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How to avoid irritating a journalist

October, 2013

Simon Robinson, a former business editor, provides some pointers on how to avoid annoying a journalist.

For public relations professionals, journalists, and by extension their various media outlets, are often the bridge between us and a contented client.

It is in their hands that we place our well-crafted press releases (and associated professionally-taken photographs), comments, articles, top tips and so forth, sometimes unsolicited and sometimes upon request.

Ultimately, the decision to publish or not to publish rests with them.

As such, it is in the interest of PR professionals to keep the journalists happy. Or, at the very least, refrain from making their often stressful, fast-paced and demanding working lives that little bit more so.

Here’s a top ten checklist of ways to avoid irritating a journalist.

1 – I Just Called To Say…

Avoid, where possible, making ‘I just wanted to check you received my e-mail’ follow up calls. Yes, they received your e-mail. If they haven’t responded to you it’s because they already have everything they need (good) or have already discarded it (bad). In event of the latter, a follow up call will invariably do little to help your cause for coverage.

2 – Chase Me, Chase Me

Try not to test the patience of a journalist. They do not appreciate this. One simple way to keep a journalist calm is to ensure they never have to chase you for an update on their earlier enquiry. If you say you’ll get back to them with the information by 2pm then make sure you do. And if you don’t have the information by the agreed time, a quick e-mail explaining the situation and reason/s for the delay will be appreciated.

3 – What’s My Name Again?

What’s the quickest way to get your press release sent to the journalist’s e-mail recycle bin? The answer is missing information. No photo caption? Bin. Not covered ‘WWWWWH’ (Who What When Where Why How)? Bin.

4 – Sorry, What?

When a journalist comes to you with a question, or indeed a list of questions, pertaining to a particular incident they expect their enquiry to be responded to in full. Providing a quotation, however promptly, that doesn’t answer their question/s will only serve to enrage the journalist and make them more likely to either (in case of positive release submitted by you) bin the story or (in case of potentially negative story they have approached you about) look closer and dig further for more information.

5 – Ah Yes, I’m Familiar With The Orbital-Rotored BX2000 Mechanism

Writing a press release about the new Orbital-Rotored BX2000 crop dusting mechanism and why it is set to revolutionise the crop dusting industry? Well, you might want to keep your explanatory release jargon-free, as the journalists you hope will publish such a ground breaking story may not be entirely up-to-date with the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it world of crop dusting. And if they have to approach you for a quick lesson in Crop Dusting 101, you’ve giving them an easy excuse to hit that Bin button.

6 – You Spin Me Right Round

Journalists understand that PR professionals are looking to secure coverage for their clients, but their focus is on news and presenting said news in a defined manner. So overspun spin is a no no. Your ‘Dover man scoops £30 million Lotto Jackpot, Thanks His Butcher’ headline may arouse suspicion and lose its newsworthiness in the eyes of the journalist when they notice that the butcher is your client. Over-egged releases may require a substantial re-write. Too much hassle. Bin.

7 – Hi, Have You Got a Minute?

Deadline is Hell. It is not the time for a quick telephone chat, small talk or the conversation covered in point 1 (above). Treat deadline day like 999. Only call if it’s a life-threatening emergency.

8 – Total Recall

“Dear Journalist, please delete my earlier e-mail entitled ‘Farmer Buys 50 Sheep’ as this release contains a number of minor mistakes. Please find attached the amended release entitled ‘Farmer Sells 20 Cows’.” Retractions are embarrassing for you and can waste the journalist’s time. Get it right first time.

9 – Under Wraps

Your release about the Village Fete and the winner of the Leek-Growing Competition is unlikely to make the front page (depending on the size of said leek, naturally). Idiotic embargoes forbidding publication of your release until an arbitrary date will be met with consternation and confusion and will be subsequently deleted. If there is no solid and explainable reason to place an embargo, then don’t.

10 – Can’t We All Just Get Along?

It has been known for journalists to be nice, warm people, like you and me. They are doing their job and you’re doing yours. So don’t take anything personally, unless that’s how it’s intended to be taken. A certain amount of professional understanding and give and take will create a fruitful working relationship that benefits both PR professional and journalist.

posted in: advice, media relations,

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