At the Bradford Group, several of our PR specialists – myself included – have previously worked as reporters, editors or producers for leading media outlets. As well as our writing skills and news sense, we bring valuable knowledge of what media personnel want and need from PR people, and what makes them more or less likely to run a story. By helping reporters, PR professionals are helping their clients’ chances of securing favorable coverage. So, here are five common PR mistakes I often complained about when I worked as a TV and radio producer and that I try not to make myself now that I’m working in PR.
1. Off-target Pitching
Your story idea might serve your client well, but does it serve the audience of the media outlet to which you’re pitching it? It might not be a news story at all. Or, it might be a news story for some outlets but not others. Also, make sure you’re pitching to the right reporter because health reporters don’t want their inbox filled with finance pitches and vice versa. Sometimes, too, it helps to have macro knowledge of how your story relates to a media organization’s wider interests. For example, if you’re pitching a compelling yet negative story about a certain company and that company happens to be part-owned by the media outlet, that’s likely why its reporters aren’t showing interest.
2. Burying Your Lead
Some reporters get hundreds of emails a day, so don’t make the selling point of your email a treasure hunt, especially if, to that particular reporter, your message may not actually contain treasure. Sure, you can include a longer press release or other detailed information, but put it below a few short lines right at the top that will let a reporter know whether it’s worth investing time in reading further. Clearly summarized email subject lines are helpful in this regard too.
3. No Sense of Urgency
If a reporter takes your bait and wants to run your story, make sure you immediately clarify the deadlines and expectations for what’s required of you. Nothing’s more frustrating for a reporter than having their own deadline put in jeopardy by your inability to deliver the talent or content you’d promised. When needed, reporters know how to find interviewees and information at very short notice and so will have little sympathy for you if you say you can’t, particularly if you don’t say it till it’s too late for the reporter to do it themselves. By helping reporters, PR professionals are helping their clients’ chances of securing favorable coverage.
By helping reporters, PR professionals are helping their clients’ chances of securing favorable coverage.
4. Overselling Stories and Talent
When a reporter further investigates your story or interviews your suggested talent, you need to make sure they’re as you’d described. Yes, you may need to spin your story to get a reporter interested, but honesty is the best policy in helping manage the reporter’s expectations. Don’t waste their time with stories that don’t check out, or promise “great on-air talent” that actually can’t string a sentence together.
5. Impersonal Personal Emails
Reporters realize that PR people sometimes use direct-mail software when simultaneously pitching to dozens or hundreds of media outlets, but don’t remind them of that by having incorrect personal data and poor formatting make it obvious. Also, if you’re resending a pitch to a different reporter, don’t leave the previous reporter’s name or organization at the top, and it’s better to cut and paste an email than to forward it, because forwarded text is often received as a different color, revealing to the reporter that you weren’t their first choice. Keep your media list up to date, too, because reporters are immediately put off if they receive emails addressed to someone who no longer works for the company or, even worse, has passed away.
If you annoy a reporter too many times, it’s not good for your or your clients’ reputations, and journalists may start deleting your emails without opening them and stop taking your calls. Meanwhile, if you’re an exceptional reporter who’s interested in transitioning to a career in PR, why not check out our job opportunities?