If you work in public relations, you’ll know that communication with journalists is absolutely fundamental to your successes. You could have the best campaign idea in the world, but if you ain’t outreaching it – it ain’t getting covered.
Sure, with social media and the rest of it, things can catch like wildfire nowadays. But nevertheless, we still need to be there at the start of the journey to coax our ideas out to the world.
So knowing this, why is there such a schism between journalists and PRs?
I’m a baby in the communications industry, I really don’t mind admitting that. I’ve only been involved in public relations for just short of 4 years, however, in my time I’ve had a pretty good exposure to the relationship between journos and PRs. And from what I learned pretty quickly on, there’s a lot of underlying tension. I’ve questioned: ‘why?’ many-a-time, but I think it’s mainly because there’s a lot of irks from both parties. There’s a lot of mistakes that PRs can make that really wind journalists up, and on the flip side, sometimes journalists can do some really irritating things too.
I’ve got great relationships (now) with a bunch of journalists, some of whom are really close friends. I pin this down to my ability to be able to listen (introverts, we strike again) and absorb exactly the way in which we should be working with journos. At the end of the day, we’re all only trying to do our jobs – and both sides of the scale respect that I believe. It’s just about knowing exactly how to treat one and other and work cohesively instead of in opposition.
Despite all the brilliant things my time at university taught me, one thing it did not was this. I know a lot of journalism courses have ‘PR talks’, sometimes even whole modules. It’s a shame that some PR courses don’t have the same. I think we can really quell this aggravation and misunderstanding with a bit of education very early on in a PR professional’s career. As such, I decided I wanted to help.
I quizzed some of my journo connections on everything to do with PR-relations. Respondents included writers for the Huffington Post, the Metro, the BBC, the Daily Express and many more. Their ages ranged from 18-45. Their main remits included online, print and broadcast. And on average, their experience within the industry was around 5+ years.
Here are the results of what I found, titled: the 12 things that journalists want PRs to know.
The 12 Things Journalists Want PRs To Know
1. They Get A LOT Of Press Releases A Day
On average, my respondents said they get around 67 press releases every single day. With the highest figure (reported by two journalists) being 300 releases a day. This tells us two things:
- Don’t be upset when you don’t hear back from a journalist – I’ll admit, it still pains me to have a pitch rejected (especially when I thought it was a cracker) but it’s easy to understand why you might not get a reply when you take the volume of emails into account.
- Make your press release stand out – going off the 67 average, that’s almost 10 releases every hour. Or if a journalist (like a couple of my respondents) gets over 300 emails a day, that’s a staggering 42 every hour in the working day. Knowing this really reinforces having a story that not only stands out, but that is presented in a clear and concise way that’s easy to pick up.
2. Our Pitches Are Valued
As mentioned above, it can be a little disheartening when your story isn’t picked up, but that doesn’t mean it’s not valued by a journalist. When quizzing them on whether they value their relationships with PRs and the content that is provided by them, I found out that on average, journalists write around 5 stories a week based on a press release. I also asked how valuable press releases are to journalists, 45.5% answered ‘very valuable’ with an extra 9.1% contesting they were ‘fundamentally valuable’.
3. Not All Press Releases And Pitches Are Read
Something that quite surprised me (until I put into context how many emails come through a day) was that a lot of journalists don’t actually open some of their pitches and releases. In fact, 0 respondents said they always open emails from PRs, and only 36.4% said they open them ‘often’. The biggest portion of respondents (45.5%) enlightened that they only open emails ‘sometimes’. One participant maintained that unless they knew the PR, they wouldn’t open any pitch at all. Yikes.
4. We Should Ditch The Attachments
This one has done the rounds already in media relations talk, but just to solidify it, 27.3% of respondents said they won’t open a PRs email if it contains an attachment (such as a word doc or an image). Best practice nowadays is to paste the release into an email for easy access, and to include a dropbox link to any additional images or files that need to be sent over.
5. Your Emails Should Be 200 Words Long, Apparently
I’m guilty of going all ‘TMI’ when sending an email. I love to talk and I just can’t help it. So it was helpful to me to know and learn that 45.5% of my respondents said that the perfect email length is 100-200 words before including a release or link to more information. I mean, I can live with that I suppose and it also makes sense because ultimately when you’re battling sometimes an excess of 300 emails a day – it pays to get your point across early.
