5 Actions that Can Sour Media Relationships

Reporters, editors and producers need information from businesses and PR professionals to support print, video and audio content. However, businesses and PR specialists should try like heck to avoid errors in judgment that might negatively impact media relationships.

No business owner or PR professional I know deliberately sets out to irritate publishers, producers, editors or reporters.

But the operative word here is “deliberately.” Sometimes mistakes happen, due to unawareness, inexperience or simply just not knowing.

When it comes to dealing with the media, common sense, patience and politeness go a long way. Furthermore, it’s a good idea to avoid five specific actions, which could sour relationships with reporters, editors and producers.

Before we continue, your question might be: “What makes you, Amy Sorter, an expert on this topic?” Well, other than being the Content Goddess (okay, too strong), I’ve spent many years as both a journalist and a PR/advertising copywriter. As such, I have experience on both sides of the fence; experience I’ve been happy to share with many businesses and PR sources, whom (I think) have been grateful for the advice.

Now I’m sharing the “things to avoid when building media relationships” with you.

This one is first, because it allows me to introduce my pet, Peeve.

With the “send all,” a business owner or public relations professional acquires a list of media names, slaps together a press release, merges the names in an e-mail format and -- wait for it -- hits “send all.”

I’m guessing that the reason for this is volume. In other words, it gets as many releases out to as many media outlets as possible. The idea behind the “send all” is that for every five editors and six reporters who couldn’t care less about Fancy Fashington’s newest book on the latest fashion trends about pink ribbons (because it doesn’t fit with their topic list or audience), there will be one who gobbles it up -- maybe.

The problem with this approach is the PR person or business owner has now ensured that 10 reporters or editors will likely “block” his/her future e-mails. So, if this individual does have interesting, topic-specific, relevant pitches in the future, the 10 reporters and editors won’t receive them.

Additionally, the “send all” frankly baffles me. Yes, back in the day, researching media was a hassle. Examining publications, for example, required a trip to the local library to take a look at the “Directory of Periodicals.” This was a massive, dark-green tome, containing the names of, and information about, thousands of magazines, newspapers and journals in the United States.

But things are so much easier now. Thanks to the internet, anyone can look up any media outlet, and get an idea of its preferred content, targeted audience and specific editorial/production contact. As such, the “send all” is sloppy, lazy PR.

Roll over, Peeve.

The Takeaway. Research media before sending press releases, story pitches or other material, to be sure your information aligns with what that outlet publishes or produces. Researching also helps you find the correct contact for your pitches.

I’ve been fortunate in that I haven’t had many, if any, rude follow-ups from the businesses and PR folks I’ve worked with. From the bottom of my heart, I thank you.

I do, however, talk with my journalism friends from time to time. In those discussions, follow-up horror stories abound, ranging from complaints that pitches haven’t immediately been snapped up, to grumbles that a particular source was ignored. Then there are the follow-ups complaining that a particular source wasn’t “featured” enough in an article.

And, here’s one I recently read about. A PR professional lambasted a journalist over an unopened e-mail. It seemed as though this professional was able to track who opened the e-mails she sent. Upon the failure of one journalist to click “open,” the PR person called him on it. That struck me as pretty creepy, in addition to being unbelievably rude.

At any rate, the rude follow-up baffles me, much like the “send all” does. Certainly, it’s frustrating when a media contact doesn’t respond to a beautifully crafted pitch. And, I admit it -- media sources can be an ornery lot. But what should be taken into account is that reporters, producers and editors deal with a lot of e-mails on a daily basis.

As such, they might not see your pitch or release. Or, they might see it, and decide they don’t want to do anything with it. Or, they might be interested, but haven't had time to get back to you.

In such situations, following up is fine, as long as the media contact is okay with it. Rudeness, however, could ensure that any future pitches, press releases or follow-ups will be ignored. And, under the “never let it be said that I’m overly biased” category, reporters and editors should also not be rude when responding to a polite request from a PR professional or business owner.

