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PR Do's and Don'ts: A Journalist's Perspective

PR Do's and Don'ts: A Journalist's Perspective
Entrepreneurs who are doing their own public relations should follow the same protocol as agency PR representatives when dealing with the press. / Credit: Press conference image via Shutterstock

As a journalist, I work with PR professionals daily, and usually, I have great experiences with them. Many of the PR reps I know and trust are kind, hardworking individuals who represent wonderful clients. I enjoy the relationships we have built and the insight I have gained from them.

However, not all journalists and PR professionals get along. In fact, we are known to harbor some resentment toward each other, with nuisances coming from both ends. But it doesn't have to be this way.

PR reps add value to journalists, and vice versa; we simply cannot do our jobs without each other. That's why it's so important to understand what each person wants and expects in their position. To provide some insight, I outlined do's and don'ts for PR professionals from a journalist's perspective.

Know who you're pitching. If you're sending a potential story idea or source to a journalist, then you need to be sure it's relevant to what they typically cover. For instance, someone who writes about tech will not appreciate pitches about the new restaurant opening in their city. (Full disclosure: I'll read any pitch that involves food, but I can't cover it if it has no relevance to me.) However, if you have an idea that might seem unrelated, you can still often form a connection to the writer's beat. Doing so will show the journalist that you took the time to get to know them, to read their stories and research their publication's content.

Address the journalist directly. Personalized pitches make writers feel more inclined to read and respond. However, if you address a journalist as "sir," "madam" or "[insert journalist's name here]" (yes, I have received those), they likely won't be as interested. If we feel like just another name on your media list, don't be surprised if we treat you like just another PR person on ours.

Be patient. Journalists get numerous pitches every day, and it can be difficult to sort through all of them right away. It might take a few hours, or sometimes even a few days, to acknowledge your email. And when we do respond, know that we have a long list of stories to write and might not be able to cover yours as quickly as you wish.

Be flexible. Journalists also might have to tweak your story idea, taking a different approach from what you expected. We are, after all, the person writing the story. Trust that the writer you're working with knows what they're doing.

Follow up. It's common that journalists skip over a pitch without realizing, or that it ends up in spam. We're still human, after all – so don't hesitate to follow up after a few days. I have never been angry with a PR person who kindly circled back. But after a few tries, respect that they might just not be interested. If we responded to every pitch we received, we'd never get our work done.

Send mass pitches. This ties back to personalizing your pitch; emails that are clearly sent to a list of other journalists and appear as a generic press release will not catch our attention. In fact, they often make us feel less like a priority. We like forming connections with our PR reps and their clients, and we want to know we can count on you to get what we need by our deadline. If we think you're sending the same exact pitch to other journalists and working with whoever will accept you right away, we won't be as interested.

Send messages to our personal accounts. I've been harassed on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook (I had to delete my old account for this very reason), my blog and my personal email. I get it – I'm a writer, and I put myself out there for the world to see. Of course, I expect to get some feedback and messages from time to time, but – and I think I'm speaking for most journalists when I say this – pitching us anywhere other than our work email or phone will not get you a story.

Get hostile. If we choose not to cover a topic or work with a client you pitch to us, there's a concrete reason for it (like one of the above). It's never personal, and usually is because we've already recently covered something similar or simply do not see fit. Growing angry and defensive will only tell us to avoid you at all costs in the future.

Hesitate to reach out down the line. Just because a writer can't work with you now doesn't mean they won't want to in the future. Keep pitching relevant content, and odds are you'll form a respectful PR-journalist relationship.

Sammi Caramela

Sammi Caramela has always loved words. When she isn't working as a Purch B2B staff writer, she's writing (and furiously editing) her first novel, reading a YA book with a third cup of coffee, or attending local pop-punk concerts. The only time Sammi doesn't play it safe is when she's writing. Reach her by email, or check out her blog at sammisays.org.