INTRODUCTION: ABANDON OLD ROPE YE WHO ENTER HERE
This guide features the contributions of several hundred journalists, writing or editing for national and regional papers and trade magazines or reporting for broadcasters.
Periodically I write out, inviting them to submit their worst examples of PR and media relations practice. I also capture tweets from journalists that sum up their frustrations like little haikus. I’ve also learnt, the hard way, from some of my own mistakes.
Responses in this guide come from senior journalists at the BBC, The Telegraph, The Guardian, The Sun, The Scotsman, The Financial Times, The Daily Mail, Sky News, the Wall Street Journal, Reuters, The Washington Post and many more. I’m grateful for all the contributions.
It’s a useful exercise for me as a PR practitioner – and, as you’ll see, it’s cathartic for the hundreds of journalists that have taken the time to write back to me. The guide is widely read by PR professionals and is used as a training manual by some of the world’s largest consultancies.
I think that many of practices criticised below (sell-in calls, poorly targeted press releases, shoddy grammar and spelling, etc) should simply be stopped, with the time saved invested in thinking harder about the content of the ideas, the email pitches and press releases that are sent to Britain’s hard-working hacks.
I update this page quarterly as an on-going record of the contributions I receive. I add new sections where patterns of annoying behaviour are brought to our attention. Social media, for instance, is giving rise to a whole series of bugbears, including, for example, the ‘suggested tweet’, usually a condensed version of a press release that some wet behind the ears PRs are bravely suggesting that journalists tweet.
There’s a lot to digest but I think it is well worth a read if you are serious about PR (traditional and digital) and media relations.
I’ve kept any edits to a minimum, occasionally removing a name to protect the not-so innocent. There is repetition, but repetition can be instructive.
Above all, I hope that this report debunks myths, adds useful context and acts as a warning.
If you’re new to PR or an experienced practitioner I hope you’ll find something useful here. Please do feel free to share it with colleagues via Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn using the buttons above. If you’re a journalist, do send your examples to me or tweet me @HamishMThompson.
I should stress that media relations is only one dimension of PR, which with the growth of social media and the rise of adblockers has become a far more diverse, dexterous and important discipline than ever. Having a good working relationship with journalists is vital – and always will be – and this guide is here to help.
Finally, if you’re in PR and you fancy checking that your press release is free of buzzwords, do try my free online Buzzsaw app, which will automatically strip out buzzwords submitted to me by national, regional and international editors, broadcasters and journalists. You’ll find The Buzzsaw at thebuzzsaw.co.uk.
I hope you enjoy the report.
BACKDROP: WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT TODAY’S JOURNALISTS
Editors, correspondents and bloggers are shorter of time than they have ever been. One journalist tells me that he hangs up immediately if the person on the other end says “Have I been put through to the consumer desk?” “It isn’t a desk, it’s just ME,” he snarls.
The days of predictable deadlines are long gone and most correspondents are writing stories for websites as well as for print. News breaks all the time.
Patience is not a natural journalistic trait. Most are under intense pressure and have little time for waffle and pleasantries, especially ones with even the faintest whiff of insincerity.
Journalists have an acute sense of smell. They can sniff half-truths, dodgy figures and window-dressing.
According to my research, national correspondents have an average of more than 300 emails waiting in their inboxes when they arrive at the office.
MAJOR TREND: US terminology and the cloying “hipsterisation” of the PR industry
Many of the journalists that I contacted moaned about the way that PR people talk to them. They pointed in particular to the over-use of words like “awesome” and “super-excited”. This sort of hyperbole, they felt, was, (as one correspondent put it) “well, a bit juvenile”, and didn’t really match up to their expectations of professional communicators. They also loathe phrases like ‘reach out’ and ‘circle back’.
“One of the problems”, one correspondent said, “is that there’s this perception that PR and wacky ideas are a YOUNG thing. Most of the journalists that I know are older than their years and we get mightily hacked off if we’re called about something frivolous and talked to as if we’re children. The same applies to writing. If you write to us in a mannered and infantile way, you’ll just get ignored. Most of the PR people that I admire are 40+ and behave it. They treat me like an adult and I treat them the same way.”
A special honourable mention went to PRs that preface all verbal responses with “So”. “I don’t know where this comes from,” fumed one technology correspondent. “I suspect San Francisco via Shoreditch, but it’s worse than nails on a blackboard. In many contexts, it also sounds a bit mansplainy.”
