Dos and don’ts for PRs, bloggers and journalists

Speech bubble saying please print my story!


 

I’ve recently been twittering away about my life as a PR person, at the request of Gorkana, the media intelligence and insight agency.  Gorkana have launched their #thinkgorkana social media campaign, inviting people to share their thoughts and insights into their industry.
I am in the rather unique position of being a former-journalist turned PR consultant and blogger by night.  So I have a rounded perspective on the industry (at least I like to think so).
Being a former journalist has helped me greatly in my role, as I (kind of) know what annoys a hack, and what tickles their pickle.  As a blogger, I get to indulge my creative side and have more of a journalistic hat on, and PR’s get in touch with me as they would any news hack.
Anyway, I’ve had the pleasure of working with some lovely, accommodating and helpful PR’s, and some not-so-much. I’ve also been on the receiving end of either a fantastic or a very grumpy journalist.  So armed with this arsenal of insight – and with the help of some PR, blogger and journalist contacts, I thought I’d impart some wisdom about what PR’s should and shouldn’t do, and where some bloggers and journalists may possibly be going wrong too*…
*NB – this post may not apply to all PRs, bloggers and journalists.  If you’re one of the good ones, may we bask in your reflected glory.

Dos and don’ts for PRs, bloggers and journalists

Dos and don’t for PRs

Don’t push for coverage

Most PR’s are great, though there may have been the odd pushy PR who has stalked me for coverage on a product review or piece of research they’ve carried out.
When it comes to blogging, the first rule of thumb to remember is that most of us are bedroom bloggers.  We do it in our spare time, fitting it in around full-time work, part-time housework, friends and family duties and also trying to have some form of a life.
While we try and be as quick as we can, sometimes we are a bit lazy.  So unless we explicitly state a service-level agreement (i.e. we’ll publish by a certain time), you have to forgive us on not publishing your story as quickly as you or your client would like.
It’s the same principle when hounding journalists.  Most journalists, whether staff or freelance,
have no idea when your story will appear, as they submit it for publication, and the editor decides when it will be used.

Do check who you’re speaking to    

This comes from Angela Epstein, a renowned journalist and media trainer.  Angela, who is a regular writer for the Daily Mail, comments: “I’ve had people emailing saying ‘hi Epstein’.  It’s a basic thing, but if you can’t get a journalist’s name right, how can you expect them to give your story the time it deserves?
   

Do respect a journalist or bloggers deadline

Angela, again, says: “If we state that we need to speak to an expert by a certain time.  Make sure
you have called that expert beforehand and that they are available to be interviewed before our deadline closes.
I’ve had PRs calling me and saying that they’ve got the perfect person for my query, but when I ask for contact details and availability, they reply with ‘I haven’t spoken to them yet, I’ll just check they’re happy to be interviewed and if they’re free’.  This just wastes our time.

Don’t go quiet on bloggers… we won’t go away  

This tip comes from the fantastic Anna from Spotlights on the Redhead blog, and I wholeheartedly support this.  When speaking of a PR/blogger collab opportunity, Anna says: “sometimes they (the PR person) don’t even answer.  Even if it’s a no I’d like an answer.  Otherwise I don’t know what’s going on or if they ever read my email.”
This brings us nicely to our next point…

Don’t promise what you can’t deliver    

Again, an enthusiastic PR will offer you the earth.  However, when their client can’t come up with the goods, the PR and the brand they’re promoting comes across badly.  I’ve had PRs renege on interview offers, or just not reply to a follow-up query off the back of their press release.  It’s bad practice and leaves a bad impression.  Just don’t do it.

Do your research

A big bugbear for bloggers and journalists alike is receiving a story or opportunity of no relevance to them.
 
Top blogger Nazma, of Asian Fashion Blog fame, says: “my main bugbear is when a PR doesn’t read my blog before approaching me.  My blog is very niche, but I still get emails asking me to write about off-topic products.
Shelina Begum, Business Journalist at the Manchester Evening News seconds this.
She says: “First of all, know the publication you are contacting. It doesn’t look great if the PR only has a vague idea about what you do and who you cater for. For example I get a number of PRs who ring me up to tell me about a good business story, and when I ask where it’s based, it’s not even in our region.”  That’s a big PR fail.         

