|Why So Angry, PR Peeps?: Part 2
By: Mike Bush
Last week, I kicked off a series on what drives PR people a little crazy, and highlighted a few of the things our clients do to make us debate whether mom was right when she told us to consider med school.
Again, I’m posting these without attribution. I don’t want a reporter to see something written by a flack and decide to ban them from future pitching. I’m also posting without comment, because I may or may not agree with some of these.
As such, here are the things hacks do (or have done) to torment flacks:
- A TV news segment producer who says we are going to do a segment then never gets back to me.
- A reporter that has not figured out the angle of the story they are working on to interview people.
- A well-known nighttime TV entertainment show that forgets to include my client's name in the lower thirds on the TV screen when the story airs.
- Writers who say they will email the link to the story when it runs with my client's remarks and never send the link.
- Complete lack of response from bloggers or publication contacts despite thorough research and highly relevant, tailored messaging.
- The expectation that a submitted guest post or article will be published almost immediately — it can take between two weeks and two months for an article to be published depending on the digital publication’s backlog and processes.
- Sometimes you don’t hear back from publications until they have actually published your submitted article, which can make it difficult to assess if you should submit the article to different publications due to the lack of response.
- Editors will sometimes send back revisions multiple times, which, if dependent on client edits, can push publication several months.
- I hate it when a reporter responds to a pitch with interest and then after I respond, answering their questions or sending them whatever they need, they completely go MIA and never respond again, leaving me with no clue as to what went wrong.
- I hate it when a reporter doesn't understand that it's CLIENTS who are constantly pushing us to follow up with reporters to get the publication date of the article they're running on our clients, or to get an update on whether or not the article is happening at all! Reporters are always talking about their deadlines, and yet even when we respect the deadlines and give the reporter everything they requested, they don't think they owe us a single response to our emails. They don't think we're entitled to know approximately when they plan on publishing the piece so we can have time to organize other strategies around the placement to maximize the exposure.
- I hate it when reporters act like the outlet they write for is only going to cover a company/startup/news if they're the first people to break the story. It's ABSURD to demand exclusives all the time — as though outlets never cover the same company or news? I offer a top media outlet an exclusive and they take their sweet time publishing the article, and then when I can finally pitch other outlets, I always get at least one or two reporters telling me I should've pitched them first. Look through any single good startup's press page and look at how many top media outlets reported about their launch or their story? Tons of media outlets jump on the same story all the time!
- I hate it when reporters keep bitching about email pitches that are "too long" on the one hand, and then on the other hand, they're bitching about how pitches don't contain ALL the facts and ALL the images and ALL the studies/stats/data they need. Which one is it? Do you want a paragraph pitch where we ask you if you want more info or anything or do you want a pitch that gives you (almost) everything you need to write a story?
- I hate it when a reporter gets a pitch that is 100% tailored to them, super personalized and relevant to them, and they can't even bother responding!
- I hate it when a reporter who gets the above-mentioned pitch just responds "I'll pass"! WHY WILL YOU PASS? Don't you think it would benefit EVERYONE if you tell the publicist WHY their totally relevant pitch is something you are passing on?
- I hate it when reporters talk about connecting with them or building a relationship with them before pitching them when they NEVER respond to your non-pitch emails or tweets.
- I hate it when reporters request samples, receive them, and NEVER RESPOND to emails again.
- I hate it when reporters pretend that our pitches don't impact their stories. OH YES THEY DO. A huge chunk of media placements are a direct result of a PR pitch.
- I hate it when a reporter expects me (and my client!) to drop EVERYTHING I'm doing — and my client is doing — whenever it suits THEIR last-minute schedule.
- I hate it when reporters don't fact check anything with me or misspell a client's name or company name or product name. They accuse us of these mistakes when they make them all the time too!
- No response to a pitch. Assuming the pitch is on-target for the reporter’s respective beat, a simple “Not interested” is appreciated. It’s difficult for a PR pro to go back to a client without any kind of feedback. Clients expect a yes or no, and would rather hear the reporter wasn’t interested than the PR pro couldn’t get him/her to respond. It’s also extremely frustrating to not receive feedback to numerous pitches and then a reporter comes out of the woodwork when he/she needs a resource. PR pros are less likely to work with reporters that haven’t been responsive.
- Responding “yes” to a pitch, then going radio silent. PR pros understand editorial plans change and reporters are frequently at the mercy of their editor’s decision to move forward on a story. If an interview needs to be put on hold or is nixed altogether, it’s best to be up front about it. This also avoids unnecessary and bothersome follow-up calls/emails to the reporter to get an update.
