Pitching to journalists can be pretty nerve-wracking, and with good reason. As a group they are known for having limited time reserves and, by association, patience.
With limited time, patience and resources, it’s hardly surprising that journalists get a bit snarky with PR professionals from time to time. In fact, the @SmugJourno Twitter profile gives a pretty good account of the sort of emails and other communication faux pas that are likely to annoy your erstwhile allies.
Anyway, before searching further across the internet, here are a few things that you should take note of if you don’t want to annoy the press:
This is important. This is the difference between talking to someone in a bar with an air of confidence, or drooling into your beer after nine or 10 pints. Making sure that your pitch and press release are grammatically correct at all times is of the utmost importance.
And it’s not just about having good grammar, either. Certain instances of punctuation – for example exclamation marks – are a big no-no. Nothing is that exciting. Ever. If you feel the need to use an exclamation mark, you’re doing it wrong. Read a news story, or five – did you find an exclamation mark? Exactly. They’re childish and unprofessional and journalists shouldn’t be able to find one in your press releases either.
Getting an email addressed to ‘Dear Reporter’, ‘Hey Guys’, or even just ‘Hello’ is lazy in the extreme. There is no faster track to the trash can or ‘rubbish press releases’ folder (trust me, they do exist – more on these later) than a lazily addressed press release. If you’re doing your own outreach, make sure to research the journalist you are reaching out to. Considering that the format of most email addresses is [email protected], getting the name wrong is practically criminal.
There is a fine line between being persistent – which you will need to be – and being outrageously annoying. The likelihood that you will have to send more than one email, or make more than one phone call, when pitching your news story or guest article, is high. However you should be careful to avoid being too keen to get your business splashed all over the media.
Sending emails that are passive aggressive are a big no-no. Writing to a journalist something like “So…are you not going to respond then?” isn’t going to win you any friends. Nobody likes a sore loser and no journalist likes a sore press release pitcher or PR team. To avoid ruffling journalists feathers, you could notify them of your intention to ‘follow up’ in the first email you send them. Something along the lines of ‘I know that you must be really busy at the moment, so I will follow up to this email one more time’, will cover your back from seeming pushy.
Tone may be a surprising one but it couldn’t be more accurate. Journalists know you aren’t their friends. They also know that you know they aren’t your friends. So, why lead in with a paragraph that pretends that you are? Sickly and simpering emails are a hallmark of traditional PR and press releases, and become a tedious part of a journalist’s daily routine.
This actually leads back to the earlier point about grammar, too. Using exclamation marks makes for an extremely enthusiastic press release – an overly enthusiastic press release – that is just tiring to read. Your tone should be for your target audience which in this case is a journalist, not the happy clappy demographic you are hoping to eventually reach. So, instead of having a headline that reads: “Amazing New Startup Revolutionizes with Groundbreaking Launch!” try something infinitely less inane, along the lines of “New Startup Announces Launch to Revolutionize Industry X.” Basically, stick to the facts, avoid exclamation marks and adjectives.
The immediate consequences of sending a dodgy press release are that it will be relegated immediately to the recipient’s trash can, or, in a worse case, a folder of dodgy press releases that can be wheeled out on a rainy day for general ridicule or published on pages such as @SmugJourno. This article from Buzzfeed is just one of many great – and hilarious – examples of how journalists like to rain incredulity (among other things) down on dodgy PR.
Of course, other eventualities can include blacklisting (i.e., moving your emails straight to the spam folder before they ever arrive in the inbox), or even telling other journalists that your PR strategy is a total waste of time, therefore making it harder for you to talk to journalists from across the media spectrum. Remember that there are thousands of pages dedicated to how poor customer service gets more lip service than good customer service – the same goes for PR outreach. Remember to stay professional and not too informal, and take the time to prepare concise messages which offer journalists the information that they really need, and you’ll be fine.