What do journalists do that annoy PRs?

New year, new collection of ‘things PRs do that annoy journalists’ lists circulating on Twitter. It’s not that I don’t think that they (sometimes) share valuable tips, or that I don’t recognize that PR people can be a bit annoying, it’s just the debate does seem a little bit one-sided. So, in recognition of the symbiotic journalist-PR person relationship, here’s a very rarely seen list of ‘things journalists do that annoy people in PR’ (based on a highly unscientific survey of me and some people I know). It of course comes with the usual massive caveats that most journalists are very pleasant professionals – but then most PR people aren’t guilty of the horror stories you see circulated either…..

- Generally, manners cost nothing. We know journalists are busy and important. We know we sometimes call with something you’re not interested in or at a bad time (though we really do try our best to avoid it). But there’s no excuse for being really rude. There are a lot of truly busy and important journalists out there who never behave like that.

- That said, being nice just to spare our feelings is also not necessarily a good thing. PR people are optimists – if a journalist tells us they’re interested in our story or going to run it, we believe you. Often we tell our clients. Honesty is usually the best policy – PRs are fairly hard to offend (largely thanks to point 1) and it will also mean that we send stuff more suited next time. The same principle works for accepting event invites, then not turning up – especially if it’s a charity event, or something that has cost the client money.

- Getting client’s names or organizations wrong happens surprisingly often, given that you can pretty much guarantee they were in the correct form in the original press release or email. I have some clients, with not especially complex names, where I’d say there’s only a 50/50 chance of it being right, even when we especially point it out beforehand. That said, everyone makes mistakes, but being helpful, rather than bad tempered, when asked to use the accurate version is generally considered good form.

- We know deadlines can be tight. But when a journalist comes to us at no notice, with a massive list of very specific things they need, it is nice to least appreciate that we might not be able to get you them all. If we can’t find a filming venue in a 3 mile radius of a studio in the next 25 minutes (when we never said we could in the first place), it’s not really fair to blame us. Also, unclear and vague requests can waste a lot of time – if there’s one thing that can be said about PRs, they’re always happy to chat to journalists who aren’t quite sure what they want, so try giving us the chance to work out what’s possible with you.

- And, probably the top one – breaking embargoes. Especially when there’s no real argument for it, or someone just forgot. The thing about trust-based systems is both sides need to stick to them. Embargoes can be a useful tool for both parties, and I’d hate to see the principle undermined.

Very open to your thoughts on this – there’s nothing healthier than a bit of debate….And happy symbiotic working in 2013!

  • Penny Smits

    Lorna, as a former Journo, turned PR, I love this list! Oh, to see things from the other side of the fence :)

  • Lorna Gozzard

    Thanks Penny – am relieved to hear that and will take it as high praise! I’m sure a bit of seeing things from both sides of the fence would do us all the world of good….

  • Chris Dixon

    We’re always happy to get a decent tale sent in. But in my 17 years in journalism, I can say 99 per cent of releases that come from PRs have little or no relevance to the newspapers I’ve worked on.

    A large number have statistical data in them for other geographical areas. Journalists should not be rude to a PR – but they consider it indirect rudeness when the person in question has done very little research on the title they want to send a release to. Not tailoring part of a release to a specific title is a crime.

    And as for embargoes, do PRs really look at the deadlines for the intended publication they are sending the release to? In my experience, releases are sent out far too often with a ‘one size fits all’ approach. A weekly publication will rightly not use a release embargoed until the day after it prints, especially when it gives a daily or rival weekly title the ability to print the story first. Think – is an embargo really necessary, or is it really worth antagonizing a title?

    We can’t exist without each other, and I think this is a great forum for us to understand better each others’ needs.

    Bring on the honesty!

    • Lorna Gozzard

      I’m certainly not saying the relationship is always perfect from both sides, and it’s obviously disappointing that’s your experience – I was just trying to redress the balance a little, as most of the stuff out there tends to focus on journalist feedback. As you say, both sides need each other, so it’s good to get a debate going – thanks for the comment!

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  • Mark Parry

    Totally agree with these Lorna, and yes as a PRO I can admit that there are faults on both sides. The big one for me is journalists getting annoyed when PROs can’t / don’t want to provide case studies / interviewees at the last minute. The publication / angle / audience might not meet the organisation’s media objectives. They don’t have to take part. Here are some more:

    Journalists:

    Showing up at interviews without researching the story. 
    Asking for a statement with zero deadline, getting it and then not using it. 
    Putting a negative spin on a story that was intended to be positive.

    Press Officers:

    Asking to approve copy.
    Sending a press release and then not answering the phone 10 minutes later / not providing contact details at all. 
    Attaching press releases to emails as a PDF and not even mentioning what it’s about in the body of the email.
    Agreeing to meet a deadline and then not. 
    Following up a press release with a phone call 10 minutes later asking if the journalist has received it and if they are going to use it. Come on, would you like that phone call!? 

    That’s enough!! I agree with Chris Dixon’s comment as well. We need each other, so let’s be honest and make things better on both sides. 

    • Lorna Gozzard

      Thanks Mark – great contribution to the debate!

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