Several of the journalists that I contacted said that they felt that these imported and hyperbolic terms were most often used by PRs representing next-generation technology companies, but other journalists with a wider consumer brief had also spotted the emergence of this sort of language, implying that it is leaking into other parts of the PR industry.
One correspondent said: “I’m all for a pleasant chat, but there are probably two things in the average life that deserve being referred to as ‘awesome’ or ‘super-exciting’. Cauliflowers and biscuits aren’t amongst them.”
In parallel, many referenced the foothold that American terms seem to have secured in the PR lexicon. A correspondent at the Guardian emailed me to shame the PRs that say ‘circle back’ or ‘reach out.’ There is at least one sighting in the wild of the use of outreach as a verb, as in “I outreached.”
In a similar vein a television correspondent sent me this tongue-in-cheek note: “Thanks for reaching out to me on this one, and I look forward to circling back to you in the near future. Though I have to warn you that, as of this moment in time, we have poor visibility going forward. Here’s to a new global paradigm in 2013!”
SINCE WHEN AM I THE DOLL REPORTER?
Poor targeting is endemic. Here’s one ‘perfect’ example:
The worst example in a long while came from Mattel’s PR people who contacted me for some odd reason to promote their latest Barbie product. “Barbie,” gushed the contact, “is reaching out to you because she is going on the road to look for a new place to live and coming to your area.’’ HUH? A doll is reaching out to me? Since when am I the doll reporter? Why was she wasting my time? And did she know our geography? The cities Barbie was considering had high crime rates and were not posh. So what was next? Barbie gets an Uzi? Barbie joins the ’hood? Barbie goes to Neighborhood Watch?
Here’s a list of gripes from a specialist US editor:
I hate pitches that:
1. Begin Dear Editor/Producer. Says you’re plastering the universe with this pitch and there’s nothing of special interest to me or my organization.
2. Don’t research ahead of time what I cover (Rising obesity rates for household pets? No. 45% of all American men have moustaches? No again.) I cover race and ethnicity and all the things affected by it. Fat doggies and hairy upper-lipped gentlemen aren’t part of the package.
3. Make completely specious links to my beat, especially when bolstered by bogus experts. (“15% Native American families love Gooey Crunch Breakfast Cereal with Marshmallow Stars! Let us make an appointment for you to speak with Dr. Notta Nutritionist about the energizing effects of heavily sugared cereal…”)
4. Pitch everyone in your newsroom at the same time. We’re kinda on to that, and the reaction tends to be “oh, you got one of those, too?” followed by the thunk of the mass pitch into the waste basket.
Some PR people fail to understand the nature of the relationship and the amount of time that correspondents have:
By far the biggest annoyance is PRs ringing to ask if their invariably dull story has made it into the paper. If by some miracle I actually happen to know the story made it to print they demand a PDF copy.
Sure, I’ll take time from my jaw-droppingly busy day to hunt for the page (possibly having to endure the wrath of production guys in the process) before exporting it as a PDF and emailing it to you. Get your own newspaper – we have an online edition – it’s not hard. And don’t even think about calling to ‘check if I got your email’, I did and if I was interested I would have called you. Now kindly stop wasting my time.
A brief cry for help:
Sending announcements in .pdf format!
Check the map first:
We are always getting calls from PRs who say they’ve ‘got a great local story’ for us. When we ask if it relates to Stockport they say ‘oh sorry, I’m not sure, I’m not familiar with the area’… or claim it is Stockport when it in fact turns out to be Salford, and then are surprised to hear they are two different places (perhaps a map might help?!). I also get told a lot ‘well it’s not happening in Stockport but people in Stockport might be affected’. Well, yes, but you could say that about pretty much any news, ever, and if we covered those stories it would make having a local newspaper somewhat pointless. Similarly with e-mails, if I get an e-mail with the subject line ‘great local story for you’ that tells me the PR doesn’t actually know which area we cover and is just hedging their bets. If it’s a Stockport story, put that in the subject line!
A broadcast correspondent silently screams:
A few pet hates:
The main one is simply not understanding the site they’re sending the press release to. Does ITV News look like a site that wants to run a story on new clothing ranges?
