Advice from a Journalist to PR Folks; 9 Do’s and Don’ts

Big Promise, no Delivery.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a PR person contact me for a story I’m writing and promise a person or company. Then, I don’t hear back from them for a few days or a week. Then they tell me that person or company isn’t available. Congratulations, you’ve just lost all credibility. Don’t you check before you pitch?

Bad Aim.

I’m a business and tech writer. I have a website. But I can’t tell you how often I get pitches on things that are completely out of the realm of what I write about. Things like pregnancy kits and hunting supplies. if you’re not sure, send me a quick e-mail and ask. Perhaps in some PR circles, it’s simply a numbers game (show the boss how many people one has contacted) but wasting everyone’s time doesn’t seem too smart to me.

Brute force.

Similar to #2. I receive a phone call and the PR person on the other end doesn’t bother to ask if I have time right now. He or she just launches into a pitch. Hey, I hate the depersonalized world of e-mail and the Web as much as anyone. But that’s life today. Ask before you pitch. Better yet, inquire as to how a writer or editor would like to be approached (e-mail, phone, etc.).

Control Freak.

These are the types that want to micromanage the story and control the outcome. Instead of facilitating and collaborating they tell you what to say and how to write it. Then, if you allow them to review the copy or quotes, they’re re-writing everything in market-ese or spinning it for their own purposes. Sometimes they even threaten to withdraw their client if you don’t word things their way! Utterly amazing.

Getting Personal.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a PR person I hardly know try to get chummy with me right away. Sometimes the person is downright chatty. Okay, I know they’re trying to create a connection. Not a bad thing intrinsically. However, when we’re working together let’s just focus on getting the job done. If, over a period of time, the relationship evolves (and I have had this happen), fine.

Insult Me.

I have had several occasions where a PR person (who probably has just gotten chewed out by his or her client) drills me for not including this certain person or company. Enough said in the blog post this morning. The only thing I will add is there is no way I will make any attempt to include your client in anything (unless absolutely it’s necessary to the story) if you do this. It’s one thing to say, “If you write any future stories on this topic, please consider my client.” It’s another to say, “My client should have been included in the story and you should know that.” If you have a client like this, you need to educate them or fire them.

Payola.

Perhaps it’s ignorance but I have had PR people approach me about writing a story and getting paid by the agency and then being free to collect an article fee from the publication. No go. This is totally unethical for a writer. I can do one or the other (write the story for the agency for a fee and they place it or write a story based on a pitch–accepting no money from the agency–and getting paid by the publication) but I can’t do both.

Don’t send unsolicited press releases “under embargo.”

If you want journ to honor an embargo, negotiate it ahead of time.
Whether you’re a journalist or PR, share your advice, tips and thoughts below.

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