7 ways to destroy all credibility as a PR practitioner

With daily stories and ever-changing beats, journalists are often considered moving targets when it comes to public relations pitching.

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While communications professionals can develop strong, mutually beneficial relationships with the writers they contact on a regular basis, some slip up with ineffective communication strategies. Here are some of the simplest ways to ruin all credibility with a writer, right from the journalist’s mouth (or Twitter):

Pitch the same story

7 ways to destroy all credibility as a PR practitioner

Example:

Publicist writes: “Hey, I saw that you wrote a story about rooftop bars in Miami. Here’s another rooftop bar in Miami for your consideration.

Why Journalists Hate It:

Writers don’t write a new version of the same story every week. If it’s an online story, you could be annoying and have them add your client to the slideshow after the fact. They probably won’t write about the same topic again for quite a while, though, if ever. If they’re a freelancer and write about your client, don’t ask them to write about the same thing for another one of their outlets. Keep them on your radar, but never pitch them the same idea.

Send 1,000 journalists the same email at once

7 ways to destroy all credibility as a PR practitioner

Example:

  • “Dear First Name”
  • “Hello Williams, Sally”
  • “Hello Travel + Leisure”

… and other cringe-worthy errors.

Why Journalists Hate It:

The mail merge horror stories are many. It doesn’t matter how many dynamite pitches you’ve sent to a journalist over the years, if he/she catches you mass-distributing something “personalized” with a first name just once, your credibility is kaput. If you somehow end up sending an email blast addressed hundreds of times to “Hi *First Name*,” you might consider changing your identity. And always assume that they’re forwarding it to the entire editorial staff with “Look at this moron.”

Spam as a verb is defined as “sending the same message indiscriminately to large numbers of recipients on the Internet.” If that describes your pitching, then go ahead and let that word sink in. A formal press release distributing actual news to a targeted list is usually a different case. Sending a specific angle to 100 editors is never a good idea.

Send pitches just because the client says so

7 ways to destroy all credibility as a PR practitioner

Example:

Your client sends you an email with “groundbreaking news,” marked as high importance and says it needs to “go to national writers ASAP.” You find out the company CEO just spoke at the nearby community college, and took an out-of-focus photo.

Why Journalists Hate It:

Actually, this is one that PR people hate just as much as journalists. But how do you get around it? How do you tell a client that a new company logo won’t land them in this Sunday’s Times, when they clearly disagree? Your response needs to be crafted very carefully. It’s important to let the client know during onboarding that they should trust your judgment of what is newsworthy and what is not. Sending terrible news wastes everyone’s time and the client’s money, and journalists will most likely delete your future messages when they see your name in the “From,” and your client’s name in the subject line.

Don’t listen or keep notes

Example:

The journalist writes: “As I mentioned in my five previous emails to you, I no longer cover travel. Please remove me from your distribution list.”

Why Journalists Hate It:

I get it—we all have multiple clients, perhaps across multiple industries, and may send 200 emails a day. Unfortunately, that’s not an excuse when a writer has to reiterate their new beat, or remind you of their previous email outlining the type of information they accept.

If you ever receive an email from a journalist that starts with “As I’ve previously mentioned…,” it’s time to get your house in order. Keep a master list or client-specific document with important notes, lead times or requests for a journalist. If a writer is kind enough to alert you to something like the specific size image they need to run a story, your notes should remind you of how to make publishing more turnkey.

Send attachments

7 ways to destroy all credibility as a PR practitioner

Just don’t do it, unless the writer specifically requests it. Size limits can prevent it from being delivered, or the journalist will assume that it’s malware. Use a Dropbox link or another file-sharing service to make things simple.

Just assume that your client is ready for the next step

Example:

  • The publicist announces a new company CMO, but the press release goes out right in the middle of their European sabbatical.
  • The publicist announces a new product, but has no way for any journalist to test it or try it out.

Why Journalists Hate It:

When you pitch something, make sure you anticipate what will likely be the next step or request. Headshots, product samples, backgrounders, and immediate availability for interviews are all likely. Nothing frustrates a journalist more than pitching your idea to his or her editor and getting approval and a deadline, just to find out that the PR guy can’t deliver. Make sure that you and your client are prepared for what’s next.

Follow up with them just to make sure they got your note

7 ways to destroy all credibility as a PR practitioner

Example:

The publicist writes: “Hi Cathy—I just wanted to follow up on my note below. Sincerely, XX.”

Why Journalists Hate It:

Many writers explicitly forbid follow-ups from PR people. And frankly, we deserve it after thousands of terrible, passive-aggressive messages that are a verified way to get deleted or blocked from an addressee’s inbox.

Send a new insight, recent news or trends, or other information that makes the message more than just pestering. Messages that begin with “Just wanted to make sure you saw my email” or “I wanted to put this back on your radar” are ineffective and rude. Timing is everything — your follow-up may be seen when the initial email wasn’t, but it should still always include a value-add.

I hope this serves as a nice reminder of the social skills PR practitioners should maintain to keep the fire burning with journalists. Happy pitching!


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Brock Talbot

Brock Talbot

A Los Angeles native and graduate of Brigham Young University’s School of Communications, Brock Talbot now lives in New York City, where he has worked at Eric Mower + Associates for almost three years. He is a trained concert pianist, and enjoys volleyball and snowboarding.


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