How to lose a journalist in 10 ways

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Pure Public Relations founder Phoebe Netto. Source: supplied.

The relationship between PRs (or business owners doing their own PR) and journalists is a notoriously delicate one to balance. But no matter what story you’re trying to pitch, it’s important to keep in a journalist’s good books — even if they’re the ones wearing the cranky pants. 

And while sweet talking a journo might seem like a lot of work, it’s actually pretty simple. In essence: don’t be annoying.

Here are the 10 ways PRs tend to rub journos up the wrong way, and how to avoid falling into the trap of doing them yourself. After all, you don’t want to be that person.

1. Send them irrelevant pitches

Imagine a journalist’s inbox filled with ideas they can’t use or things they can’t write or talk about because it doesn’t fit the program or publication. Who knew skimming and deleting hundreds of emails a day could be so exhausting?

The editor of an interiors publication might be interested in houses — design, furnishings, interior designers, home transformations — but they are not interested in closure rates from local real estate markets.

Sure, the common theme is houses, but if you did your homework, you’d see market closure rates aren’t covered in this publication. And they are a national publication, so local figures are irrelevant. You’re wasting their time — and yours.

Instead, establish relevance first, then send.

2. Hound them about pitches they’ve already rejected

It’s standard practice to follow up about a pitch if you haven’t heard back about it (in case it has gone astray) but it’s very bad form to hound a media professional about a pitch they’ve already rejected.

This often occurs when an organisation thinks it has the best idea ever and the journalist just can’t see it and needs convincing. ‘After all, what would they know about what interests their readers?’

Don’t do it, it’s harassment.

Instead, try another outlet or pitch something else.

3. Send them huge email attachments

High-resolution images should be part of every organisation’s media kit but sending everything in one hefty unsolicited email is a no-no. Even if the media professional has asked for hi-res images or video to accompany a story they’ve decided to run, don’t send the 20MB version via email and clog their inbox.

Instead, if it’s for web, send a smaller version. Alternatively, send large files as a link, so they can download them easily.

4. Send them un-newsworthy media releases

Many organisations use media releases to talk about themselves without considering what’s notable about the information they’re releasing.

So you’ve hired a new chief financial officer. Who cares?

It’s not the media’s job to come up with interesting stories about your business, so make sure what you’re releasing is newsworthy.

Too many media releases read like advertisements or dating ads, and journalists don’t have the time to research your business and come up with something that makes an interesting news story for you.

Instead, apply the ‘why is this interesting or important to people outside my organisation?’ test.

5. Send them incomplete pitches

You’ve excitedly pitched them your organisation and your products or services. And that’s it — no angle, no hook, no juicy piece of information that would spark a good idea for a story.

Or you’ve sold them on your angle, but you have no photos, recent statistics, b-roll (video footage), independent experts, case studies, or additional interview opportunities to package up a well-written story. They’re just going to have to scramble around for those extra components themselves (which they don’t have the time to do).


Make it easy for media outlets to choose you. Offer any supporting material to outlets and have these ready alongside your pitch.

6. Miss their deadlines

So the outlet is interested in you and wants you to write an article for them or confirm you for an interview. Missing a deadline, playing hard to get, or cancelling at short notice is not coy, it’s annoying. In the end, the outlet is going to opt for someone easier to work with and more reliable — your loss, not theirs.

Instead, bend over backwards to accommodate them. If you really must cancel, for example, due to a medical emergency, offer an alternative solution such as a different person to interview from your organisation.

A gift to say sorry never goes astray.

7. Call them by a pet name

Calling them ‘hun’, ‘sweetie’ or assuming a nickname is not going to make you endearing. At best, it’s unprofessional, at worst, it’ll grate the recipient enough that you’ll be made persona non grata forever.

If their name is Joanna, don’t call them ‘Jo’, assuming they’ll be your best friend and therefore give you media coverage.

Instead, use their full professional name (hint: bylines and credits will reveal all) unless they indicate another version is all right, for example, a shortened version when they sign off on an email.

8. Ask to check their work

Isn’t it wonderful when a professional paid to be good at writing or producing has someone like you — who doesn’t work in the media — offer to check their work before it’s published or goes to air? No.

No one likes to be micromanaged, especially by those outside the industry.

Your job is to provide good content that doesn’t leave room for misinterpretation. Their job is to produce good work, which might include your content.

Instead, have faith in the professionals, and don’t offend them.

9. Give an interview that has nothing quotable

I’m not saying every sentence should be a soundbite, but avoid long-winded answers with no substance, confusing explanations, and wishy-washy statements. If your goal is to frustrate media and get in their bad books, you should do what Donald Trump does: “I’ll probably will do it, maybe definitely.”

This frustrates media professionals because it makes it hard to extract anything useful from an interview. They’ll turn to someone who can make things easy for them.

Instead, practice forming complete, coherent, succinct sentences that easily translate into interesting quotes.

10. Exaggerate

It’s borderline lying, isn’t it? And we all know media professionals have heaps time to sift through layers of puffery to find the truth.

Instead, support any claims with evidence where possible, and make it easy for media to use you as an informed, accurate, source.

NOW READ: Why a video news release needs to be part of your PR strategy

NOW READ: “Our actions define us”: Five things to avoid when responding to a crisis


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3 years ago

Better yet – ignore them.Whatever you say, they will get wrong anyway.

3 years ago

I’m pleased to read as a publicist, I don’t do any of the things you’ve mentioned! 🙂 It may be because I did do a journalism degree first and then did some freelance work in journalism, before finding out there were many more jobs in PR and communications – and better pay too.

The only thing I disagree with, is that while I understand it’s annoying to be asked for your work to be check – journalists fuck up all the time and once a mistake is made, ‘corrections’ do nothing really. I remember a case where a journalist said my client was the CEO of the company but was really a manager, luckily it was online and could be quickly corrected. I remember another time when a journalist wrote that Grill’d had three vegan burgers on its menu, when in fact it was three vegetarian burgers NOT vegan ones – this one was in print so there was no point in asking for a correction. Yes, they are small things – but a reader should expect that a journalist gets basic facts correct.

I don’t think journalists should be so defensive when a publicist is asking to see the work in advance for fact checking – of course, the work should not be changed or a quote taken out unless it’s inaccurate or it wasn’t actually said – but basic getting your facts right is surely something all journalists ultimately want to achieve.

If journalists would be open to sending a PDF in advance, making it very clear only inaccuracies will be changed and then with a deadline for any corrections, there would be a lot less mistakes made in the media.

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