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.
Yes I’m a grumpy bum but why o why send out a release with a 6 week embargo on it?! You want ME to diarize it’s publication for you? #badPR
— Caroline Sargent (@Cara_in_Kent) August 27, 2014
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.
Dear PR person: not sure that @thenextweb‘s readers care about [big pizza delivery chain]’s new marketing director
— Anna (@abracarioca) January 29, 2015
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.
Dear PR Pros, Yes. Sending me the same email 4 times in 5 minutes is highly effective. Sincerely, Stupid pic.twitter.com/HGIHp70JFr
— Chris Chmura ✈ FoxTV (@Chris_Chmura) November 11, 2015
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.
Best way to start off a press release: “Dear [MediaContactFirstName]” It’s the personal touch that wins me over. — David Frey (@davidmfrey) December 2, 2015
PR email: ‘Dear Eric’ 14 minutes later: ‘Dear Erin’
— erin mccann (@mccanner) August 5, 2015
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.
Dear PR people: You can’t just capitalize the words that you like. — Alex Wendland (@AlexWendland) September 11, 2015
Dear PR person. I am desperate to know what “sour dour” bread is. Please let me know.
— Winsor Dobbin (@winsordobbin) November 28, 2015
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.
If the PR email you’re about to send starts with “In light of today’s tragic shooting,” go get lunch. — Evie Nagy (@EvieN) August 26, 2015
It never ceases to amaze me when people email me asking “would you like to interview me?” – so humble!
— Jason Hesse (@jasonhesse) September 5, 2014
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.
Dear PR people: Comic Sans is not a font you want to be known for. Unless you’re sending me some clown shoes. Or a water-shooting flower.
— Dave Besseling (@davebesseling) June 3, 2015
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.
Just took a call from a London PR whose opening gambit was ‘Hi, did you sleep well last night?’ Seriously, where do they get these people? — Karen Price (@karenmediawales) August 11, 2015
Just received a mass PR email that starts with ‘Dear Lovely’. SMH.
— Simone (@Simone_Scribes) August 12, 2015
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.
If you happen to know my mobile number and are a PR, please don’t leave me voicemails. — Ingrid (@ingridlunden) November 17, 2015
How many times do you ask a PR person to stop emailing your personal gmail before blocking them? For me, answer is apparently four.
— Ben Leubsdorf (@BenLeubsdorf) September 28, 2015
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.
Press release arrives informing me that the colour of the year is Marsala. Got that, everyone? Marsala. OK. On with your lives. — Ian Douglas (@IanDouglas) January 15, 2015
Angus 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.