When faced with a grumpy – or worse, no – response from a journalist, I cast my mind back to my days as a young reporter. I try to remember what riled me then when people contacted me and see if now as a PR person, I am committing any of those cardinal sins.
If you aren’t experienced dealing with the media, it’s even easier to make mistakes and without feedback, it can be difficult to understand what you’ve done wrong. So, as a reminder to us all, here are five of the most common mistakes made when contacting journalists.
You don’t read their publication
If you don’t read the journalist’s publication, you’re unlikely to know what type of content they cover so you will probably ask them to write an article or cover a story that is irrelevant to their audience.
Do some research into the publication – read it cover to cover and look at the types of articles and types of people featured. Which country is it in? Does it cover specialist topics? Do they cover news or interviews? Who writes the articles? Demonstrate an understanding of the publication and you have a greater chance of piquing their interest.
You send blanket emails
Some people send blanket emails to many journalists at many different publications at once. Think how you feel when you receive a chain email. Special? As if that person is talking just to you? No, thought not.
Send individual emails with a greeting to that person and spell the name correctly. I’ve known journalists delete an email with a perfectly good story simply because it wasn’t addressed to them. Also, if you can’t be bothered to check the spelling of the journalist’s name, they may assume you can’t be bothered checking the facts of the story you’re asking them to cover. It’s basic courtesy – spell the name right.
This leads me onto spelling in general. Typos, spelling mistakes and incorrectly capitalised letters are all culprits. It shouldn’t surprise you that people who write for a living are annoyed by bad writing.
Most people have access to spellcheck these days so make sure you carefully check emails before sending them. Once you’ve written an email or press release, walk away and leave it for at least a few hours before going back to proof read it.
You contact them on deadline
Most journalists these days prefer to be contacted by email because they can filter, respond and type at their own pace to suit their work day. You can ring them and some will take your call, however, be clear about the best time to ring them.
For example, journalists on daily newspapers usually have a meeting first thing in the day to agree what content will be covered in that day’s paper. Then they’ll spend the next few hours writing the copy ahead of a lunchtime or mid-afternoon deadline. It will only be towards the end of the day they start to plan potential stories to pitch at the next morning’s meeting. If you don’t know this, chances are you ring them on deadline and either get no response or the phone slammed down on you.
You pester them
I remember working in a newsroom and there being persistent regulars who phoned daily with ‘news’. Rambling, shaggy-dog stories with no newsworthy element at all. As you can imagine, they were treated with the kind of disdain usually reserved for dog turd. At best they were laughed at, at worst, ignored. This sort of person may have had a particularly amazing story one day however they were not taken seriously so we will never know. Don’t be that person.
Be the sort of person who rings at the best time of day with a great story. Then leaves it a day or two before chasing it up. Note, however, a fine balance to be struck here. You DO need to be tenacious in contacting the media and follow up several times. You DO NOT need to be a pest. Unless the news is very time-sensitive and has to be covered that day, a good rule of thumb is to contact them once, then again a couple of days later then again the following week and then maybe one more time a couple of days later. When you do, be courteous, firm and succinct.
So there you go. Five reasons journalists hate you. What do you think? Are there others?