Freelance journalist Rachel Roberts shares her top tips on how to make the best first impression with the media
‘Hey, hun, how are you?’ enquired the subject line in my in-box.
Excitedly clicking to see which of my friends was saying ‘hi’, the super-familiar greeting turned out to be from a PR I’ve never met, telling me all about an exciting breakthrough in the world of medicine.
I’m a journalist specialising in travel.
That’s two strikes – over-familiarity and a scattergun approach. Destination: trash.
As a journalist with over 20 years in the business, I’ve dealt with my fair share of professionals throughout my career, discovering the good, the bad and the ugly on both sides of the fence.
I’ve been mortified on my profession’s behalf when PRs have shared tales of writers promising the earth – or at least a least a 500-word feature in a quality publication – only to go AWOL when the PR asks them to – gasp! – actually honour their side of the agreement. Although journalists joke about going over to the ‘dark side’ if they swap careers and venture into the world of public relations, not all of them are playing by the rules in their own sphere.
But the truth is that while there may be legitimate gripes on both sides, it’s a symbiotic relationship. Journalists/bloggers/vloggers need PRs and vice versa. In the interests of promoting peace and harmony, here’s the top 10 ‘no-no’s’ when approaching journalists (as polled from a journalist Facebook group I now stand a good chance of being swiftly ejected from).
This is business. Opening with ‘Hi lovely/hun/gorgeous’ is not an approach welcomed by most of us. It’s only really acceptable if you’ve built a genuine relationship over a period of time. Similarly, signing off with a heart emoji is just well, inappropriate, and a little try hard. There’s a fine line: cross it at your peril.
Scattergun approach (aka copy and paste)
We all know how the game works; PRs have to spread their net wide to land the big fish for the client who demands results. However, sending the same press release to every media contact on your database is likely to have the opposite effect. Try at least to make the email seem tailored to the recipient – so don’t call them Sir, when in fact they’re a Madam. And a slightly annoyed one at that.
We get that you work hard to get our attention, coming up with clever, creative approaches to get a nibble. We respect that, we really do. But only say you’ve got an arsenal of products for immediate review, along with the dream person primed to give concise quotes, if you actually have. If a journalist painstakingly bags a commission based on this information, only to then find out on deadline that – poof! – those particular carrots have vanished into thin air, you’ll be filed under F for ‘flake’. ‘Why, just why?’ was the exasperated question asked by many of the 4000-strong journalist group.
Offering to step into the breach
If a journalist says they’re too snowed under to interview or write about your hot new client, you may think you’re ‘paying it forward’ by offering to interview them and write it up yourself. That way madness – or overkill – lies. Our role as journalists is to exercise some objectivity, and that means not shoe-horning a mention of the product/person into every spare space.
Take your embargo…
The media merry-go-round is fuelled by receiving and sending unsolicited information and pitches. Writers are guilty of doing it to commissioning editors (even when categorically told not to). So, we’re no saints, either. However, sending unsolicited information UNDER EMBARGO is a step too far. It’s tantamount to saying, ‘here’s something you didn’t ask for, and if by some long shot, you did decide to place it, there are strict publishing time frames in place. Just sayin’.’ Putting the cart before the horse, much?
This is a subjective one, but good to keep in mind. Certain buzz words can kill an otherwise tempting pitch stone dead. The phrase ‘reaching out’ is the equivalent of nails scraping slowly down a blackboard to many journalists. This is not a disaster movie where the hero/heroine slowly sinks into the sea, hand clutching at the air in a final bid for survival. You’re getting in touch. Plain and simple. And don’t get me started on ‘circle back’. Also, please do a spell/grammar check before hitting send. If you can’t be bothered to get the spelling of the product your promoting right, why would a journalist actually care about said product?
In the Venn diagram of PR and journalism, the circles overlap: we’ve got common ground on this one. Any journalist who has had to write an advertorial will be familiar with the dark art of making a clunky link seem like the most seamless transition. But hooking a PR pitch to the most random news story of the day will give the recipients cause for a good chuckle, but not much else.
Keep it authentic
Journalists have a sixth sense for BS and can sniff out a dodgy pitch in a nano-second. A survey done within your organisation doesn’t stand up, and neither do the claims that come off the back of it.
Follow up, but don’t get into stalker territory
When you consider that most journalists will have around 100+ emails unsolicited emails a day, their radio silence when you send a daily ‘follow up’ email to your own unsolicited email is speaking volumes. Step off.
When you do hit the sweet spot and land some coverage, keep watering that fledgling relationship. Make a genuine effort to find out when is a good time to send press releases, and pick up the phone for a proper chat now and again. Just don’t begin with, ‘Hey, hun, how are you?