What Makes Journalists Cranky About PR Pitches

Having trouble with media and media coverage? Maybe it’s your own fault. If you don’t know how to approach media, here’s some insight from our media friends about what they like – and what they don’t like (or what makes journalists cranky about PR pitches). Here’s what we asked: What are your pet peeves about the PR pitches you receive? And here are their replies.

Bill Briggs, covering business, military-affairs, health and travel for NBCNews.com

We all get swamped with pitches. That’s a good thing because within every 50 or so pitches, there is gold. So I never complain about misplaced pitches, or about misspellings and the like. I make spelling errors, too, for crying out loud.

What irks me is when a public relations rep chastises me for not including the name of the company – or some other specific identifier – of the person I’ve quoted, their client. If the company’s name is germane to the story, I use it. If the person’s views, not their occupation, are why I am using them as a source, I don’t mention where they work. Yet I’ve been ham-handedly criticized by some PR people for doing that (or, technically, for not doing that), typically with the message: “Hey, what the hell? I work for this company. That’s how I make my money.” My response: “Yeah, but I don’t work for you.” This is simply the fastest way for me to essentially ignore all of your future pitches. If you’re that much of an unprofessional pain to deal with, your future emails won’t get read, at least by me.

OK, one other nitpick: The constant emails asking: “When is the story going to run?” I always tell folks I will send them a link but even my editors don’t know for certain when a story will be published. The news cycle constantly changes the game plan. Yet, even after I tell people this fact, many still hammer me with emails: “When is the story running?” I received one of those today. It was the fourth time she’s asked me – even after I told her early on that she would probably see it before I do, but when I do see it, I will happily send her a link. In the words of my editor: Oy.

Randy Wheeler, news editor at 104.1 WIKY Radio/South Central Radio

Let’s start – “On the ground.”  I could scream every time I hear a reporter, a congressman, an educator, or others use the hackneyed, over-worked phrase. Now, if a weathercaster said there will be snow “on the ground” it might be acceptable. There is, after all, upper atmospheric snow that never will be “on the ground.”

But for a congressman to say on Meet the Press that there is no agreement “on the ground” on the latest big deal in Washington should require an immediate recall election. There are other phrases that should trigger an immediate slap in the face, but we’ll let others you contact expound on them.

Everybody who tells us they want to “raise the bar” should be required to tell us how they will “lower the boom.”  Only through this exercise will they come to understand that we expect them to be “fair and balanced” in delivering trite phrases.

Barb Berggoetz, health and fitness reporter for The Indianapolis Star

I appreciate receiving emails alerting me to potential news or feature stories or events, but I cannot always reply to every one immediately. I don’t mind a follow-up call or email, or even two, reminding me about the pitch.

However, some public relations representatives will send the same email four or more times or send additional emails asking me to respond or to tell them why I’m not interested in the tip.

Representatives should realize that reporters can’t always respond to every pitch, especially if they are from out-of-state. Three emails are most often the maximum number they should be sending about the same topic.

If reporters don’t respond within two or three weeks, representatives should assume they are not interested. Checking back in a few months is okay, if the topic is still relevant, of course.

Kellie Bartoli, reporter at WTWO-TV

My biggest pet peeve is probably during election season, especially during debates, when you will literally get 20 emails from both campaigns at the same time saying their candidate won, refuting a point, etc. During severe weather, it can also get frustrating when INDOT and Indiana State Police send the exact same email from 10 people.

Patric Welch, owner/founder of Noobie.com

* People who ask if they can guest blog on my website and then submit nothing more than a pitch-filled ad for their product or service.

* People who ask if they could have just a few minutes of my time to talk about a potential joint venture who really just want to get me 1-on-1 to sell me their idea.

* People who leave meaningless comments on my blog posts just to get a link back to their website. I mark them as spam and delete them.

Brady Gibson, executive producer at WRTV

Be aware of what time you’re calling. If you’re pitching a story for the future, don’t call during main newscast time. And try to keep an eye on major events and breaking news.

Don’t oversell. We understand you’re trying to get us to cover an event, and that there will be some oversell. But don’t promise “major, breaking” news, or huge developments when you know it won’t be that.

If you’re representing a client, call or email us back, even if it’s just to say we have your request and we’re working on it, or we’re not likely to have anything to say.  We usually know when the “no comment” is coming.  But being ignored doesn’t help your client.

Andrea Davis, associate editor for the Indianapolis Business Journal

I can’t tell you how many e-mails I get a day that should go to someone else on staff—which would be obvious to the sender if they took 5 minutes to check the “contact us” area of the website or the On the Record page of the newspaper. At the risk of piling on, it’s even more irritating when the sender then “follows up” to see if I need anything else. Yes, I need you to send the news release to the right person and stop wasting my time.

