The Top 10 PR Mistakes Journalists Hate Most

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This is a guest post by Angus Wood, assistant account executive at Citypress.

The relationship between PRs and journalists is important, and things go smoothly the vast majority of the time. But poor practice can strain things – you only need to look at @SmugJourno on Twitter to see that. The account retweets the complaints of irate journalists who have had frustrating encounters with PRs. It’s like a free, if angry, advice board on things that journalists don’t like you to do.

There are a few common mistakes PRs make that can easily be avoided, which would keep the PR-press relationship as productive as possible. To get an idea of what these mistakes are, I took a random sample of 191 retweets from @SmugJourno (roughly 10 percent of the account’s tweets at the time of writing), categorized the complaints and worked out which ones were the most common.

1. Bad timing

With 18 percent of the complaints, bad timing has the unenviable position of number 1 on the list of PR mistakes. A lot of things fall under this category, but the most common ones are sending out press release too late, too early, with too long of an embargo or during a big news event that isn’t related to the story.

2. Irrelevance

Irrelevance came a close second, with 17.8 percent of complaints. It’s a very common mistake, and it can be easily avoided with some research into the publication. A lot of journalists complained that they were receiving pitches for things which were way outside their area of expertise or only tenuously connected to it. A few even complained that they had received pitches about companies or events that were in other countries.

3. Repetition

This came in third, taking up 13 percent of complaints. Many journalists complained that PRs had phoned them to check if they’d received their press release. But repetition is not the same as a follow-up, because a proper, useful follow-up will offer something extra that could help the journalist. For example, I sold in a story contained stats for regions in the U.K. After I issued this, I went through the stats again and created versions of the release that focused on individual cities, which offered journalists interested in the story something extra.

4. Wrong name

With 12 percent, this mistake is common enough to warrant its own category. Most commonly, PRs spell the name of the journalist wrong, get completely the wrong name or, even worse, leave a name template in place when sending mass emails. It shows carelessness and disrespect and, accordingly, it really annoys journalists.

5. Language goofs

Attracting 11 percent of complaints are language errors. All the obvious culprits are here, like typos, spelling mistakes and incorrectly capitalised letters. It shouldn’t be a surprise that people who write for a living are annoyed by bad writing.

6. Too audacious

Nine percent of complaints were about the audaciousness of PRs. Most of the examples were of people who were trying so hard to be persuasive that it was in bad taste. Asking a journalist if they want to interview you or starting a press release by referencing a recent tragic news event, both of which were featured in the complaints, is not persuasive.

7. Tech blunders

Of the 6 percent of complaints taken up by tech blunders, by far the most common involves attachments. Journalists often don’t have time to go through an email and open a lot of multimedia attachments. In fact, it’s a bad idea to even attach a single Word document or pdf – putting your press release in the body of an email makes things a lot easier for everyone. Complaints about font choice were also common.

8. Overenthusiastic niceties

Five percent of complaints were about overenthusiastic niceties. Being polite and courteous is fine, but don’t overdo it. Putting kisses at the end of emails to journalists you don’t know well is inappropriate, and asking how they slept or calling them an overly-affectionate name annoys them.

9. Inappropriate methods of contact

Four percent of complaints from journalists were about the ways in which PRs chose to contact them. We all know that some journalists hate being phoned, while others hate being sent a press release without a phone pitch first. That’s personal preference, and there’s no consensus on which is better. What’s certain is that most journalists will be uncomfortable with you pitching them over social media or receiving unsolicited phone calls on their personal mobile phone or personal email address.

10. Too much jargon

Complaints about jargon made up 3.6 percent of examples. This is related to language goofs, but it’s still distinct. While a language error is accidental, jargon is deliberate. Obscure or pretentious language confuses or annoys the reader. Part of a PR’s job is to explain what their clients do in a simple, appealing language that anyone could understand.

Angus-Wood1Angus Wood is an assistant account executive at Citypress in London. He has worked in the industry since graduating from King’s College London earlier this year. You can find Angus on LinkedIn or Twitter.

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