6. You Should Do Your Homework
A really big trend from my respondents was that their biggest ‘irk’ when working with PR professionals was that they’d not done their ‘homework’. This is something I was incredibly guilty of when I very first started out. Emailing any journo I could find with a story, only to find out in a coldly-worded email that this was nothing to do with what they write about. (Getting a serious amount of cringe from that throwback). I’ve sinced learned the ropes, but my survey actually revealed that this is still an apparent problem in our industry. “Some can be a bit useless. It’s quite obvious sometimes that they don’t understand your audience, as they pitch you things which the publication would never cover” was a direct quote received from one respondent, and this really puts into perspective how important it is to do some background research into a journo before pitching to them with a story idea. This is further solidified with the response from the question: ‘what reasons would you have to ignore a PRs email?’ Of which 90.9% answered ‘irrelevant to me’. When asked: ‘what are your biggest irks with press release emails and PRs?’ 90.9% also said ‘not relevant’. Loud and clear!
7. ‘A Personal Connection’ Is The Winning Ingredient
Of course in an industry that’s saturated with tension and tautness, it’s important to have good relationships with journalists anyway, but just how important is it to make that effort? Well, very important actually. When I asked ‘what would make you more inclined to open a PR email?’, 54.5% said a personal connection. So, it’s probably a good idea to grab a coffee with your local writers after all.
8. Monday Between 9:00am & 12:00pm Is The Best Time To Contact
I’m not sure I buy this one, as pretty much everything I’ve ever read says that Tuesday through to Thursday is the best time to liaise with journalists. However, of the individuals that I quizzed – 45.5% said they’d prefer to be contacted between 9:00am and 12:00pm, and 35.4% said the best day to get in touch was a Monday. *Takes notes.*
9. Going Full Stalker Mode Isn’t Cute
Sometimes we can give investigative journalists a run for their money, I’m normally able to dig out an ‘impossible-to-find’ email addresses of a person who I think might be interested in a story. But, knowing myself and knowing how I would like to be contacted, I know to only ever go for work emails, and I’ll never phone up unless it’s absolutely necessary. I was happy to find out that this practice was the best one (according to my data), as when asked ‘what’s an acceptable way to contact you?’ 100% of respondents said work email, only 9.1% said personal email and surprisingly, 0% said phone call. Luckily for me (as I love using social media for media relations), 45.5% said it was fine to get in touch on Twitter and 27.3% said LinkedIn was okay too. When I flipped the question and asked what would be an unacceptable method of contact, 63.6% said Facebook, 54.4% said Instagram and 45.5% said via the phone.
10. One Follow-Up Is Enough
Follow-ups are pretty important when you’re working on a press campaign. It’s been established that writers get a lot of emails every day, so it’s entirely possible that they might have missed your story, even if it was a cracker. As such, I do like to follow up on an email once or twice. I asked the people who took my survey if they mind this, and 81.8% said 1 follow up is acceptable, 9.1% said up to 3 is fine, while another 9.1% said they’d prefer no follow-ups at all. When asked what the best time frame is for following up on an email, ‘1-2 days’ was the most popular choice, with 45.5% answering this way.
11. Phone Call Follow-Ups Aren’t Welcomed Anymore
There used to be a time where phone call follow-ups were fundamental. However, we live in strange times where artificial interaction is much more welcomed. The simple fact of the matter is that people would much rather receive a text or an email than picking up their phone to have a vocal conversation nowadays. And that’s fine, that’s just the way things are. This was solidified in my research, as when I asked ‘what’s your opinion on phone call follow-ups’ the answers included:
- Do not ever!!
- Why do PRs send you an email and then call you up immediately to check if you’ve received it?
- Not ideal
- Absolutely never
- I’m not so keen on phone follow-ups
- A bit intrusive
- Not necessary
- My team rarely answer our phones
I mean, I’d say that pretty much cements it, right?
EDIT: However, since moving jobs and adopting the traditional method of following up press releases with a call, I’ve found this tactic to be really successful. So, what’s the truth?! I think so long as the release you’re sending on is bang on target with what the journalist writes about, then there’s no harm done with a quick chat over the phone. Hmmm.
Exclusivity Is The Best!
And finally, one recurring theme I noticed throughout my survey was that journalists love a story that’s exclusive, or one that’s really, really newsworthy. 72.7% said exclusive research would be the key driver to picking up a PR’s story, and 54.5% said breaking news. Also, when asked ‘what do you appreciate in a PR pitch?’ some of the answered I picked up included:
- Detail and something exciting and good images
- A good news angle
- Offering something I haven’t seen beforehand
- A strong story/exclusive offer pitch
So there you have it, an exclusive look-in to the mind of a journalist and what they like and dislike. As a young PR executive, the results really helped me to think about the way I approach journalists, and from me to you – I hope this helps you as well. Please let me know what you think in the comments below or on Twitter. And journalists, if there’s anything I’ve missed feel free to send me a message too.
Now over to you, PRs. I’m planning a similar piece from the flip side of the coin: the things that PRs want journalists to know. I’ll be putting together a survey and sharing it on Twitter, so please keep an eye out for it and share your thoughts with me.