Five ways to wind up a journalist

I feel their frustration at a seemingly never ending stream of people that either claim to “be in PR” or who have decided that without thought or training, they’re going to give PR a go because “how hard can it be?” And the results can be pretty counterproductive.

In fairness PR isn’t rocket science, however, not only does it require common courtesy, grammar and the illusive ‘common sense’, it also needs planning and an attempt to understand the aims and objectives of the journalist. Ignore this at your company’s peril! But why does this matter?

Well, you could be the author of one of the press releases that gets circulated to me from journalists, with an email that says something like ‘Is this the worse press release you’ve ever seen?’ or #cr*pPRs. But it could be worse, you could enjoy a good name and shaming or just get told what for.

So to help you – and the journalist – avoid these unnecessary incidents, here are the five most popular frustrations I hear about. If you’re doing any of these, you’re well on your way to winding a journalist up, and that’s not good.

Phoning a journalist when they’re on deadline: How do you know they are? Well, most media outlets have regular deadlines and the run up to these is not a good time to call. However, if you don’t know, ask. Simple really but I can’t tell you how many times journalists have told me they have never been asked that before. It seems people have a tendency to phone up and plough on with what they want to say, regardless of any response on the other end.

  1. Grammatical errors: If you don’t know the difference between your and you’re or except and accept – should you really be writing to a journalist?
  2. There’s no news in your press release: You’ve crafted a press release that doesn’t even constitute news. Be realistic and make sure that what you’ve got to say is actually news relevant to that particular media outlet’s target audience.
  3. Too few facts: If you’re telling the media about an event, don’t forget the time, date, location, reason, attendees etc – the who, what, why, when, where and how. If you’re quoting people don’t forget the job title and company (or the name) and if you’re writing a bylined article, don’t forget to include your company (and name) at the beginning – you’d be amazed what gets forgotten! And if the journalist can’t trust you to include these simple facts, why would they trust you to provide anything else?
  4. Asking a journalist if they’ve run your story: Buy the magazine, set up a Google alert or listen or watch the item. Why make a journalist’s job harder? They won’t thank you for it.

And just because I know these things now, it doesn’t mean I’ve always known them. I remember in my early 20s I was phoning round a media list on auto pilot and at 4.15pm I called the regional TV’s newsdesk. The journalist’s response to whether or not they might be interested in a future event finished with the word “Off!”

They were of course getting ready for the 6pm regional news programme and if that was me under pressure on a bad day, I might have been tempted to tell me to “Off!” too. But I’ve never forgotten and for the last two decades I’ve always checked the time before I pick up the phone.


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