‘Yes, I got the email. That’s how email works’: Journalists share their biggest PR peeves

There’s more than a few cracks in the marriage between journalists and publicists, a relationship defined by mutual dependence and – often – mutual distrust. Reporters call PR folks flacks, who return the favor by calling journalists hacks.

In order to compete for journalists’ frayed attention spans, flacks, who wildly outnumber hacks, have to shout louder to make themselves heard.

Recently, we gave PR people the chance to let off steam. Now, under the cover of anonymity, here’s the journalists’ perspective, with some, ahem, constructive feedback.

“In the complete, manic rush to get coverage from literally anyone, PRs (good and bad alike) can forget that most journalists don’t want to be the victim of PR spamming,” said one editor. “Journalists do value PRs highly but are also protective and equally proud of their publications. It can be very frustrating when you constantly receive stuff which is obviously not suitable for your publication. Remember the basics: who are your audience? Why will this information be useful to them? Will I damage my long-term reputation for a short-term KPI/ass cover? As an editor, I will always listen to a PR who is well read about the publication I work on, if they can speak powerfully about what we do and evidence clearly why their work is important to me. If you can’t demonstrate that, I’m afraid we have nothing to talk about.”

‘Half-arsed lists’
“I work in a place where we are constantly coming up with ideas and stories every day,” said a national newspaper journalist. “The half-arsed lists, surveys and blatant plugs for stuff are just a waste of time. Be more clever and introduce the brand as a ‘can you also mention’ instead of making it the very forefront of the idea.”

“I hate any request that starts, ‘Can you put me in touch with’ such-and-such,” complained one business editor. “Their names and contact details are RIGHT THERE on the site!”

‘Native advertising’
“A PR says they will grant me access to the person I wish to interview on the condition that I mention the person’s book/company/clothing line in the eventual story,” said one reporter. “I have to say that’s absurd. It’s unlikely the thing they’re plugging is connected directly to the story I’m telling. My reader would be baffled to stumble across what is essentially native advertising. The PR is setting up a dumb conflict — like a kid in a playground nudging another kid who clearly has no intention of fighting. I’m never going to agree to that condition, but I’ll certainly laugh about it in the pub with friends later. Or better: tweet about it.”

Overly chummy
“I’m busy, really busy,” said another national newspaper reporter. “I pick up the phone with a functional ‘Hello’ to be greeted by:
“‘Hi, it’s (insert name here) from (insert agency here). How is your week going?’
“Me: ‘Fine, thanks’.
“Them: ‘Cool, you got anything good lined up for the weekend?’
“And so on…
“Time is critical, I have a million things to do. If you are going to cold call me, get to the point really quickly.”

The pre-email call
“Apart from wildly off-topic pitches about middle-management appointments at semiconductor plants in Frankfurt, one of the more annoying tactics is phoning up to say, ‘Can I send you an email?’ — just send the email,” said one current affairs editor. “Unless it contains the phrase ‘I’ve read your blog and found it interesting.’ Or it’s an email saying, ‘Please see the attached release’ — and then the pitch in a Word doc. And the Word doc contains an Advent calendar-themed infographic about potentially fatal health and safety breaches (received this week).”

The follow-up email call
“The follow-up-to-an-email-I-sent call,” said another national newspaper reporter. “I know these poor sods at PR agencies are told to follow up with phone calls, but it’s quite annoying. Yes, I got the email. That’s how email works: You send it and I receive it. It’s not like the Royal Mail where things get lost. If I haven’t responded, it’s probably because I don’t think it’s very interesting.”

“I wish PRs would understand that there are many, many more of them than there are of us,” said a tech editor. “Understand that I have 8,000 unread emails in my inbox and that I am simply not going to consider most pitches unless it’s urgently breaking, or from contacts I know and trust. Sending me eight follow-up emails to get a ‘yay’ or ‘nay’ is just going to annoy me and clog up my inbox. I know you want a definitive answer, but if I responded to every email I wouldn’t have time to do any work.”


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