Do cut the bull crap

Shelinaalso makes another important point: “I can’t stand jargon in press releases.  I don’t want to spend ten minutes trying to work out exactly what the release is trying to say.  Journalists are really time constrained and if we’re on deadline, we just don’t have the time to go through something that doesn’t make sense.”

Do offer us bloggers something unusual or, informative.  Or if all else fails, throw us a freebie 

As a blogger, I want to give my readers something original, informative and interesting.  As a
result, I don’t tend to publish off-the-shelf press releases or stats.  So if you can, tailor your release for relevance, offer a unique take a on a topical issue.
The other route of course if product reviews, a fail-safe for PRs.  Yes, we’re suckers for freebies, and if you send a product I can try for MYSELF, then I can write from an original point of view, even if you’ve sent the same product to 100 other bloggers.

Don’t expect us to take your word for it    

A nod to my note about product reviews.  Everything I feature on my blog has been trialled by me, or someone close to me, to offer a personalised, unbiased view.
However, I have had some PRs sending a press release saying how great something is, and expecting it to be quoted verbatim.  Come on, it’s your job to say great things about what you’re plugging.  If I’m going to devote column inches on your product I need to try it and vouch for it myself.  Otherwise I’m fooling myself, and my readers.

Don’t expect glowing coverage because you’ve thrown us a product to review

Again, reviews.  Whilst I will always be diplomatic about and products I review, I will also be honest, detailing the good and the bad.  To be honest, most PRs have thanked me for an honest review, and understand that a shameless plus will turn readers off and dent our credibility.  And no lipgloss is worth that.
I remember a PR once said that if they send a freebie, they’re owed a good review, as they’ve bought that coverage.  Well let me enlighten, that is a huge load of BS.  To own coverage, you have to invest in something called advertising.  And that will most likely be a hell of a lot more expensive than the product you’re promoting.
   

Do treat us bloggers like journalists        

I remember once a PR spotted a typo in one of my articles (it was a lazy day) and asked if I could correct it before she sends to her client.  Now, as a PR, I have seen the odd typo in a press article about one my clients.  Have I asked the journalist to retract or correct?  Hell no.  A basic rule for PRs is, unless you’re client is defamed and slandered to the high hills, you be grateful for the coverage you’ve received.  Otherwise you can’t expect many more articles from that writer.  The same should apply for bloggers.

Do keep us updated

Another point from Anna: “When companies change their PRs, it would be nice if they informed us.  I was sending emails to an account that no longer existed because the PR had changed jobs and no-one told me or diverted their email.  It looks unprofessional, and the PR company misses a potential opportunity.”

Don’t underestimate the power of bloggers

Remember, unlike the general press, we write for a captive, niche audience who have a specific interest in our blog and what we cover.  So while we may not boast the circulation figures of the Daily Mail, we can at least say that our readers have an active interest in what we write about.

Dos and don’ts for bloggers      

 

Don’t just rave about something because it’s free

Yes, we’re all a sucker for a freebie.  But if you rave about something that you’re not happy about because it’s been given for free, you risk losing the most important USP of your blog – your credibility.
One of the reasons I started blogging was because I was sick of seeing glossy blogs which were pretty much adverts for a beauty brand.  I was left none the wiser as to whether or not to buy the product.  As a former news-hound, I try to offer a full review of any products, warts and all.  And almost every PR I have worked with has appreciated this honesty.

Don’t ask for products you’re not going to use or blog about

As a general rule, whether I like or not, I will write about a product I’ve trialled.  I’ve invested
the time, so why wouldn’t I blog about it?  Even if you don’t love something, surely the poor PR deserves an explanation as to why.

Don’t be bitchy for the sake of it

On this point, do as I say, not as I do!  Yes a good rant is great, and don’t I know it.  But we bloggers don’t want to take freedom of speech too far and bemoan unjustly.
In the interests of fair reporting, everything needs to be set in context, so you need to show the good and the bad.  However, if you’re ranting about something that it just plain terrible, go for your life. See examples of my rants here and here.

