16 ways reporters drive communicators nuts

Given that the Washington Post has accused PR folks of lobbing loogieballs, let’s hear what the press does to get your goat.

You know this breed of reporter.

They misspell your client’s name, go behind your back to schedule an interview for a story you pitched, skip an event after asking for a coveted ticket.

One TV reporter even marched into a company massage room after being told to stay out. Never mind the privacy of the employee whose aching back the masseuse was kneading.

We at Ragan.com have run stories warning communicators about things they do that risk angering the media. But how about the other side of the coin: What do reporters do to make you crazy?

The question is particularly relevant after Washington Post columnist Gene Weingarten—in a witty and incisive column that manages to mention poop, pee, sex, snotballs, loogieballs, and flack yourself in the first 80 words—offers this encouragement:

“To most of the media, communications from PR people are as welcome as mosquitoes at a hemophiliacs’ picnic. A PR pitch tends to be an enthusiastic description of a product or service that is so lame it actually needs the help of a PR professional. As pitches go, they’re particularly slimy—not like spitballs so much as snotballs. Loogieballs.”

Lucky thing reporters are so professional that they make up for all those loogieballs you communicators keep throwing. Still, we thought we’d air some of the beefs you have with your poor victims in the press:

Botching basic facts—such as the spelling of a client’s name.

If Weingarten is eager to annoy Jennifer Mirabile, assistant vice president of Young & Associates, he is advised to misspell names and bollix the facts, as reporters often do.

Similarly, journalists seeking to anger Skip King, president of Reputation Strategies, should fail to fact-check reports issued by groups with an ax to grind. This, he says, happened with a client targeted by a well-funded environmental activist group. Often the group would cherry-pick scientific reports to push conclusions not supported by the researchers themselves.

Speaking of errors, the head honcho at Michael Kleiner Public Relations and Web Site Design is confounded when a group holds an event at a location, and reporters write that the location, rather than the group, is sponsoring the event.

Blowing off scheduled interviews.

The same diva who burst into the massage room also decided she wanted to speak to only half of the six to eight people she had scheduled interviews for, says a PR pro who did not wish to be named.

Daniel Waldman, president of Evolve Communications, likewise offers a Bronx cheer to reporters who space out and skip interviews after the communicator schedules time with an executive.

(We’ve never done this! Honest! And we’re sorry for any inconvenience we caused.)

Telling you to email your pitch to a general in-box that starts info@ or news@.

“That is as good as saying, here’s the trash can, put it there,” says Paula Conway, president of Astonish Media Group.

He-said-she-said reporting.

Paul Nonnenmacher, director of public affairs at the Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority, dislikes “he-said-she-said reporting, in which assertions are given the same weight as facts in the name of balance.”

Fail to acknowledge pitches.

It’s one thing (or so we’d like to believe) to ignore pitches spammed to multitudes. But several of you, starting with Pekka Paavonpera of Burgess Advertising & Marketing, are annoyed by reporters who blow off tailored emails.

The reporter’s reply could be as brief as the word “pass,” says Marc Kruskol of MJK Public Relations. Besides, it’s in reporters’ interest to reply. David Thomson of Thomson Communications explains, “At least if they tell us they aren’t interested we can move on and not have to waste our time or theirs following up.”

(PR folks hoping to keep their blood pressure in check might consider granting an exception for Help a Reporter Out, which can choke a reporter’s in-box with scores of pitches.)

Going behind the PR person’s back.

Sure, the press doesn’t want to deal with the likes of you PR types. But often a journalist gets an email, then directly contacts the client, says Jeannie Clary of J. Clary Public Relations. The client turns around and asks you to schedule that interview, so the reporter isn’t streamlining things, anyway.

Worse yet is when a PR person learns that a pitch was successful through a Google alert when the story runs. Lindsay Durfee of PR/PR Public Relations says, “It’s infuriating to do the work to get the client interviewed, and then, because the reporter did a little Googling, be cut out of the process.”

Leaving out your client when they got the story idea from you.

There’s an unwritten rule that you include the client in such circumstances, particularly when making the PR person and client scramble to answer multiple questions, suggests Rob Wyse of WT Communications. He understands that the focus can change, but he is annoyed when the reporter doesn’t bother to call or email with an explanation after a time-consuming interview.

Shel Horowitz of Green & Profitable reminds the press, “It’s a two-way street, folks!”

Neglecting to show up.

Speaking of failing to call, Kristin Marquet, president of Marquet Communications, dislikes reporters who beg to go to an event—and then don’t show up.

“It throws off the entire guest list, and another reporter who wanted to attend the event doesn’t have the chance because there is limited space,” she says.

Not airing the video footage.

“The thing that drives this PR guy crazy is when TV news crews come out, shoot hours of footage, and then air none of it,” says CEO Scott Kelly of Black Dog Promotions.

Losing track of their in-boxes.

Beverly Solomon, creative director of musee-solomon hates it when scatterbrained reporters repeatedly email the same questions or request photos that were already sent. But she shrugs, “I agree with Andy Warhol—and I paraphrase—who cares what they write about you as long as you appear?”

A few other crazy-making behaviors by the Fourth Estate:

• Surliness with people who follow up with phone calls annoys Allison VanNest, director of public relations at GetHired.com.

• Using off-the-record remarks steams Lin A. Lacombe of from Passion to Publicity Public Relations, although “no one falls for this anymore.”

• John Rogers was floored when he scheduled a meeting at Starbucks to tell an education reporter about what Johnson & Wales University is up to, and an ad salesperson showed up instead.

• Printing false political boasts by the other guy’s candidate, as the head of Mark Grimm Communications says reporters have done to him. (Example: a claim not to have raised taxes.) Too often, he says, candidates take advantage of reporters’ ignorance of public finances.

• Threatening to put one’s “best guess” into an article when a client refuses to disclose private financial information (as is their right), says Bobbie Carlton of Carlton PR & Marketing.

• “Quote me and not my client,” Carlton says. “That goes over really well with the clients.”

Russell Working is a staff writer for Ragan.com.


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