Trying to sell flawed research. A survey of 100 people done inside your store is not sound, and neither are the claims made off the back of it.
Not including photos with releases.
Targeting the wrong parts of the organisation.
Emails with comments on events from “experts” I’ve never heard of in fields I’ve never heard of.
Follow up emails to check I got the first email in the first place. If I ignored it there’s a reason why.
Overt friendliness from people I’ve never met. Signing off with awful phrases. I got one recently that said “love and kittens” – NOOOOOO!
Let’s get the relationship off on the right foot shall we?….
Don’t tell me how to do my job. Don’t threaten me by saying how much the chief executive is a pal of the editor’s/owners (he isn’t, even if he thinks he is. Also, fuck off.) Don’t be over familiar. Don’t ask me how my family are. Don’t assume I can remember who you are (there are thousands and thousands of you). Don’t think I haven’t heard this (whatever it is) 3,000 times before. Don’t try to get me together with the chief executive on the basis that we both like football/fencing/whatever. He doesn’t like it. He looks like an idiot when he tries to. It is embarrassing. Don’t ask me for my phone number or email. It is in the paper every day. If you want to pitch a story to The Sun, it might be helpful to read The Sun.
Who’s in charge here?
My main gripe is PR people telling you that you don’t know what a story is. We ran a series of pieces recently about wages in the public sector. We knew it would be controversial and it ended up with a visit from a director of communications in the editor’s office. After much complaining I asked what exactly he was unhappy about. He said: “It’s not a story. People aren’t interested in this. Why is this on the front page?” NEVER EVER tell an editor he doesn’t know what his readers want to read – even if that’s what you believe.
A Scottish journalist writes:
1. There is nothing worse than emails or letters coming in addressed to my predecessor or in fact most recently two predecessors ago! If you cannot find out who it is you are trying to pitch to, you shouldn’t be in the job!
2. I cannot stand surveys in which they come to the same findings but all they do is change the city name so it sounds ‘local’. Discovered this recently when I was sent a survey for Aberdeen, instead of Glasgow. When I pointed out to the PR girl in London that as a Glasgow station we wouldn’t be interested in Aberdeen figures, she promptly sent the same email with the just the area changed to Glasgow.
3. Why can’t PR officers down south understand the changes caused by devolution? Not so long ago we received a call from a PR firm down south offering us an expert to talk about abortion statistics from the Department of Health for England and Wales!
Perhaps consider a job in telesales:
My pet peeves include: “I sent you a press release yesterday and I’m just calling to see if you got it.” Did you get an automatic reply saying we’d received your email? “Yes.” “I sent you a press release yesterday and I’m just calling to see if you need any more information.” Did you get the automatic reply saying we’d received your email and if we needed any more information we’d contact you? “Yes.” “I sent you a press release on Monday.” Definitely Monday? “Yes…no…maybe Tuesday…or it could have been Friday.” OK, wait a sec while I put the front page on hold to trawl through the 3,000 emails we’ve received since then so that when I find it I can tell you we don’t cover the West Midlands. “You’re a weekly, aren’t you?” No. “Do you cover stories in a neighbouring county?” No. “But this story’s really interesting.” Still no. “But people on your patch will want to hear about it.” Still no. I’m sure it’s an area you’ve covered but spamming e-mails from PR companies are very annoying.
All the world’s a stage:
My worst offender is a PR Company called [redacted] – they send me stuff mainly about stage shows – I am the editor of an international discussion programme and though my tastes are broad, I’m not sure knowing that former Apprentice star Charles Sidebottom is to make his stage debut in Crazy For You is really relevant. I tried automatically sending their stuff in to a spam file- but they send it through with different names on, e.g. [redacted] (I’m not making this up) so I tried their “unsubscribe” service and amazingly, the e-mails kept coming. I wrote and asked them to take me off. Still nothing. Then I wrote back to them demanding free tickets for whatever they were promoting – THEN they stopped.
A broadcast perspective:
As referenced in your guide, I am astonished at the frequency with which I am offered research findings or news about a claimed “scientific breakthrough”, only to discover that the scientist or academic or researcher pivotal to the story is, in fact, unavailable on the day in question.
For my print colleagues, the provision of a well-selected quotation may suffice, but for TV or radio it is never adequate. This can be deeply, deeply frustrating. Sometimes the PRO involved is fully aware of the fact but fails to disclose it in initial conversations, thus wasting even more of my time.
