PR Practitioners: What drive journalists crazy?

Social media is a wonderful thing.  It allows people and brands to engage with each other.  It is also a source of valuable information.  Earlier this year I read a Tweet about the things PR practitioners do and say that drive journalists crazy and, because I’m passionate about my profession as a communication practitioner, I downloaded the report referred to in the Tweet immediately.

As I read through the report I could not help but feel ashamed to be part of the PR industry.  What has happened to people in our profession?  I thought we are all professional individuals with qualifications where we were taught how to do our jobs.  And above all, I would have expected PR practitioners to be able to think for themselves, and have writing skills.  It seems that there may only be a small percentage who are respected by journalists and I see more and more comments on social media about the negative impressions created by PRs. Why do members of the PR industry drive journalists crazy?

First, we need to understand the world of journalists.

  • They have less time today than ever before;
  • Due to the digital age deadlines are no longer predictable;
  • They are not naturally patient;
  • They have an acute sense of smell and can sniff out spin doctors; and
  • They have, on average, 300 e-mails waiting to be read when they arrive at the office every morning.

One of the most common complaints from journalists is that PR practitioners cannot communicate – verbal as well as written.  Recently a good friend and editor of a lifestyle supplement of one of Gauteng’s leading newspapers wrote on Facebook that if he receives one more press release about a jazz performance that contains the words ‘and all that Jazz’ or one about wine that reads ‘wine not’ he is going to scream.  I guess he probably did scream in the end; that’s enough to drive journalists crazy.  Journalists need information and because they have less time today than they had 30 years ago the press releases need to be short and to the point.

What has happened to Who? What? Where? Why? When? How?  If you answer these questions about the person, product, service or topic you want to create publicity for, you will have a short and to the point press release.  I sent out a press release yesterday that was only 99 words in length but it said everything that had to be said.  That press release has already been placed on five different online portals.

It is my opinion that too many PR practitioners want to be copy writers.  Leave the creative writing to those individuals who are really good at it and focus on what you are good at – creating, building and maintaining media relationships in such a manner that you can be guaranteed of publicity when you contact one of your journalists with a story.

The same goes when speaking with a journalist in person.  Stop using fancy words that even you don’t understand.  For instance, you never tell a journalist that you are selling in a story when you speak to him.  Yes, it is a pitch, and therefore I believe the elevator sales pitch works, but only if you know the demographics of the publication you are targeting.  Other words to be avoided during telephone conversations are:  ‘heads up’ (rather use ‘a bit of notice’), ‘scoop’ and ‘collateral’.

Then there is the dreaded e-mail subject line.  What happened with a simple ‘press release: House of Mandela wines launched’?  Why do PR practitioners think that anything other than the topic covered in the press release will stand out between 300 e-mails?  Goodness knows.

But what I do know is that PR practitioners today seem to be too lazy to build and maintain that special media relationship and unfortunately I believe social media is to blame.  How many of you have met the journalists you speak to on a regular basis?  How many of you take those journalists for coffee at least once every three months and get to know them a little better?  And no, sending a Whatsapp message with a picture of a cup of coffee does not count.

If each PR practitioner out there takes pride in his profession rather than seeing it as just doing my job, I believe we will be able to restore our standing with the media and have them sing our praises rather than being perceived as loathsome.

Read more about what drive journalists crazy here: How Not To Guide To Public Relations.

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