The Takeaway. Not to go all Emily Post here or anything, but it’s a good idea to shelve irritation or annoyance when following up on a pitch or release. The Golden Rule is a good idea here: Treat others as you, yourself, would like to be treated.

Ah, Peeve is back for this one, for this very reason

A journalist receives a press release or pitch, introducing an expert source on a particular topic. The journalist might be writing or producing something related to that topic, and jumps on that pitch and promised source, with a prayer of thanks. The journalist reaches out to the PR professional (or business owner) who authored the pitch, requesting an interview.

And . . . nothing happens. The source is gone, nowhere to be found.

I think you can predict the response. At best, the PR professional’s/business owner’s street cred with the journalist goes into a steep dive. At worst, the PR professional or business owner can forget about sending any more pitches -- or expert source suggestions -- to that journalist.

Now, it is absolute truth that deadlines can be insane. Trying to pinpoint a source at 2 p.m. with a looming 5 p.m. deadline is very difficult. Most journalists understand this (which is why, if they are good at their jobs, they will reach out to several sources).

The frustration kicks in when the deadline is NOT imminent, and the introduced, guaranteed, willing-to-talk source is nowhere to be found, or is unavailable. Doubling that frustration is the failure of the PR person or business owner to keep the reporter, editor or producer informed as to the source’s status.

The Takeaway. If you are going to the trouble of introducing an expert source to the media, please be sure he or she is available for interviews in a timely fashion.

Okay, Peeve is going to lie down for a bit, because I’ve written for public relations firms.

I know that the tone of press releases and announcements is often driven by THEIR clients. Those clients can sometimes be in love with overly enthusiastic introductory paragraphs, about the wonderful companies they are and the great things they do.

And, these companies might really be terrific and might really do great things. This is not to discount any of that. But, burying a pitch in the fifth paragraph, because a client needs to extol its virtues in paragraphs one through four, could lead your media contact to delete a release without reading past that pat-on-the-back intro.

A good pitch focuses on who, what, where, why, when -- and when appropriate, how. These should be as high up in the release as possible.

If you are a business owner attempting to work with the media, this will be easier, than if you are a PR specialist representing a client. If you belong to the latter group, one possibility is to ask your client if it's okay to place the actual pitch higher up in a release, with more descriptive information following.

The Takeaway. When possible, ensure that the main pitch or story idea is in your first paragraph, so it grabs the attention of your media contact.

Most editors and reporters are amenable to pitches. They kind of have to be. If the story ideas are good, and align with what they are publishing or producing, it makes their jobs so much easier.

But when pitching a story or sending a release, please stay away from these words: “your readers will be interested in . . .” or “your viewers would like to know about . . .”


Because it smacks of condescension.

Let me put it this way.

Reporters, editors or producers who are familiar with their beats already know what readers/viewers/listeners want to read, see or hear. After all, they create content for their audiences on a monthly, weekly, daily, or at times, even an hourly basis. The last thing they need is for someone, who is not immersed in their beat, to come along and loftily inform them that a particular story idea will attract amazing audience interest.

It might. Or it might not. The point here is that the media contact is more than qualified to determine if a pitch or story idea is of interest to an audience. As such, it’s far better to let your pitch stand on its own merit, and trust that the media contact will be able to tell if that idea will fly with readers, viewers and listeners. There is no need to tell the contact that an audience will be interested in a pitch. That contact already knows whether it will be. Or not.

The Takeaway. Don’t demean media contacts by informing them that your pitch will be eagerly lapped up by readers, viewers or listeners. Instead, research the media outlet and be sure the pitch is aligned with what is published or produced.

And, the overall takeaway . . .

The best way to avoid making mistakes with the media is to think like a reporter, editor or producer. When putting together pitches or releases, be sure to research your media outlets for the right contacts, and use common sense in your approach and follow up. Doing so can help ensure your pitch will be read, considered and potentially acted upon.

Down, Peeve. Heel.

The WordSorters can help with press releases and announcements, and can provide insights on media. For a no-obligation consultation, email or call 214-536-5457.

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