Do’s and don’t when pitching to journalists and bloggers

PR tip, respect a journalist's deadline

When I used to manage a team of PR executives, I did a lot of training on how to pitch to a journalist, what to include in a press release and how to follow-up on a story (without stalking).

Having set up as a consultant, I started doing training workshops for business leaders, more on understanding what is a news story, and the basic principles of journalist engagement.  It was interesting to see that in both scenarios, the same textbook mistakes were made again and again.  Rectifying these small errors and etiquettes could be the difference between seeing your story in print, or it being deleted from a journalist’s inbox into oblivion.

I am in the rather unique position of being a former-journalist turned PR consultant and blogger by night.  So I have a rounded perspective on the industry (at least I like to think so).

Being a former journalist has helped me greatly in my PR work, as I know what annoys a hack, and what tickles their pickle. Whilst as a blogger, I get to indulge my creative side and have more of a journalistic hat on, and PR’s get in touch with me as they would any news journo.

So armed with this arsenal of insight – and with the help of some PR, blogger and journalist contacts, I thought I’d impart some wisdom about what businesses should do when attempting to engage the media.

Don’t push for coverage

When I worked as a journalist, and now as a blogger, most PR companies and businesses that contact me about a story are great, though there may have been the odd pushy PR or marketing executive who has stalked me for coverage on a product review or piece of research they’ve carried out.

When it comes to blogging, the first rule of thumb to remember is that many of us are bedroom bloggers.  We do it in our spare time, fitting it in around full-time work, part-time housework, friends and family duties and also trying to have some form of a life.

While we try and be as quick as we can, sometimes we’re unable to meet your internal deadline.  So unless we explicitly state a service-level agreement (i.e. we’ll publish by a certain time), you have to forgive us on not publishing your story as quickly as you or your client would like.

It’s the same principle when hounding journalists.  Most journalists, whether staff or freelance, have no idea when your story will appear, as they submit it for publication, and the editor decides when it will be used.

Do check who you’re speaking to    

This comes from Angela Epstein, a renowned journalist and media trainer.  Angela, who is a regular writer for the Daily Mail, comments: “I’ve had people emailing saying ‘hi Epstein’.  It’s a basic thing, but if you can’t get a journalist’s name right, how can you expect them to give your story the time it deserves?            

Do respect a journalist or bloggers deadline

Angela, again, says: “If we state that we need to speak to an expert by a certain time.  Make sure you have called that expert beforehand and that they are available to be interviewed before our deadline closes.  I’ve had PRs calling me and saying that they’ve got the perfect person for my query, but when I ask for contact details and availability, they reply with ‘I haven’t spoken to them yet, I’ll just check they’re happy to be interviewed and if they’re free’.  This just wastes our time.”

Don’t go quiet on bloggers…   

This tip comes from the fantastic Anna from Spotlights on the Redhead blog, and I wholeheartedly support this.  When speaking of a PR/blogger collab opportunity, Anna says: “sometimes they (the PR person) don’t even answer.  Even if it’s a no I’d like an answer.  Otherwise I don’t know what’s going on or if they ever read my email.”

This brings me nicely to my next point…

Don’t promise what you can’t deliver    

Again, an enthusiastic business development manager will offer you the earth.  However, when they can’t come up with the goods, the brand they’re promoting comes across badly.

I’ve had companies and PRs renege on interview offers, or just not reply to a follow-up query off the back of their press release.  It’s bad practice and leaves a bad impression.  Just don’t do it.

Do your research

A big bugbear for bloggers and journalists alike is receiving a story or opportunity of no relevance to them.

Shelina Begum, Business Journalist at the Manchester Evening News says: “First of all, know the publication you are contacting. It doesn’t look great if the PR only has a vague idea about what you do and who you cater for. For example I get a number of PRs who ring me up to tell me about a good business story, and when I ask where it’s based, it’s not even in our region.”  That’s a big PR fail.          

Do cut the bull crap  

Shelina also makes another important point: “I can’t stand jargon in press releases.  I don’t want to spend ten minutes trying to work out exactly what the release is trying to say.  Journalists are really time constrained and if we’re on deadline, we just don’t have the time to go through something that doesn’t make sense.”

Don’t expect us to take your word for it    

A note about product reviews.  Everything I feature on my blog has been trialled by me, or someone close to me, to offer a personalised, unbiased view.

However, I have had some PRs sending a press release saying how great something is, and expecting it to be quoted verbatim.  Come on, it’s your job to say great things about what you’re plugging.  If I’m going to devote column inches on your product I need to try it and vouch for it myself.  Otherwise I’m fooling myself, and my readers.

Don’t expect glowing coverage

Sometimes I’ve secured some great pieces of coverage for a client, however, the journalist may not have quoted the benefits of the service word-for-word, or may have (heaven forefend) not included the company’s website link.

However, the reality of PR is that you just don’t have control over what the journalist will print.  The only safeguards you have is making sure that you arm them with enough information, be as helpful as possible and provide them with print-ready copy.

To actually own coverage and dictate exactly what is featured in a story about your company, you have to invest in something called advertising.  And as I’ve mentioned previously, that’s an expensive route to go down, and you might not get quite the return that PR can offer (see my article on PR vs advertising).

Do treat bloggers like journalists        

As a blogger, I have had PR’s ask for repeated amends to articles, and inclusions of particular information, etc.

Now a basic rule for PR professionals is, unless your client is defamed and slandered to the high hills, you be grateful for the coverage you’ve received.  Otherwise you can’t expect many more articles from that writer.  The same should apply for bloggers.

Do keep us updated

Another point from Anna: “When companies change their PRs, it would be nice if they informed us.  I was sending emails to an account that no longer existed because the PR had changed jobs and no-one told me or diverted their email.  It looks unprofessional, and the PR company misses a potential opportunity.”

Don’t underestimate the power of bloggers

Remember, unlike the general press, bloggers write for a captive, niche audience who have a specific interest in our blog and what we cover.  So while we may not boast the circulation figures of the Daily Mail, we can at least say that our readers have an active interest in what we write about.

Halima Khatun

Halima Khatun

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