Journalists’ Tips for Working with Flacks

Sometimes, probably on our worst days, being a publicist can feel like being a glorified telemarketer.  And, on those days, it seems that journalists feel the same way about us.  In fact, many of them have posted diatribes on their personal sites about us and how to properly pitch them.  In fact, I have seen whole sites devoted to just that topic.

However, there are many of us publicists out there that do the job right.  (Hopefully more of us than the bad ones, but I guess I’ll never know.)  The good ones make sure to create targeted lists of journalists and outlets that will care about our story, read/view/listen to  journalists’ work before pitching and create short, well-written pitches to hit the mark.  We are actually an asset to journalists, if only they would see beyond the words “public relations.”  To get the most of out of us, journalists could actually use a few tips of their own for dealing with PR people. 

  1. Answer the f___ing phone – at least once in a while.  I mean, seriously, we’re going to keep calling you.  And if you don’t want to answer the phone, at least email something back.  Which brings me to my next one…
  2. It’s okay to say no.  I would rather get an honest answer from you than the usual, “I’m waiting to hear from my editor,” or “It sounds interesting.”  However, if you are going to say no, please let us know why you’re saying no.  Our clients and bosses are going to ask us for a reason so just give a reason right off the bat.  Sometimes we may push back a bit, but for the most part a well-phrased reason will let you off the hook.  Offering another journalist is really a great way to get us to leave you alone and could actually be helpful to both us and the new contact.
  3. Email is a great way to connect to us. If you respond to our emails when we send them, chances are you won’t even get a call.  Now, I know you get a lot of email, but with all the filters these days, you should be able to tell the good ones from the bad ones.  And we love to get email responses just as much as you love not getting our phone calls.
  4. Blocking an entire agency’s email address is really uncool.  Plus, it is unfair to the decent publicists that may work there.  If we really want to get you, we can always email from our personal boxes or sign-up for another email address. Another thing to consider, agency turnaround is about as bad as the turnaround in the media. You may be missing that great next story because of a bad PR rep that was at an agency 2 years ago.
  5. Take that call from Cision, Vocus and MyMediaInfo. In fact, when you take another job, you should reach out to them to update your listing.  Make sure the correct information about you is out there for us, especially how you like to be contacted.  We are going to contact you no matter what, so it might as well be the right pitch, in the right way.  At the very least you should make sure your LinkedIn profile is up-to-date.  The good publicists check that site too. 

Like the publicists that reporters like to complain about, not all journalists make our lives as PR pros difficult.  I recently had a great interaction with San Jose Mercury reporter, Troy Wolverton.  He actually answers his phone! And he really checked his inbox for my email and then sent a response.  When I asked why he wasn’t interested, he actually gave me a reason and then suggested another reporter that might be into my story.  We love those kinds of reporters.  Remember, ours can be a symbiotic relationship, if we each read each other’s tips.

Tracy Bagatelle-Black has been in the PR biz for 16 years.  Currently she is an account manager at RLM Public Relations, running their west coast operations.  She has also done time at Hill & Knowlton, The Terpin Group, Activision and PeopleLink.

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  • Some good assertions here Tracy, thanks for the post.  I agree with your analysis and also wish that journalists would practice some of these things to smooth the relationship.  Sort of a PR utopia, but a guy can dream, can’t he?  I am particularly sensitive to journalists and editors who do not give a reason as to why a pitch is denied, especially after I have done extensive research on their beat, publication and personality to align the pitch with their interest.  This has happened a few times to me in the past and as much as I would like to cross them off of the short list of media contacts that I want to get first crack at a breaking story, often in the vertical that I operate they are the only show in town.  Frustrating, but one thing that it has forced me to do is dig even deeper into the blogosphere and seek international media contacts who are more receptive to the message.  So I guess indirectly, their lack of clarity and unwillingness to respond has broadened my media database and helped me to identify other opportunities that I may not have otherwise known existed.  

  • Lynda

    Tracy – great post. As a former journalist, I know that feeling of irritation generated by the sheer volume of PR pitches. I also remember that holier-than-though feeling I entertained toward PR people, which is forgivable only because I was young. I also know that when I needed a particular kind of source on deadline, or needed data for an infographic, or had a scoop that needed verifying or needed a CEO to comment on deadline, PR people were the ones who’d go the extra mile to meet my need. Now that I’m more on the PR side of things, I can appreciate how hard good PR people like you work to get meaningful information out to journalists, how often journalists use that info while pretending they don’t, and how ridiculously snobby some can be, although typically not the better, more experienced ones. — Lynda

  • Great post Tracy–we really need a look at the other side of things! The culture of animosity between PR and journos can be really unfortunate, since I absolutely agree that breaking or
    ignoring conversation is one of the worst things you can do. Short, clear, honest responses are worth their weight in gold, even if it’s not what you want to hear. As a media researcher at Cision, I really, really, really appreciate your last point, and I have to say, for the most part, journalists
    are amiable and many in fact appreciate the time I take to make sure we have their information correct.

  • Anonymous

    Amen to this entire post, but particularly 1-3. I get that journalists are swamped and get tons of emails and calls per day. But a simple “thanks, but no thanks” goes a long way.

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