spammers are? That is how journalists
feel about PR people who pitch stories that are not remotely
connected to their area of coverage. It happens every day. All
Pet Peeve #2: You are calling to see if I got your press release
As you know when you create press releases, writing is difficult.
It is even harder when the phone rings interrupting your train of
thought every five minutes. When that call is from a PR
person saying, "I just wanted to check that you got my release
alright" which you know is a completely made up excuse so they
can tell their client "Oh yes I contacted the journalist
personally," you begin to see red.
At the very least have better excuse for calling. Maybe some
interesting factoid that was not in the release itself?
Pet Peeve #3: How the H**L can I contact you????
After a while journalists begin to get a siege mentality about
all the press releases and emailed pitches and phone calls hurled
at them constantly all day long. (Picture yourself being in a
snow fight where a whole lot of kids gang up on you and pummel
you with snowballs into the ground.) Then the really
infuriating part of their job begins.
They have to contact one of your client's or company executives
for an interview.
The journalist immediately goes to your company (or client's) Web
site to figure out who to contact. Almost guaranteed one of the
a. It takes more than three clicks from the home page to find a
b. The press contact only has a phone number, no email (which is
hard for journalists in unusual time zones, or those who work
odd hours from home, which is more than you think).
c. The press number goes to an individual's voicemail and there
are no further instructions if the journalist is on deadline
or in a different time zone (or both).
d. The press email is an anonymous address such as "pr@" which
journalists do not trust will be answered in a timely manner
(with darned good reason).
e. There is no press contact. There is only an investor
relations contact who is not interested in helping press for
f. Press contact info is stripped off of press releases before
they are posted to the Web site. Why, no one knows, but
this idiotic practice is practically universal.
g. The press contact, if reachable (a miracle!) acts all
snooty. We do not know if we can bother to ask one of our
busy execs to speak with you. How many readers did you say
you had again?
Aside from the three biggies, journalists have confided lots of
smaller pet peeves to me:
* Being emailed press releases as attachments (yuck)
* Being emailed press releases with delete-me-now subject lines
such as "press release"
* Being offered great exclusive-sounding stories only to see
the same item in a competitor's publication soon afterwards
If you avoid the three biggies you are allowed a little more
leeway. Veins are not popping out on journalist's foreheads when
they hear your name.
If you are planning on being in PR for a while, remember that
many of the journalists you annoy today will be the exact same
people you have to pitch again tomorrow. Come on guys, this is
not rocket science. This is relationship building.
[Note: This article by our Managing Editor Anne Holland
originally appeared in the NewsBios.com newsletter. She admits
she "probably drank too much coffee" before she wrote it.]