An open letter to journalists: here's what we wish you knew

An open letter to journalists: here's what we wish you knew

Most of us in public relations love what we do. With lots of variety and the opportunity to impact a brand’s bottom line, what’s not to like? Like any career, though, it can sometimes be tough.

For example, we in PR often read that journalists don’t like us very much.

Maybe it’s because there are so many of us. With more public relations practitioners than ever (there are now 4.8 PR people for every reporter), those of us who work in media relations face greater competition to grab a reporter’s attention. This means more nuisance email pitches, more phone messages filling up their voice mailboxes and more social media stalking.

It makes sense that reporters get fed up with us.

Still, it hurts to be misunderstood. After all, many of us are honestly trying to do a stand-up job for our clients while respecting the needs and preferences of journalists.

So, what can we do to help smooth things over with the media? Maybe it would help if reporters knew more about our true motives.

Here are five things we would say to reporters, if we could.

1. We don’t mean to be pests

There are occasions when yes, you may feel we follow up too aggressively or too often. Please understand, we’re not trying to be pests. We’re just trying to do our jobs.

Yes, we realize you receive MANY pitches—and a good number of those may be off topic, contain spelling errors or be directed to the wrong reporter. But, on the flip side, there are a lot of us who take the time to create a well-written pitch that warrants at least a quick look. If it’s truly not a fit or the timing’s off, we can accept that. But, please, take a moment to tell us.

When we get no response to a carefully crafted pitch, we wonder (and our clients wonder) why you didn’t feel it was a fit. Is it realistic to expect you to respond to each and every pitch? Probably not. But, as Nicole Fallon Taylor, managing editor of Business News Daily, recently wrote in a piece for Muck Rack, “As a journalist, I've found that the best way to stem the tide of follow-ups is to just answer the emails in the first place.” She continues to say, “In a lot of cases, PR pros will gladly accept a curt ‘no’ over radio silence any day.”

Remember that ANY answer is better than no answer. And, if you go a step beyond to let us know that there was a fixable problem with our pitch (perhaps we sent it too late or maybe you’ve changed roles since we last worked with you), we can do better next time.

2. We want to be of help to you—really

Yes, some go into PR and learn it isn’t for them. Case in point: at the last agency I worked for before starting out on my own, I know one person from my team is now a carpenter—another is a chef. Clearly, they’d had enough of the PR life.

But, many of us truly understand and have a passion for good journalism (some of us even have journalism degrees), and we sincerely want to be of service to you. Please let us help. If you need something, we’re here for you. Whether it’s sources, visuals, or data, we can provide it.

So, please look to us as a resource. We can save you time and get you what you need.

3. We respect what you do

Reporting is a tough gig.

We know many journalists are overworked and underpaid. Job security in the news business is dwindling, with the number of U.S. newspapers staffers dropping 40 percent in just eight years, from 55,000 journalists in 2007 to 32,900 in 2015. We realize many are trying to do less with more. And this year in particular, journalism in general has taken a beating.

But, we appreciate that you try to do your best to share relevant news with your audiences.

4. We trust you

While we may be living in a post-truth era, most PR pros I know believe in and trust the reporters we work with. We trust that you’ll provide fair, impartial coverage (although we sometimes have to convince our clients of that).

We do believe you’re doing your best to find and share the true story.

5. Sometimes, our jobs stink, too

We have clients who don’t share information with us, clients who insist on rewriting our carefully crafted pitches or press releases, clients who ask if they can see the story before it’s printed---you get the gist.

So, please remember we’re just people, too, and some days, in spite of our best efforts, our clients rake us over the coals as we try to get you what you need. Have a little compassion.  

Journalists, we like you—we really like you—so please give us a chance.

You'll find Michelle Messenger Garrett at the intersection of PR, content marketing and social media. As a public relations consultant, content creator, blogger, speaker and award-winning writer, Michelle’s articles and advice have been featured in Entrepreneur, Muck Rack, Ragan’s PR Daily, Meltwater, Spin Sucks, CIO, Upwork, Freelancers Union, SheKnows, CommProBiz and others. She was named a Top 100 PR Influencer by Onalytica. Michelle was also recently appointed to the board of Women in PR USA.

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