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How not to be a PR wanker

Journalists receive hundreds of emails and calls a day about stories or potential tales that could fill column inches in print and online, so it’s no wonder that they have to be selective and spend less time replying to some. 

So how can PR types ensure their pitches are not simply ignored? And, more importantly, what’s the best way to build a relationship with those at the other end of the news cycle without becoming a nuisance? 

Here’s some simple tips to help ensure your name doesn’t get followed up with the word ‘wanker’ in the same newsrooms you’re desperate to have talking about your clients.

Newspaper cuttings

Hitting the sweet spot of the press release follow-ups

Muck Rack’s 2021 State of Journalism survey reports that over a fifth of 2,500 journos surveyed will receive up to 10 press release pitches a day.

Don’t be surprised if yours gets skipped or filed under ‘reply to at a later date’. Such is the fast-paced and ever-changing world of news that response may never arrive. But it may do if you drop a polite follow-up, which will push your news story back into the person’s consciousness. 

Chasing up that day with a call is rude and forceful, especially as the email may not have even been read. An email follow-up the next day is annoying. So as a rule of thumb leave it somewhere between three to seven days before you make contact again. It makes you seem less pushy or desperate and less likely to see a hand gesture made about you.

Lots of unread emails shown via mobile phone apps

Make sure your PR pitches are sent to the right person

It’s all well and good firing your pitches off left, right and centre. But you’re not only wasting your own time – you’re wasting the time of others too.

What use is sending your press release about car insurance to a newspaper’s local football club reporter? Or dropping a story about Torquay into the Manchester Evening News webdesk? On the off chance, you might get fortunate enough to find your comms forwarded onto the appropriate person. More likely the words you’ve penned are heading towards the trash. 

An unconsidered approach is a sure fire way to frustrate people and will ensure that your placement return starts, and ends, at zero.

No means no when it comes to placements or backlinks

Not every pitch is successful. In fact, fewer than 8% of pitches become stories.

So expect to get ignored at times, it’s part of the grind. If you do get a reply, it still doesn’t mean you’re going to get a prized placement or the sweetest of golden nuggets – a backlink – either.

When a journalist says no to a story, accept it and move on. Don’t beg, hassle or pester. You never know when you might need to lean on that contact again so it’s not a wise idea to burn any bridges because of one failed campaign.

The same goes for backlinks too. They’re increasingly hard to get and many websites won’t link outwardly. If that’s the case, leave it and move onto your next targeted publication. 

A woman smiling at a laptop

Treat your contacts like you’d want to be treated yourself

It goes without saying that the warmer, friendlier and more understanding you are the more successful you will be with your contacts.

Find out what they’re into, ask how their weekend was and make your relationship less transactional. It’s a nicer way of dealing with people and will bring contacts on side without them even realising. Be friendly and respectful just like you’d want others to be to you. When it comes to emails, make sure they’re personalised with the right name and publication involved. Flag any content you’ve seen that you enjoyed. 

It won’t turn you into a PR person who gets 100% of their pitches placed but it will help push decisions in your favour when it comes to a story that’s on the borderline between getting binned or published.

A camera person in action

Focus on the long-term not the short term for your brand

It’s hard when you’ve got reports to do and you want impressive numbers to shout about to the client and your colleagues. However, it’s always best to think about the bigger picture.

It might take a few releases, or several conversations, to earn a placement for the brand. Remember, every time you’re mentioning their name it’s slowly being cemented into a journalist or blogger’s consciousness.

Without realising it, they’ll soon be thinking about the company you produce PR for and it won’t take long before press enquiries regarding their area of expertise come your way for authoritative comment.

A scrum of broadcast journalists

Some more advice for PRs when outreaching to journos

If you’re open, honest, warm and receptive to the needs of journalists, it’s more than possible to strike up an excellent relationship and earn a string of placements. There’s also plenty of other things you can do to make sure you stay in their good books:

  • Don’t send pitches on a Friday afternoon
  • Drop the word urgent – it’s only important to you
  • Get to the point and drop the waffle
  • Write with a news head on, it increases the chance of placement
  • Build up multiple contacts at a newspaper/website to ease inbox pain
  • Don’t take it personally when your pitch gets turned down
  • Always reply to press enquiries and be helpful – even if pitches have been ignored
  • Send images and extra information with your release to save time for the journalist 

Everyone will find their own way and style but hopefully some of this advice will help you when it comes to working in the world of PR.