And worse, often they seem put out at my apparent reluctance to cover the piece without either shots of the device involved nor a soundbite from the appropriate expert. Aaaargh. This happens several times a week. For broadcasters, this is such a deeply-rooted failure to understand the medium that it almost inevitably leads to on-going distrust of the individual or organisation involved. To my mind this is not just a failure of approach, a minor matter of language or tone, it is a fundamental failure to grasp even the basics of broadcast news and its requirements.
Twenty years ago there may have been an excuse: PR was fairly new; the majority of outlets were print; audio-visual could have been said to be a specialty. But not now, not since YouTube and not since newspapers themselves began to provide AV content online. Buy a book, google it, but don’t by turn be stupid and then aggressively defensive.
My other points are along the same lines. Do not choose, or insist upon, a filming or interview location: In front of windows. This is a technical nightmare and will make your interviewee look dark and shady. If you must, then hire or purchase the appropriate strength of lighting. And understand this will have to be powerful. The sun is a considerable source to have to balance. Or, as a last resort, at least inform the broadcasters you have invited of your intentions. In a cupboard-sized space or corner. Space behind the interviewee will improve the perspective of the shot, which will make it look nicer, which will make people more comfortable watching and listening to what is actually being said. This applies to backing boards filled with sponsor logos IMO. Do you want viewers to be reading or to be listening? Also a certain amount of distance is required between camera and subject. Hard surfaces reflect sound. Reflected sound diffuses quality. Poor quality audio can distract the listener from the message you and your company have spent considerable effort trying to get across. I guarantee at least half the people listening will be trying to work out where the interview took place rather than listening to its contents. Provide a soft-furnished, and carpeted space away from the throng of the event for radio interviews. Even better: provide two. Never, ever suggest going outside to conduct interviews if “outside” means next to a road. It demonstrates ignorance. If it is a story about a “thing”. then a still photograph of the thing will not suffice for TV. We need to film the “thing”, almost certainly in action. Inanimate “things” are not dissimilar to photographs of “things”. TV is about moving pictures. I’ll say it again because many people don’t seem to get it: TV is about MOVING PICTURES. Not for nothing do film directors shout: “Action!”. This applies to people. If the story is about a football team’s achievements, make sure they are in their strips, have a ball, or three, and the space in which to play football. If not, understand that broadcasters will think you are either: unbelievably stupid, or wilfully interested in your own career at the expense of our time and effort. If in doubt, call your contact at the local BBC office. If they have agreed to come to your event, then they will probably have a minute or two to advise on such matters. These are the bugbears which leapt to mind. I hope this helps. For the record, I am no longer a reporter for the BBC. I was a senior broadcast journalist for them, and have also been a member of staff for Sky News and Reuters TV.
This may already be on your list, which I’ve only skim read, but failure to understand the publication or journalist to which information is being submitted is unforgiveable – eg. offering something related to TV listings when we don’t run them or suggesting that a plug for a drinks brand would look good on our ‘Coffee House’ blog (which is about Westminster politics). It’s so suggestive of poor research and a cack-handed attitude to their clients. It makes me suspect that whatever they’re representing is worthless, so I always take note of the agencies that do this.
The most expensive and valueless words of all time:
Mergers or alliance with quotes from one “We are delighted” and from the second party, “We are pleased…” Really, how much work does it take to get them to say something meaningful about the value of this alliance in real terms, and please leave out “synergy.”
The rise of the Omnibore:
In America “Such as” seems to be the new way of beginning a sentence, even when it makes no sense. In banking, “omni channel” refers to offering the same info in a branch, ATM, online or on a mobile but today I saw Esri, the mapping company, use it as a noun: “the omni channel.” I fear it is just the first time, not the last. When I get pitches well outside my coverage area I label them as junk. No second chances. Screw your clients, follow journalism style.
10 word titles?
In the US, titles are lower case after the name. PRs almost always make them upper case, which I suspect clients think makes them look more important. Annoying to have to go through and change it. And expect titles that go to 7 or 10 words to get truncated. I just want the title to explain what the person does, not fit a slot into a10-page org chart.