Then there are the releases that are directed at me—and everyone else in the newsroom. Some news might cross coverage areas, sure, but how about some restraint? The only worse than making a phone call and discovering that a competitor is already working on a story is making the call and discovering that a colleague is working on it. Even something as simple as CCing everyone instead of BCCing everyone can go a long way toward fixing this.

Also, if your pitch makes it sound like you’re offering me an exclusive, it better be an exclusive. See above.

This doesn’t happen as often, but it happened a million times in the month leading up to last year’s Super Bowl: PR folks pitching “stories” that would never in a million years fit into IBJ. We are a local business publication. We don’t cover the Purina Puppy Bowl.

The convenience of e-mail also creates unrealistic expectations. Impossibly short deadlines are one example. Because e-mail gets delivered immediately, some folks expect an immediate response. But I’m not sitting at my desk all day waiting to respond to e-mails. And even when I check my mail on my phone, it can take time to respond appropriately. (Same goes for Twitter and Facebook messages. In fact, it’s probably going to take me longer to respond to those.)

Jenny Anchondo, anchor/reporter for WXIN-TV, Fox 59 

Overselling the event. They write that they have a massive exclusive that I MUST call them about but don’t give any detail. Then I call them and the event is a fundraiser for their school. A worthwhile event, but they should be upfront about what it is in the first place. If you come up again as a source on a story, I won’t trust you.

Spelling, grammatical errors or text abbreviations. We just receive too much email to take the time to navigate our way through emails that are hard to decipher. It doesn’t need to be fancy but it does need to be readable. Text abbreviations (u r, btw, lol, etc.) make it seem like they don’t take the story seriously so then I don’t take it seriously either. I won’t ever fault someone for a typo or a small spelling error. We all make mistakes (I’m sure I have some in this email) — but it needs to be easy to digest.

Writing too much in the email. I feel for these people, because I AM this person. I know if I didn’t work in news and was pitching a story, I’d do the same thing. I’d want the reporter to really “get” why I’m sending them the story idea. However, we just don’t have time. Give a few key facts. Give your contact info. Think Who, Where, What, When, Why.  Think about why the community as a whole would care about their story.

On the opposite side of too much; Not including the pertinent facts or contact info. It is like when you send out resumes and say “references available upon request.” I think – why not just send the references! If I have to keep writing you back to get your phone number, the time of the event, basic details, etc., then we might never get to the meat of the story.

Threatening that they already called another station. If you say “I already called Rafael Sanchez and he seemed interested and they’re probably going to do a huge story” I’m not going to be more likely to cover your story. Each station has a different coverage plan and different focus areas so it might work for both stations – or it might not. It also comes across as a bit catty or spiteful. It is ok to mention that you’re in talks with another station, as a courtesy, so we’re not overlapping, but it isn’t wise to threaten that if we don’t do the story, someone else will.

Using a story as a dating game. Don’t say you have a story, then invite me to lunch. Don’t invite me to a workout with you. Don’t invite me to happy hour. If you have a legit story, we can discuss on the phone or in a meeting area with my photographer. My work is not the dating game. It will never be the dating game. I will block you.

  1. Great post, Kyle – thanks!

  2. Helpful information. Hope some of your “pitcher” readers take it to heart.

  3. Happy to read that I am not doing most of their pet-peeves but there are definitely some good take-aways for me! I especially liked hearing from the local TV reps. Thanks Kyle!

  4. Great article with excellent information, Kyle. In fact, I enjoyed the entire newsletter!

  5. My pet peeve is the people who fail to do their homework on who covers what. I’ve told people multiple times to correct their source lists because I don’t cover education or business, for example. I may have written one or two stories on those subjects to help out the paper, but they’re not my regular beats, and sending me a news release is wasting my time and showing that the PR person is a hack who couldn’t do his/her homework before hitting the send button.

    • Thanks Don. I have a lot of J friends who beef about this — but most media lists come via paid subscription services like Cision and Vocus. I subscribe, but generally find they are often out of date. So we like to call or at least check media websites (especially if we’re targeting specific beats or specialties). Oddly, the info on Cision and Vocus comes (they claim) from contacting individual reporters. But big PR firms also rely on interns to cut and paste lists who often don’t check or scrub a list — thus, the bad send. My worst story — sending a release to a national reporter who covered Life Sciences. Turns out he was recruited to go overseas and was getting hit under a mortar attack when he received my email. I apologized profusely. When the smoke cleared, he also sent a note back saying the newspaper had not updated his current assignment (which is how I found him to begin with in double checking a list and then calling his newsroom). Apologies on both ends occurred for that one. A little dialogue goes a long way.

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