Publicists and journalists should always aim to have a mutually beneficial relationship. Really, they rely on each other to survive: Journalists need the intel from publicists about new products, celebrity partnerships, and brand news, while publicists need placement from journalists in one way or another. But in the midst of it all, both parties may forget the pressures and demands that the other is facing. Publicists have quotas to hit and clients to make happy, and journalists have nearing deadlines and overflowing email inboxes — both are just as important.
As a publicist, part of media relationship building is knowing when and how far to lean in, especially when you’re fielding calls and demands from eager clients. Understandably, every publicist may feel like their pitch is the most critical email to hit a journalist’s inbox, but the chances are that there are hundreds of others who feel the exact same way. That’s why publicists need to develop quality relationships with journalists who work at relevant media outlets and cover similar topics. While it’s definitely possible to take it too far (more on all the reasons why publicists are annoying below), a stable working relationship will only pay off in the long-run. Think of it this way: Would you rather work with something you know or a complete stranger?
As publicists develop relationships with journalists, there are several things to keep in mind to ensure that the connection remains professional, effective, and downright enjoyable. Here, we’ve rounded up all the many reasons why publicists are annoying, according to actual journalists. So, if you’re a publicist, consider this the ultimate guide on what not to do.
When publicists mark all emails as “high priority.”
Just seeing the red exclamation points hit your inbox is enough to make you jump. There are a time and a place to use the high priority feature — and it’s not on a standard pitch or follow-up. “Send emails with standard priority and save the ‘high priority ones for truly house-on-fire situations, so you don’t earn a reputation of the boy who cried wolf,” Lisa Hagendorf, president and founder of Centerpiece Public Relations, explains. Of course, there are instances when a high-priority designation makes sense, like when your client is asking for an urgent change, or you need to confirm an interview at the very last minute.
When publicists call a journalist about an email.
Journalists receive hundreds of emails daily, so it’s more than likely that a few emails slip through the cracks. Or, truthfully, that they delete any pitches that aren’t relevant to their current work. “Do not call a journalist to see if they received your email and, even worse, call them saying, ‘I’m calling to see if you received my email,’’ Hagendorf continues. Stick to an email follow-up and reserve phone calls for “meaningful and valuable opportunities to break out of their email clutter and convey timely information with confidence.”
When publicists pitch a client with a limited schedule.
The truth: Your client, whether they’re a celebrity, expert, or executive, is only impressive if they’re accessible to the journalist you’re pitching. “You may represent the most popular fitness guru in the world, but if your client cannot be pinned down for an interview, what’s the point of pitching them in the first place,” Hagendorf asks. Before you even draft a pitch, she suggests that publicists request specific dates and times in advance, so they can be ready when journalists bite. Also, clarify with your client what type of interview they prefer — email, phone, Zoom, Skype, or another virtual option. While you’re at it, make sure to confirm if the video interview is audio-only or video-required. “Not being camera-ready because they think it’s a voice-only interview is a surefire way to blow your client’s confidence, as well as the opportunity itself,” she continues.
When publicists follow up too quickly.
While time is of the essence for both publicists and journalists, remember that journalists are often sifting through dozens of emails daily. Give them plenty of time — say, a week or two — to get to your mail. Following up within a 24-hour period is a major red flag to Olivia Liveng, freelance writer and PR professional: “Follow-ups annoy me and make me less inclined to want to work with you in the future. To me, they feel impatient and as though my only job is to serve you and your clients.”
When publicists don’t understand the difference between editorial and advertorial.
Anything that a journalist writes is a form of earned media. That means it isn’t transactional but a totally free form of publicity. Because of this reason, a journalist’s job isn’t to create ad content for your client but rather to write about your client in an informative, human-first way. So, when a publicist sends a million requests to a journalist about copy changes, it can blur the lines between editorial and advertorial. “I cannot simply update a story because a publicist asks me to. This is not only annoying but also undermines my profession,” Liveng explains.
When publicists send irrelevant pitches to journalists.
Possibly the number one reason why publicists are annoying: Sending industry-specific pitches to the wrong reporter. “Do your homework, research their previous stories, and tailor your pitch, accordingly,” Hagendorf recommends. “There is a big difference between a journalist not being interested versus downright offended them because of your lack of thoughtfulness in your outreach efforts.”
When publicists get carried away with other story ideas.
When publicists work with a bunch of clients in an agency setting, they may feel inclined to tell journalists about everything under the sun. Leesa Raab, Associate Director of PR at Thinx, Inc, reminds publicists to focus on one thing at a time. “If you're having a conversation with a producer about a specific topic, that is not the time to tell them who else you have available or pitch other segment ideas,” she explains. Once you wrap up this project, you can move ahead to the next one to continue your media relationship building. If you jump to the next pitch too early, she warns that “you might lose their attention entirely and not hear back.”
When publicists ask for guarantees in coverage.
Let’s get this out of the way: Aside from branded content and advertorial work, there are never any guarantees in journalism — ever. Typically, journalists don’t even get the final say on the story, and an editor may cut out a brand mention completely. This is especially true for freelancers: “Freelancers can rarely offer guarantees of any kind since the stories are out of their hands once they send it over to the publication,” Lindsay Tigar, freelance writer and founder of Tigar Types, says.
When publicists break professional boundaries.
Media relationship building has a personal element to it: Publicists may take journalists out to coffee, meet up with them at events, or even follow them on social media to track their work. And while these activities are totally appropriate, publicists can often overstock their bounds. “Sending a message to a journalist on their personal social media pages is never appropriate,” Tigar explains. “The same goes for texting. Even if you have a journalist’s number because of an event or interview, it doesn’t mean you should abuse it.”