To coin a phrase:
Clichés: In tech journalism “seamless” is tossed in often and randomly. Sure, all system integration results are seamless, then why do they break down so often or deliver different versions of the truth to different users… Solution, of course. World class, best in class, leading – common across industries but annoying all the time. Intelligent quotes are useful. I cover a lot of technical stuff and over a wide range of topics, so solid background and intelligent quotes are helpful. I sometimes review quotes and always invite people to let me know of any problems when stories are published online – I can change than in a few minutes. I think tech PR people are usually pretty smart and well-informed, although I have my doubts when called by a junior PR pushing a tech story who doesn’t know what an operating system is.
LOATHSOME BEHAVIOUR (their words, not ours)
Avoid these pitfalls and you stand a much better chance of capturing the imagination of journalists.
Making up words when there are others that will do the trick was a major bugbear. The business editor of a leading Scottish paper offered the following: “I dislike annoying phrases like ‘going forward’ (meaning in the future) and “learnings” for lessons.”
A correspondent at The Independent said: “Most of the issues for me are about behaviour. I can’t stand it when I’m phoned and the PR says: “Some of the findings are quite surprising, for instance… [followed by a long list]” or “I’m just checking you received that email.” Similarly annoying is failing to disclose the clients and their interest, which (in my mind) immediately downgrades credibility.”
A senior correspondent at The Sun gave me these pet peeves: “I hate it when PRs offer me ‘Collateral’ – when PRs just mean materials for publication! It’s not a war operation, it’s a story in a newspaper.”
The correspondent added: “ ‘Demi / Semi Exclusive’ – This tends to be the preserve of a few big agencies but it is always met with howls of laughter and derision in newsrooms. An exclusive means it is in ONE publication. Offering it to two or more is not in any way exclusive.”
Finally, the correspondent added: “And the dreaded: ‘the client wants it to appear like this?’ – Oh really? Then book an advert…”
A correspondent at the Daily Telegraph gave three examples of his pet hates: “(1) ‘Scoop’ (they never are), (2) ANY pun of any description, (3) Phone calls that start ‘Hi is that xxxx? How are you? I am just giving you a quick call to see if you have a minute to listen to a story idea that I have that you might find of interest…’. That is 20 seconds that I will never get back.”
He emailed me again minutes later: “PS – And no-one has used the word ‘scoop’ since Evelyn Waugh.”
Another correspondent on a Scottish paper groaned: “I loathe it when a business is described as ‘providing solutions’. We see this time and again and tells us nothing.”
A features editor at a national paper sent me a copy of his blacklist (pinned beside his monitor) which includes:
(1) “reaching out”
(2) “attached is an article which would be good to feature in your…”
(3) “Pleased to announce an exciting new client” [this is not news]
(4) “Hi, I hope you are well”
(5) “Delivery footprint”
(6) Any footprint – unless it is a yeti’s
A senior correspondent at another national broadsheet told me: “What drives me NUTS is when a PR rings or e-mails to say he or she is ‘selling in’ a story. That is a red rag to a bull.”
“The other thing that irritates me is the expression, giving a ‘heads up’ on something… why not ‘a bit of notice’?”
“I’ve also been finding increasingly that a lot of younger PRs do not actually understand what an embargo is, never mind how it works. That has led to some major misunderstandings about the timings of stories which could have been avoided. And I can never understand why people time an embargo with a ‘news conference’ or event. If you have the story under embargo then you are highly unlikely to go to the event, no matter what it is. In fact an embargoed story – if planned properly – can usually work well as we have the time to package it up and pitch it to our newsdesks, etc.”
“I also often get e-mails from people saying: Dear Val (which is not my name), good to talk just now (when we haven’t)… thought this would work well as a feature for The Mail on Sunday (which is not the title I write for). Or whoever… basic rule is to get the name and publication right.”
WORDS IN PRESS RELEASES: TOP TWENTY HATES (and our shot at a definition in brackets)
Avoid these terms and these practices and (if your story is sufficiently well crafted) you stand a substantially better chance of getting your story in print, on air or online.
