PR pros vs. journalists: pet peeve showdown
Journalists love to give PR professionals grief online, calling them out for one perceived "wrong" after another.
Who can blame them? PR folks have a bit of a reputation for being thorns in journalists' sides, from sending poorly-targeted pitches to being perpetual nags.
I'd know. I've worked on both sides of this fence.
I used to work in nonprofit PR, then ran my own PR consultancy, and I still consult on a limited basis. I've also worked as a freelance writer for around 17 years and have been blogging for 12 years. As a result, I'm slammed with a near-daily bombardment of PR pitches.
Believe me. I get it. PR people can be a downright headache. Even as one of them, I've not been shy about calling them out for it over the years.
Still, when I read a recent post here at Muck Rack, where Samantha Rea shared some of her pet peeves about PR professionals, my defensive instinct kicked in. It's not that anything she shared was inaccurate or unfair. Plenty of journalists and bloggers, including me, have had similar experiences.
The thing is, we often only hear one side of the story. It's usually journalists criticizing PR outreach.
The truth, however, is journalists and bloggers aren't always little rays of sunshine to work with. They can cause just as many problems for (professional and well-meaning) PR folks. So I opened my big mouth on Twitter, as I'm wont to do, to say as much.
When asked to chime in to talk about that different perspective here, I quickly realized how boring it would be to simply share my own horror stories. Instead, I reached out to my network.
Rather than only ask PR professionals to weigh in on their pet peeves about journalists, I brought in folks on both sides. Here's what they had to say.
How PR Pros are Getting Media Relations Wrong
"I'm open to publicists suggesting story angles or ideas, but loathe it when they try to impose their agenda onto my article. Instead of accepting that her network would be included in a feature story with other networks, one publicist tried to push for a broader story about her network's latest promotion. Upon hearing that, my editor told me not to use them at all. Being too pushy can backfire."
Some PR reps take an entitled approach when vetting media requests, trying to weed out media outlets they feel they, or their clients, are "too good for." While it's understandable larger clients have time constraints, many aren't in a position where they should turn down coverage. Yet this can happen when clients or members of their PR team fail to see the value in exposure in smaller outlets.
"I have had PRs refuse to help until they knew the circulation details of the publication I was writing for and, while I understand they want to focus their efforts on big returns, this was a small charity that could really have benefited from the increased public awareness."
Lori Widmer (@LoriWidmer) is the owner of LDW Publishing and a freelance writer and editor working with trade publications covering risk management and the insurance industry. She doesn't appreciate it when PR reps overstep their bounds and insist on reviewing copy before publication:
"One PR guy said at the close of an interview, 'Send the article for our review.' When I said we didn’t do that, he said 'Just send it over once it’s completed' as though repeating it changed anything. When he realized I wasn’t, he went to my boss and my publisher threatening to pull advertising."
Bloggers are increasingly the target of "influencer marketing" campaigns. So I reached out to freelance writer and prominent blogger, Kristi Hines (@kikolani), who weighed in with an example of a lazy, sloppy pitch she received:
"As a blogger who has received hundreds of pitches over the years, the worst was this one from three years ago. The worst part wasn't that the pitch was completely irrelevant to my blog, it was that the email was sent to me like this."
"I only added the black boxes to protect the name of the company involved. The rest of the formatting was part of the email itself. In all of my eight years of marketing, I have never received an email that missed the mark as hard as this one did. A misspelled word here or there is forgivable, but this was inexplicable."
These stories are unfortunate, but they're not surprising. Many of us working as journalists and bloggers have experienced things like this.
This isn't the only side of the story though. PR pros have their own share of horror stories and pet peeves when it comes to working with journalists and bloggers.
Turnabout's Fair Play: PR Pros Weigh in on Journalists' Bad Behavior
Helen Reynolds (@HelReynolds), a digital communications and strategy consultant who runs Social For The People, shares one of my own pet peeves when working with journalists (and especially bloggers). Sometimes they simply don't understand PR, thinking media relations is the extent of what we do.
"Journalists and bloggers often assume that the job of the PR professional is simply to write press releases and tend to their needs. It can lead to them making urgent requests and rude suggestions without any understanding that we have wider and more strategic work to do."
"Working with a partner on an announcement, we went to two different outlets on embargo. Yes, I do embargoes - and since one of the companies was public, it's necessary to go with an embargo. We worked with two leading news outlets. They both knew the time, they both knew the timing. Of course, [one] went early - we got confused by time-zones (right) - and [the other] was supposed to be a nice sized print story that got cut down to a small print note. But at least the online story was the full one."
Pepper acknowledges journalists often aren't fans of embargoes and puts some of the blame on PR people who misuse them. Still, it all comes down to honoring agreements, and occasionally journalists don't do that.
"The issue isn't the embargo, it's that they're not used for real news nor do PR people get that you have to get an agreement for an embargo, and don't mass use it. You use [embargoes] with one to three outlets—if that many... It's a strategy that works. And if you agree to an embargo, you should keep to that agreement."
This happens because exposure isn't solely in the hands of traditional media anymore. Sometimes it's less about working with journalists in outreach campaigns and more about dealing with everyday folks or even celebrities.
"I reached out to an Instagram user recently who told me the cost of one post was $30,000. The only value description was their total number of followers. If you're going to be a diva with your pricing, you'd better back it up with value -- like previous clients have seen a 25% click through or conversion rate on my campaigns -- or you're just being an asshole. This is business. Treat it like such."
Ike Pigott (@IkePigott), who works in corporate communications for Alabama Power, shares an all-too-common story where journalists want information, and they want it now-now-now. Sometimes "now" isn't possible, especially if you reach out to the wrong people.
"A reporter recently DM’ed our Twitter feed for information regarding an outage. He was adamant that he needed the numbers immediately. We tried to point out that the account is monitored and staffed by Customer Service, not Media Relations, and that they don’t have the information he is looking for. This would be like calling a TV newsroom, and demanding to know when your commercials are scheduled to air."
It's a two-way street. Don't assume hearing more about the bad behavior of PR people means they're guilty of more.
What I found in talking to colleagues for this post was PR folks were less likely to want to be quoted complaining about journalists.
Journalists and bloggers had no such qualms.
That's the nature of PR. It's about building relationships. PR pros — the good ones at least — can be more protective of those relationships as a result. Calling members of the media out directly doesn't serve a PR pro's, or their clients', interests. That's why no individuals or media outlets were named in this post.
Whether any of us like it or not, journalists and PR professionals need each other.
PR folks want to help their clients or employers reach a larger audience. Journalists and bloggers want access to information and sources for stories.
We all make mistakes. Yet we're not all bad, on either side. And both groups can be poorly-represented by people who probably shouldn't be representing us in the first place, from entitled bloggers to inexperienced marketers masquerading as PR people.
In addition to the horror stories we all love to tell, there are plenty of pleasant interactions between PR pros and journalists that we never hear about.
Maybe it’s time to share those stories, and show those "bad apples" how it's done.
Jennifer Mattern is a freelance business writer, blogger, and PR professional specializing in online PR, new media, and publication strategy. In addition to running the All Indie Writers community, Jenn will soon re-launch NakedPR where she was known for taking on bad behavior in the PR industry through an anti-charm offensive. Visit NakedPR.com for news and updates related to the re-launch. Twitter: @jenn_mattern
Photos: Created by Jennifer Mattern