Why most reporters hate most PR people, and 10 ways to fix the problem

Reporters get pitched lousy stories all the time. The sad truth is that most people that work in PR have never been on the other side of the pitch, so they have no idea how awful it is to hear the following: “Hi Tim, do you have a few minutes to hear about a product launch?”

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No, I do not have time. No, I do not care about your lousy product.  And if you continue to bombard me with emails saying it’s the best/first/newest, it’s not that I will care less. I will actively despise you.

In conventional, bread-and-butter PR (i.e. 95 percent of the industry), the law of numbers takes precedence. Get me hits. Don’t be concerned about what these hits will do for the company, or if they serve any purpose, or help meet any objective. Pretend it will matter, and tell your client the same.  Smile and dial, spray and pray.

This is a brutally soul-sucking endeavor for several important reasons. Why? Reporters will hate you for it. These PR pitches and the people who are responsible for them are like swamp gnats.  The reporters tries to wave the gnats away, either by checking caller ID or not answering email, and they still keep coming at them.  Burning a bridge with a reporter is a cardinal sin in PR.  Repeatedly pitching dumb stories to reporters is the most efficient way of doing it.

And another thing, it doesn’t do a company any good. Sure, there will be a few pats on the back around the office, with people saying, “Well gee, look, WidgetBiz Today picked up our story about our new product!” This is more of a vanity play than something that will actually result in any practical benefits. Why? Because chances are, very few of your potential or current customers read this drivel. If you weren’t in PR, would you? Of course not.

How do you help your reporter and help your client at the same time? It’s pretty basic, but here you go:

1. Define your business objectives. What are your goals for the PR program? What are you trying to achieve? What’s the vision for a year from now? Where do you want to be? It’s incredible how little attention is given to this by typical PR flacks, because it’s the most important part of the program.

2. Define your product and company messaging. This, too, is often glossed over in traditional “law of numbers” PR, even though it’s a critical element of a strategic program. Most just plunge into an account without giving a moment’s thought. Putting thought and care into messaging enables a company communicate clearly about itself and how its products and services fit into the marketplace, and this helps the reporter.

3. Define your audience. Who are you trying to reach? Why are you trying to reach them? With B2B technology products, in some cases it may make more sense to reach out to the business side, in others, the technology side.  Each case is unique.

4. Define your media target list. Who are your target reporters, bloggers, and outlets? Follow them on Twitter. Use an aggregator like Feedly to follow the outlets that matter. Read, read, read. Get to know who they are, how they write, what they like to write about. You don’t want to pitch reporters who aren’t a good fit, because it won’t do you any good, and they’ll hate you for it.

5. Don’t pitch crap. Pitching donkey dung burns valuable bridges that can never be rebuilt. Acknowledge that straight product pitches almost always suck, and make sure you tell your client early in the process.

6. Answer this question: “How does my company help people?” The best stories reporters love are about people, not products. Case studies are a beautiful way of doing this, and reporters usually love them – or at least they won’t hate you for sharing them. Form and protect relationships with partners and customers who are willing to talk to the media.

7. Follow the trends. Fitting into a larger trend story makes both your client and the reporter look great.  Your client becomes part of a larger conversation and is featured in a story that people are likely to actually read – not usually the case with product launch stories.  Equally important, the reporter doesn’t look like he’s whoring himself out to a single company with a lousy, one-source story.

8. Reporters love it when people read them. That’s why they do what they do. Follow up with reporters after they write something that’s relevant to your client space, but ONLY IF YOU CAN HELP THEM.

9. Consider picking up the phone, but ONLY IF YOU CAN HELP.  Have you heard of this invention called the telephone? It’s a way of conversing with somebody in real-time regardless of geographic location.  Mornings are usually better.  It’s usually best to follow up on a story that they’ve recently written. Know what you are going to say beforehand, and keep it BRIEF.

10. Never, ever pitch on Friday afternoon. Morning pitches Tuesday through Thursday are best. Enough said. This may seem a trite simple, but the point is that reporters are people too. They have lives, friends, families, trials and tribulations.

Lazy reporters ignore all PR, no matter how compelling it might be, because it’s just easier and less work that way. It’s a waste of time and energy even trying to pitch these slackers. Bad PR flacks think only of hits, not business objectives. Hits, not reporters. Hits, not truth. These are the ones who give the industry the bad name that it so often (and unfortunately) deserves.

On a positive note, good reporters actually like and respect good PR people – and visa versa – because we can help each other do our jobs better.

What’s not to love about that?

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