– Brits / Hard-working Brits / Hard-up Brits (an attempt to be ‘accessible’)
– Dynamic (likely not to be)
– Paradigm (a ‘silk purse’ word)
– Elite (i.e. the best thing in Scunthorpe on a Thursday at 3pm)
– Hotly anticipated (i.e. never heard of it)
– End-user (‘customer’)
– Influencer (probably not)
– Evangelist (a tendency to tweet with loads of hashtags)
– Deliverables (‘tasks’)
– Icon/iconic (‘use before 01.01.01 or never’)
– Rocketed (‘made modest progress’)
– “An astonishing x per cent” (it rarely is astonishing)
– Marquee event/marquee client (probably ‘very local’)
– Going forward (‘in the future’)
– Ongoing (‘a bit behind schedule’)
– Optimised (‘changed by consultants then changed back’)
– Horizontal, vertical, etc (two words in lieu of a strategy)
– Phygital (easy to press or swipe we guess)
– SoLoMo (no idea)
– Well-positioned (‘hopeful but a bit scared’)
You can remove other words that journalists hate from your press releases by running them through the buzzsaw.
MORE DISHONOURABLE MENTIONS
“Putting ‘does this work for you?’ in the subject line, which makes me shout ‘no’ and hit delete without reading it.”
“Starting an email with ‘FirstName’ is definitely on the list.” (Editor’s note: mea culpa once on this one – never again)
“Happy Friday” and “Lock-in some coverage”.
“ ‘Iconic’ – when applies to everything from Kate Middleton’s hair to Colleen Rooney’s platforms. Please can we allow this word the respect and privacy it deserves at this special time so that it can recover its true meaning?”
“ ‘What are you working on at the moment?’ – about 500 stories and we don’t have time to elaborate or we won’t get them finished. If we need you, we’ll call.”
“Cold calls – cold emails will suffice.”
“Misspellings and atrocious grammar – a complete turn-off. How can we begin to take your analysis and pronouncements seriously if you don’t even have the diligence to check the difference between it’s and its?”
“ ‘We’d like to place this on your pages’ – what are we: classified ads?”
“Please don’t ‘reach out to us’ – we’re perfectly happy with a conversation or the written word.”
One correspondent added: “Two stand out above all others… the use of the word ‘issues’ as a sanitised alternative to ‘problem’ or ‘disaster’. In modern PR speak Argentina has ‘issues’ with the Falklands, the economy is suffering low growth ‘issues’ and Chelsea had sub optimal performance ‘issues’ against QPR last night. The other is the business speak use of ‘around’. Put the two together as in ‘issues around x’ is my particular bête noir.”
HOW NOT TO USE TWITTER
“Getting approached by some numbskull PR on Twitter, usually with a rubbish invitation to a Z list event that has nothing to do with what I write about.”
“PRs asking me to follow them on Twitter so that they can DM me. Show me the PR who can say something meaningful in 140 characters and I’ll eat my shorts.”
“Having a journalist follow you on Twitter seems to be the new ‘I have great contacts’.”
‘He’s in a meeting’; ‘Not to my knowledge’; ‘it’s on our website’; ‘it’s only speculation’; and, on deadline, ‘how are you today?…oh, are you coming along to our press conference on Wednesday week?’
People called Pippa French-Windows.
PR people who make no effort whatsoever to research the paper they’re calling.
It annoys me enough when we get several calls a week pitching Leeds stories (off our patch) but when people call pitching stories for a couple of hundred miles away, it’s ridiculous.
One PR a few weeks ago was clearly going alphabetically through a list and had lost his place. “Is that the Wimbledon paper?” – No. “Sorry, Wolverhampton?” No. “Wycombe??” NO!
Faux-friendliness on phone calls. Just get to the point; skip the “and how are you today” chat. Someone last week asked me on a busy Monday what I’d done with my weekend, and got short thrift!
Chasing up repeatedly on emails. If a story’s good, it will be used. We delete or redirect hundreds of emails a day that are irrelevant or for other departments. We can’t reply to them all. I can understand chasing up an email if you’ve been told it will be used or if you know it’s a great story. But take the hint; don’t nag!
Odious words/phrases include solutions, multi-agency partnerships, awesome, amazing.
“Hit-and-run” press releases – when PR people email a release, then when you try to call back immediately they’ve left for the day.
Corporate gobbledygook is always a turn-off.
Try the URL of a website out for yourself before including it in a press release – I’ve lost count of the number that have been mis-typed or are simply not yet active by the time the release goes out.
