20 common PR habits that drive journalists bonkers

Public relations pros know better, but somehow these worst practices worm their way into the course of a workweek. So to review, here are peeves, taboos and no-nos to avoid at all costs.

Interacting with journalists is a lot like dating.

You have to play it cool, wait three days before you call (or better yet, call never) and stop the digital stalking.

From our journalist friends and acquaintances, we’ve heard it all from their pet peeves to their horror stories about PR professionals.

Here’s what not to do—in no particular order, as they’re all important:

  • Mass email your press release with no pitch or an impersonal pitch.
  • Get the journalist’s name wrong or misspell it.
  • Use Random Capitalization and other stupid writing mistakes. Unsurprisingly, most journalists are sticklers for grammar, punctuation and spelling.
  • Load up your email with attachments. If you can’t paste it in the body of the email, don’t send it.
  • Call to ask whether they got your mass emailed press release.
  • Email the same press release multiple times if you don’t get a response.
  • Send lengthy pitches, maundering rather than quickly saying why they should care.
  • Use loads of jargon.
  • Pitch them without ever reading any of their work.
  • Pitch a story they would never write.
  • Keep calling or emailing to follow up on a story. (If they’re interested, they’ll reply.)
  • Use tragic events to get a client’s product into a story.
  • Bombard them with texts, emails or calls to their personal accounts or phones.
  • Use journalists’ nicknames, signing off with something inappropriate or affectionate.
  • Pretend you know them at an event to initiate a conversation. (They know they’ve never met you before, and now they think you’re creepy.)
  • Invite them to an event, only to show them the same offering from the year before.
  • Take ages to respond to a question. Even if they’re writing for a long-lead publication, they still have deadlines.
  • Provide inaccurate information.
  • Set up an interview with an unprepared and/or rude client spokesperson.
  • Ask to review an article before it’s published. It’s one thing if they offer, but never

Shalon Roth is the founder of PR-it, a global community of communications experts delivering 24/7 on-demand work for agencies and curated project teams for brands. She’s also co-authored How to Succeed in a PR Agency: Real Talk to Grow Your Career & Become Indispensable (Routledge 2019). A version of this post first appeared on the PR-it blog.

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2 Responses to “20 common PR habits that drive journalists bonkers”

    Charles Hartley says:


    Thanks for posting this. Certainly many of your ideas ring true. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in researching this topic in recent weeks is that reporters want PR professionals to read what they write about before pitching them. It may seem obvious and this has been true for years. But they really are adamant about this and more demanding than ever that PR pros do this before pitching.

    Also, reporters still like news releases and believe in their accuracy, which in this age of “fake news” has become extremely important for reporters. It used to be they cared a whole lot about being the first to post a story and the accuracy was somewhat secondary. They could fix the errors later. But this has changed. Publishing accurate stories has risen to the top of reporters’ agendas. So PR people must provide accurate information to build good relationships. This has been true for years but it’s even more important now.

    Katherine says:

    All great tips… I’d love to turn this around and have it posted to a website that freelance writers read. Are you wanting help + something free from me, the PR person, to write a news story?

    1. Don’t BCC mass email me and a bunch of other similar companies with an impersonal pitch. Be very specific, otherwise it looks like you’re just trying to get free stuff and are lazy.
    2. Don’t get my name wrong.
    3. Don’t write poorly. I don’t want a story written about my company that is full of errors.
    4. Don’t pitch me without getting to know my company. It’s obvious when you haven’t dug into our website or read other articles about us or checked out our social media.
    5. Don’t suggest stories that are obviously way out of alignment with our business. I’m all for a creative angle, but not if you are blatantly clueless.
    6. Don’t call me every 5 minutes, especially if your pitch was generic and lacked a deadline. Don’t text me or harass me outside of business hours if we have never met. Don’t track down personal phone numbers to harass my colleagues in other departments who can’t help you and probably aren’t allowed to talk to you on their own. That doesn’t leave a good taste in any of our mouths.
    7. Don’t think that because you worked with my predecessor one time 8 years ago that you and I are pals and you don’t have to make an effort to pitch me.
    8. Don’t suddenly disappear for a few weeks in the middle of an email conversation. Don’t ignore the questions I ask when you respond. I’m trying to help you, but I can’t (and won’t) if you’re demanding AND non-specific.

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