- Saying NEVER call me (or sounding angry when answering the phone). We all agree email is a useful introductory tool but can’t replace a phone call to build working relationships and fully explain a pitch. Many reporters have stated they are inundated with email pitches, some up to 100 pitches per day. A follow-up phone call can quickly determine interest in a story and circumvent even more emails flooding an inbox. PR pros understand reporters may be on deadline and if this is expressed with a better time to call back, true pros will be respectful.
- Act annoyed about receiving a pitch even though it’s on target for the respective beat. PR pros have a job to do just like reporters have a job to do. Being annoyed that PR pros are pitching a story is a bit mystifying. If there is a specific reason the pitch isn’t well received, i.e., recently wrote a story on the same topic, sharing that with the PR pro can go a long way and hopefully avoids the same situation from happening in the future. If the PR pro is clueless as to why the reporter is annoyed, it’s likely he/she will continue to pitch/follow-up until some clarity is provided.
- Not taking the time to read background information in advance of the interview. PR pros understand a reporter’s time is at a minimum but clients assume their PR rep has provided this information to the reporter prior to the interview. A reporter asking basic background questions makes it look as if the PR pro didn’t do their job and also requires more time of the (also busy) client to address these questions rather than getting straight to the heart of the story.
- Don’t give a time frame or heads up when the story will run. One of the worst things that can happen for a PR pro is for the client to forward a Google alert link to the published story. PR pros understand reporters often don’t know when a story is slated to run but appreciate as much advance notice as possible. If it hasn’t been determined at the time of the interview, a quick email (even the morning of) is better than no notice. This allows the PR pro to review the story in advance and address any potential concerns with the client when sharing the article, or request typo corrections with the reporter before sending to the client. Which leads us to….
- Misspelling a client’s name in the story. Typos happen, PR pros know this. The frustrating part is seeing the client’s disappointment when their name or company name is misspelled throughout a story. It looks unprofessional on the part of the reporter and since most outlets (understandably) won’t let PR pros review and approve a story before it’s published, rely on the reporter and editorial staff to catch typos. If it’s an online story and a quick fix, PR pros do appreciate corrections being made.
- Setting unrealistic expectations about the reason for the interview. If the interview is truly an introductory discussion, let the PR pro know so they can set realistic expectations with the client. This avoids the PR pro unnecessarily following up to ask when a story will run.
- I focus on doing PR for small businesses — where every penny really counts on their budgets. Perhaps my greatest frustration is follow-through on the national media’s end. You see, so many times I contact the editor/reporter and offer to send them products (full-size, not samples) for a possible feature, product review, or inclusion in a relevant story. They accept, the product(s) go out, and then a few weeks later I’ll follow up to see how their experience is going. I’m not saying, “Hey, you need to write something ASAP,” it’s more like “Just wanted to see how your experience with the product is going and may I answer any follow-up questions you have about it or set you up directly with the company’s founder?”
Repeat follow up 3 weeks later…the same, no response.
Everyone is busy in this industry…I understand: I used to be a reporter before my PR career. However, the discourtesy of no feedback whatsoever is extremely frustrating because it makes me, as a PR practitioner, look like I’m not doing my job. Keep in mind, with every cent mattering to a small business client, telling them, “Yes, we did send that $200 handbag to that media contact, but unfortunately, I haven’t heard anything back” really doesn’t sound great. You can’t hound the reporter, of course. But it also makes the clients feel bad about their business, and I’ve had them say this out loud, “Well, maybe my products aren’t good enough,” or “I guess she just hated it,” and even worse “I don’t know, maybe my business isn’t working.” I’m OK with rejection from reporters; it’s part of the game. But to hear clients say things like that is quite frankly disheartening since it’s not likely any of those things. More likely, the product is just not what was needed in the editorial calendar the next few months or it’s simply still in a pile with a thousand other products flacks like me have sent the contact. I always try to talk them back from that ledge. But, see, it’s demoralizing for a small business client and frustrating for me personally.
The bottom line is all I’m looking for is SOME feedback — I hated it. I loved it! I’m not sure when I’ll be able to use it at this point. Anything. I’m not going to continue to push the reporter/editor to write about something they don’t like — that’s fine and it’s part of the opportunity cost of sending out free products. And, of course most importantly, if the reporter/editor truly did not like the product, it’s the quickest way to get me off their backs permanently.
Mike Bush is a PR and Marketing freelancer with more than a dozen years of experience in the field. Find him on and connect Twitter @mikebush or at www.mikebush.nyc.