A few weeks ago I saw a Muck Rack story about the ratio of PR pros to journalists.
Apparently, there are 4.6 of you for every one of me, and yet most of the time, I can’t get a call back from a communications person to save my life.
I am a newspaper reporter who covers county government, but my paper is fairly loose with beat restrictions, so I also write about a lot of random things that interest me (recent examples: the plight of the public-health dentist, employee retention rates in law enforcement).
Writing outside of my beat requires that I spend a healthy chunk of my daily reporting life reaching out to PR pros, the vast – vast – majority of whom refuse to communicate with me.
It happens often enough that I cringe when I have to contact a rep I don’t know, because it almost always results in me sitting at my desk moaning, “But I’m a nice person!” while staring at the phone and hitting refresh on my inbox. (You may notice those two stories above do not quote a representative from a state or national agency. This is not for lack of trying.)
There’s a sense among journalists that PR professionals are paid a lot to do very little, and every unanswered phone call I make does little to fight that perception.
1. No response at all. When I reach out, I both email and call. I typically get routed through a communications office, where someone (an intern, probably) promises to connect me to the right person. Ninety-nine percent of the time, that means voicemail. In every message, I include my name, the name of my publication, what I’m working on, the information I need help finding, my deadline, my phone number, and my email address. Seemingly, this disappears into a void, because the most common response is no response at all.
2. A quick reply asking for more information, followed by no response. The PR rep gets back to me within an hour, asking for a clarification or more details. I am so excited to hear from her! I am forthcoming with what I need and my deadline! She promises to touch base soon…and then I never hear from her again, despite follow-up attempts on my end. This is why reporters have trust issues, y’all.
3. A response…after my deadline. I put that deadline right in my information request. Why do you torment me? (Bonus points if you contact me after the article comes out to ask why your information isn’t there. Come. On.)
4. A return phone call...from someone who can’t help. If I call asking for information about the national nurse shortage, connecting me with a medical office manager who can’t stay on topic is not helpful. (This is not a made-up anecdote.)
5. A timely and helpful response that either provides me with the information I need or puts me in touch with someone who can. As rare as good gas-station coffee or, I don’t know, a unicorn.
There are in-betweens, of course. Sometimes you just can’t help or you can’t meet my deadline, and that’s fine, but please just let me know. Sometimes I can move my deadline to accommodate you. At the very least, I won’t place you on my blacklist, and there’s a chance we could work together in the future.
And there are good PR pros. But in my experience – and the experience of any colleague I’ve ever asked – they’re rare. This should serve as incentive to be one of them, because once I find a responsive PIO, I stay in touch. I take your pitches seriously. And I’m motivated to write about your company more often, because I know it won’t make me want to bash my head against a wall in frustration.
Kate Elizabeth Queram is a North Carolina-based newspaper reporter. It makes her sad when you don’t return her phone calls.
Photo: Happy woman on phone via Shutterstock