Do be nice

As a PR on the end of the phone to a cranky journalist, the temptation can be to wield my power when the shoes on the other foot, and I’m the blogger-in-demand.  But there’s just no point.  Being rude only makes you look like a bi-atch, and the PR may be less reluctant to work with you.  And nobody likes to talk to an arse.

Don’t apply lazy journalism

One of the great benefits of being a blogger is that you are your own boss.  No sub-editor, no picture desk, just you and your words.  However, the downside of this is that you can be a law unto yourself.  You don’t need to proofread, you can write what you want (within the bounds of the law) and submit articles at your will.
However, the danger of this is we can be sloppy in writing, upload poor quality pics, or just generally push out substandard content because there’s no-one to hold us to account.
But remember, poor content makes for a bad article, and a turned off reader.  So while you don’t have a boss, you do have a very important client, the whole of cyberspace.  So what you blog about counts, so don’t let yourself down.

Dos and don’ts for journalists

Do remember you need PRs too              

Yes, we’re ten a penny, and if we can’t give you a good story, someone else no doubt will.
However, unlike Joe Bloggs man-on-the-street (or any other non-PR) we PR people give you stories on a PLATE.
We do the leg work, we write useable quotes and print ready copy, we chase down interviewees for you, liaise with our client to give you a statement on time, we furrow our bros to find you an exclusive angle, and we generally pick up the slack and get the flak from all sides.  Heck, we even take you out for lunch if we’ve got any budget left.
So just remember, while the journalist is king in the PR/press balance of power, we do give you a tailor-made story and are generally at your beck and call.  Joe Bloggs simply cannot provide that service.
Once this happy relationship is established, the next point should come naturally…

Do be nice

Going through journalism school, I was lead to believe that the PR is the journalist’s natural enemy.  But in reality this is rarely the case.
However, on the rare occasion when there is a push for a story, we PRs are the ones that feel the pressure.
I’ve had a journalist hang up on me, call me every 20 minutes for a statement, or just be rude.
While you journos are no doubt feeling the pressure from your editor, we PRs are doing our utmost to get the information to you on time.  So let’s work together to get you the info you need.

Don’t apply lazy journalism

Similar to the tip for bloggers.  A PR’s biggest bugbear is when we go the trouble of securing our client for a feature, brief the client and journalist in fine detail, only to find that when the story is printed we don’t even get a mention, or our clients name is printed incorrectly.
This is a huge bugbear.  We understand that sometimes the fault lies with the sub-editor, which
is annoying but marginally better.  Just don’t let the fault be yours, as we hate our work going to waste.

Don’t go quiet on us

Similar to the tip for PRs.  Despite our better judgement, when you go quiet, we get nervous.  This leads to the dreaded follow-up call.
We’re super grateful when you keep us in the loop as to the progress of the story.  Some Good journalist contacts let me know when the story has been published, others will keep me in the loop when they’re interviewed my clients.
We know this can be a big ask, but when you’ve asked us for a feature, we’re even keener to know the progress.  While you don’t always know the progress yourself, when you do find out, share the knowledge.

Do help us to help you  

I once got a journalist out of a sticky situation by providing much needed information.  Following on from this I pitched a story and didn’t hear a peep.  Not even a ‘you wish’, ‘this story has no legs’ or even a very angry no.  Whilst we know how busy journalists are, it’s pretty poor to completely ignore someone who has helped you.
It’s a two-way relationship, so if you can’t afford us the time of day, we may be less accommodating in the future.

So that’s that.  If we all abided by all of the above, we’d be just fine (I can dream).  If I’ve missed any tips out, or you just want to run to the defence of your industry, tweet me or leave a comment.   

HalimaBobs

About the Author

HalimaBobs

I’m not a makeup artist, chef, lifestyle guru or stylist. I’m just me. And like you, I’m trying to make the best of most things, only I’m sharing my warts-and-all thoughts along the way.

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