If you, the PR, don’t know what some piece of jargon, acronym or technical detail means how the hell do you expect the journalist to know. Again, I have lost count of the number of times I have queried something to be told “I wondered what that meant, too…”
Call a spade a spade. Many years ago, when I was a trainee, I came across the phrase “public utility facility” in a council press release. After a lengthy and largely circular conversation, I said to the individual at the Council end of the ’phone “So, it’s a rubbish dump,” to be told: “Well, we don’t call them that…”
LET’S NOT BE ASSUMPTIVE
‘We’d like to work with you on this’. ‘Work with me’? I think not. You’re on the other side of the fence, mate. Armed neutrality is the best you’re going to get.
It infuriates our picture-desk when people ask if they can “book” a photographer. Request or invite, yes. Book, no.
‘Hi, how are you today?’ ‘You really want to know?…….No. You really don’t. Honestly. You really, really don’t.”
PRs putting stuff out under an embargo – such as ‘Not before 00.01 HRS Monday’ – and then breaking their own embargo by giving someone the nod to run early (or even worse giving it to a Sunday). Excuse me, but this is a two way agreement. Not one way.
Yours going forward in a best-of-breed blue chip ongoing synergistic blue sky thinking joined up manner,
“My pet hate is when you you get a fab press release on a great story – you ring the PR person up and they say NO-ONE is available on the day they put the release out to talk about their story. WHY bother putting it out in the first place? If you want publicity then you have to make sure you have people available to talk.
Press offices and agencies that don’t have out of hours numbers: in the age of 24 hour news this is essential. If your agency can’t be contacted out of hours you’re wasting your money.
Have you heard of newspapers?
I am irritated by PRs who don’t read the paper and then ring me to ask if a totally inappropriate story is of interest.
Me and virtually all my colleagues are driven mad by follow-up calls to ask “do you need anything else?” and “is it of interest?”
If I need anything else I will call you, and I don’t know if it will make the paper until I pick up a copy the next morning – please stop ringing to chase up releases.
PRs who ring to ask if a story has gone in the paper (without buying a copy and looking themselves) risk being blacklisted – this is not an exaggeration.
Quotes. When have you ever seen a quote in a newspaper news story along the lines of:
“Our product is the market leader and has been loved by Britons for generations.”
“This survey [on a vaguely related subject] shows our product can improve the lives of millions of Britons.”
“I am pleased our product will continue… etc, etc, etc”
I am prepared to look at research/ surveys that promote a product but when the release and the quote are blatant puff, it will not make it.
Quotes should support the survey, not push the product.
Don’t ring to ask if you can send over a press release, it does nothing but irritate, especially if preceded by “How are you today?”.
Don’t ring a national newspaper after 4pm with a story idea – this is deadline and unless it is sensational breaking news it can wait.
PRs are getting very “salesy” and pushy. The rule of thumb is if it is of interest and any good, it will get in the paper. If it isn’t it wont, and no amount of pushing is going to change that. All this “selling in” nonsense is just that. You’re wasting your time and money. Spend it on the stuff that matters – the story / idea.”
“PRs who don’t include a contact phone number!”
“One pet peeve I have is PR staff phoning without a clue of what the hell they’re talking about.
The amount of calls we get from agencies saying “basically, what it is yeah, is we’ve got …” is ridiculous.”
“Get out of my way”
“My pet hates in the world of PR include anything that makes the initial cut-and paste more difficult.
They include press releases:
– Sent as an attachment. Takes-up my valuable time to open them… to find out if they are of any interest. Sometimes I am just to busy to bother. Send the press release in the body of the email.
– Peppered with graphics and other elements that do not easily cut-and-paste.
– Telling a story that screams-out for a picture, but does not include one.
– Logos that come as .jpg attachments and LOOK like they might be the vital missing picture, and waste our time opening them.
– Including bullet points… that do not cut and paste.
– “Editor’s Notes”. They send me reaching for the delete button. Means the PR is too LAZY to include vital information in the particular release, and wants me to do a skilful re-write to craft the key, underlying information into the story. Grrrrrrr!
– Those that are written from the narrow perspective of the client, stating claims or opinions as facts.
– Include “surveys” that are clearly made-up or produce nothing new, providing information that anyone would have expected anyway. e.g. ‘52 per cent of women are more likely to confide in their female friends than their husbands’.”
“For some unknown reason, our office phones have a digital stopwatch that activates at the start of every call, so when we get one of these tedious PR calls I can see precisely how much of my day they are tragically stealing!”