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Six ways to annoy a journalist – without really trying

18/03/2021

We are very lucky that our head of tech content Sandra Vogel is also a working journalist, as it helps keep all us PRs on our toes. Here she shares some journalist pet hates – forewarned is forearmed.

PRs try their hardest to achieve success with every pitch. Journalists spend significant parts of their day reading pitches, and working out what is and is not useful to follow up.

For both parties it can be a bit of a battlefield. For the journalist there’s never enough time to triage an inbox. For the PR there are never enough successful placements of a pitch.

There are ways PRs can up their pitching game – and perhaps the first place to look for clues on strategy is identifying things that annoy journalists so that these can be avoided.

Here are six things that can annoy a journalist – and obviously enough, they are six things a PR might want to avoid.

1) Bombarding

One email is enough. If you’re going to send a follow-up, wait a while. Wait a couple of days. Sending a follow-up within hours is not going to win you brownie points. If several PRs are working on an account, make sure only one of them sends email to a particular journalist. Journalists don’t want or need to receive multiple copies of the same email from different people.

As for follow-up calls, tread carefully. “Did you get our email about….” is not a good way to go. If you sent it, the journalist got it. If you are going to follow up do so with more information, a new snippet of interest. Don’t give the task to a junior who may know neither the journalist not the subject matter. Follow-up calls are part of your journalist relationship building. Use them rarely, use them wisely.

2) Inappropriate addressing

I don’t want to receive emails that start “Hi, Vogel”, “Hi [name]”, “Hi Andrew”, or anything else that’s not, “Hi Sandra”. But I do receive them. Even though I know this isn’t personal, it annoys. For some journalists it will result in immediate hitting of the Delete key, before the main point of the email has been reached.

3) Media database errors

If you’re taking the personal approach and set aside time to check a journalist out and reference their work, then make sure you get it right. I’ve had emails that start something like “I really enjoy your work at [website], and I wanted to run an idea by you”. OK. But if I’ve never worked at [website] alarm bells ring.

This can cause a journalist to decide in a split second that whatever comes next it’s not relevant to them, and spark another quick reach for the Delete key before any further words are read.

4) Spelling mistooks and word-related offences

Journalists are writers. I know, talk about stating the obvious. But the point is that they are therefore highly attuned to spelling, grammar, and other word-related matters. Emails and pitches that have not been through a spell checker, or those where the grammar and syntax is poor, won’t get much traction. Not everyone is a super-wordsmith. But nobody that can’t write a proper sentence or pay attention to a spellchecker should be let loose on journalist emails.

5) Errors in accompanying documents

Accompanying documents include things like press releases and report summaries. In late February I received a 2021 press releases dated 2020. Seven weeks into the new year. Oh how the PR and I laughed. I’ve also had press releases and report summaries with tracked changes left in them. These can be amusing and informative, but sometimes the tracked changes can be a bit near the knuckle and embarrassing for the PR and their client. The PRs don’t laugh quite as much then. I am afraid an email request to “please delete without reading” is sent more in hope than expectation.

6) Jargon and weasel words

Any pitch that claims what’s on offer is “unique”, “groundbreaking” or “game-changing” gives itself a lot to live up to. Usually it can’t meet the highfalutin claims, and a journalist will not need long to confirm that. Tread carefully about what you claim in a pitch. The watchword here is to show not tell.

Related to this point is the overuse of a range of words that just set journalists’ teeth on edge. Here are a few: showcase, synergy, disruptive, next-generation, revolutionary, innovative, DNA, passionate.

It might be hard to avoid using words like these, but many journalists just find them lazy ways of expressing your ideas. Avoid.

It’s not too difficult to find out what irks journalists. Just ask a few of those your own agency values and respects the most and you’ll get a good strong list of annoyances. That’s step one. Step two is doing something with what you’ve learned. Onwards!

 

 

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