Amanda Brown and I were talking about all the ways people irritate journalists when trying to secure media coverage. I've worked with Amanda for several years and she's excellent at PR. The fact that so many of her releases and feature suggestions get used and that so many journalists come back to her for more, shows she does a good job. Perhaps part of her success is thanks to her previous career as a journalist so she sees the job from their perspective too.
Amanda wrote this article, looking at the things you should avoid when contacting journalists
If you ever look at the hashtag #PRfail on twitter, you’ll see a never-ending outpouring from journalists who have become irritated with the tactics used by people trying to get attention for their ‘news’ or feature idea.
As I’ve spent more years than I care to mention liaising with journalists I thought I’d share my top 10 list of no-no’s. Judging by #PRfail many of these are still being used and are guaranteed to get the hack’s hackles up!
1. The scattergun approach
Instead of taking a scattergun approach do your homework and find out which journalists are more likely to write on your subject. Build a list of contacts (it’s easier nowadays as many email addresses are online) and send them an individual email rather than a round-robin, or worse, an email addressed to the wrong name.
2. Phoning journalists
Journalists are inundated and so it’s easy to see why they get irritated with phone calls from people ringing to check whether they’ve looked at a press release that was sent a mere 10 minutes ago. The irritation triples when a press deadline is nearing!
Emails will be looked at and journalists will decide whether
a.) they’re interested and need more information in which case they’ll get in contact
b.) they have all the information they need or
c.) it gets spiked.
If it’s an exclusive or news so hot that it makes a Vindaloo curry seem mild, then there might be a case for phoning!
3. Using the word unique
Over the years I’ve had to counsel numerous clients about using the word ‘unique’ when conversing with journalists. If there’s one word that will consign a press release to the bin - it's unique – overused, misused, you name it. The pyramids are unique, a cottage with a beautiful view is not.
4. Ringing to find out when a piece is going to appear
Same as number 2. Some journalists kindly give the heads-up on a piece appearing but it shouldn’t be expected, again because they simply don’t have the time. Freelance journalists will file a feature but they will rarely know the publishing date. Ditto asking for a copy of the published piece which is likely to illicit a curt response: “Buy a copy if you want to see it.”
5. Leaving out essential information
If you send out press information that piques a journalist’s curiosity, it can be really annoying when vital information is left out.
For instance, if it’s about a new hotel or experience, essential information includes the lead-in price and web link. Simple enough and yet if you leave it out, there’s more chance your news will be ditched in favour of others who have included the essentials.
6. Waffling emails
Given that journalists receive hundreds of emails a day don’t send one that simply waffles.
Subject line - keep it short and relevant.
If you’re pitching a feature idea, again keep it short, relevant and easy for a journalist to understand what you’re getting at in one or two paragraphs. If they’re interested they will get in touch and ask for more information but they simply don’t have the time to read through long winded diatribes.
7. Disrespecting geography
Information that doesn’t relate to a newspaper’s geographical patch will invariably be pushed to the bottom of the pile unless it’s of national importance, or meets the quirk-factor (witness the recent regional pick-up of news about a Harry Potter-themed holiday cottage!).
8. Not doing your homework
Ok, so all of the above are about doing your homework but sometimes it pays to get to know what journalists like and dislike. How about this from the travel editor for the Express/Mirror/Star who tweeted this in relation to the infinite number of stories he receives on instagrammable spots:
@TravelEdNigel – Spare us from this press release drivel ‘Toilet Selfies: The Most Instagrammed Bathrooms
9. Not asking yourself if your ‘news’ really is newsworthy
In the opening of this blog, I referred to ‘news’ rather than news. This is because many people are quite rightly proud of their attraction/accommodation/visitor experience because it’s lovely and has rave reviews. However, that doesn’t mean journalists are going to rush to write about it unless it’s new, has been significantly redeveloped, has a relevant news hook, or happens to fit with a feature they’re writing about.
10. Forgetting that journalists are only human
We all get a bit chippy when we’re strapped for time and we’re struggling to wade our way through emails and the ‘to-do’ list so why not think about how we can help journalists make their job easier rather than adding to the burden?
Please note: all articles are copyright Susan Briggs 2021
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