3 obnoxious PR mistakes that drive reporters crazy

Want to address journalists’ most common complaints about PR pros? Here is a trio of the most annoying—and how to correct them.

A terrific way to undermine your career is to alienate the journalists you pitch.

Here are three common media relations mistakes that drive reporters crazy, along with easy fixes for each:

1. Never visiting a newsroom. Journalists frequently complain that PR pros pitching them don’t understand what it’s like in a newsroom. The result can be untargeted pitches, poorly timed follow-ups or worse.

“To truly understand how a newsroom works, how stories are developed, how some make the cut and others don’t, and how intense deadlines rule the day, one needs to experience it firsthand,” says Jennifer Stauss, a strategist at Bozell who worked in an Omaha TV newsroom before jumping to PR.

If you’re already in PR but lack this background, ask your local media contacts for an opportunity to shadow them awhile. If you have a fantastic intern who has no newsroom experience, help to secure and facilitate such an opportunity.

“That’s the situation at Bozell,” Stauss says. “Our PR intern is going to spend some time at our local ABC affiliate a couple of nights a week for several months. She’ll get to sit in on story meetings, work with assignment editors, go out on stories with reporters and see how the newscasts unfold.”

Register for PR Daily’s Nov. 17 webinar “Write Amazing Press Releases” for more tips from Bozell’s Jennifer Stauss, writing coach Ken O’ Quinn, and Jason Chupick, former head of PR at Hearst Media.

2. Relying on media databases. Another error that PR pros make is not doing their own research on journalists before pitching. “It’s an age-old problem,” Stauss says.

“The solution is studying what your target writes about and why,” she says. “Twitter is an easy starting point. Follow your top targets on Twitter and read the articles they tweet.”

If you use a media database program like Cision, “Use it only as a starting point to identify key journalists and to read their pitching preferences.” Stauss says. “Journalists move to different outlets and beats all the time.”

The implication is that many media databases aren’t as up to date as you might think. That’s why Stauss also advises conducting a “media audit” before you pitch.

“Call assignment editors to confirm that your key journalists are still with the same outlets, are covering the same topics and have the same contact information,” she says.

3. Abusing email. “One of the worst things a PR pro can do is believe in the ‘spray and pray’ method,” says Stauss. “Blasting a press release or media pitch via a distribution service and hoping something will ‘stick’ with ‘some’ reporter is lazy, sloppy and disrespectful.”

What’s more, she says, “Cluttering the inbox of a journalist with information that’s irrelevant to their beat or location can damage your professional reputation, as well as that of your client.”

Her advice is to delete “email blast” and “spray and pray” from your arsenal when it comes to media outreach. “The more you focus on quality of pitches over quantity of pitches, the better your results will be,” says Stauss.

Brian Pittman is a Ragan Communications consultant and webinar manager for PR Daily’s PR University. Bozell’s Jennifer Stauss, writing coach Ken O’ Quinn and Jason Chupick, former head of PR at Hearst Media, will share more tips in PR University’s Nov. 17 webinar, “Write Amazing Press Releases: New Ways to Get Your News in the News.”

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