PR Tips From
a National Journalist

An accomplished national print journalist, aka Journalist X, shared some PR tips with me during a long conversation last week. In honest detail she told me about her pet peeves regarding PR professionals (in-house and agency) and offered suggestions for what they should do (and not do) to get better results. Journalist X also noted that her opinions are hardly unique -- that many journalists share them -- and that they talk to one another and are more than willing to share the names of PR pros who are especially difficult to deal with.

I realize that for many of you the advice Journalist X gave me is nothing new. However, I think her comments and recommendations are worth sharing anyway because they are good reminders of what we should be doing. Also, for some of you, her PR tips may help you avoid ending up on a journalist’s “black list” for bad behavior.

Here is what Journalist X shared with me:

•  Never contact a reporter unless you are absolutely sure that what you are pitching is something he or she might actually be interested in. For example, Journalist X bemoaned the fact that although she has been writing business and career stories for major publications for years and has written books on these subjects as well, some PR pros frequently send her repeated pitches relating to fashion, beauty and travel. In fact one of those pros was so persistent and aggressive with her inappropriate pitches that the journalist got fed up, called her and told her not to contact her again. Ouch!

In the Internet age, it’s easy enough to determine who covers what. Googling a reporter’s name is usually all it takes.

Take the time to craft a pitch that speaks directly to a particular reporter. According to Journalist X, "It’s pretty obvious when I've received a generic pitch that someone sent to a hundred other journalists; it's a turnoff."

Yes, it takes a lot more time to write a series of unique pitches, but it will also force you to try to get into the mind of the journalist you want attention from and identify something unique you can offer him or her. 

Take “No” for an answer. Accept it if a journalist tells you, “Thanks, but no thanks; I am not interested.” Don’t keep pushing. As Journalist X pointed out, such behavior will backfire on you sooner or later.

• Another PR tip Journalist X shared with me is one I think a lot of us could take to heart given how totally focused we can be on getting the media attention we want for a client or our business  -- often to a fault: Turn your relationships with reporters into two-way streets. She explained that she is barraged on a daily basis by PR pros who want something from her, and that they rarely if ever offer her something. Therefore, she suggests that if you want attention from a particular journalist, you work on building a mutually-beneficial relationship with that person. For example, send the journalist something you think he or she would find of interest, with no expectation of getting any immediate return other than a thanks. That “something” might be the results of a survey you just completed; information about a new trend you’ve identified that has not been picked up by the media; a preview of a book you just wrote that’s not been published yet; or something else relating to the journalist’s beat.

Journalist X also suggested letting a journalist know that you or your client are happy to be a resource for him or her (no strings attached). Become the expert journalist calls when he or she is trying to understand an issue related to your area of expertise, or when the journalist is looking for people to interview for a story. Journalists appreciate experts who are willing to help them out and will reward those individuals with media attention when it’s appropriate.

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