Today, on Coffee with a Journalist, we sit down with Erika Wheless of Digiday. At…
Journalists aim to write stories that matter. Public relations professionals aim to get their clients’ stories covered. As journalists and public relations professionals communicate with each other every day, pet peeves are bound to emerge. Still, fostering media relationships is key in this line of work. On the “Coffee with a Journalist” podcast, we sit down each week with journalists from your favorite publications to spark conversations around their work and how PR professionals can better connect and communicate. Across our two seasons, we have heard many perspectives on the pitching pet peeves journalists experience.
Here is our breakdown of 7 journalists on pitching pet peeves:
Using the Wrong Name
It should go without saying, but when pitching a journalist, it is best to be sure you are using the correct name. This is a telltale sign to a journalist that your PR efforts are not targeted therefore likely won’t align with their coverage. For Mar Masson Mack, Editor at The Next Web, it is clear that many of the email pitches he receives are mass sent pitches rather than specific to him. Mar says, “I’m also on some mailing lists that were never relevant for me or where my name is marked as ‘Mark’ or even get a few ‘Johns’ all of a sudden.” He continues, “But anything that feels like an empty PR release, just like a press release, I don’t open those.”
On the other hand, while knowing the name of a journalist can be helpful, it is important to understand the journalist’s name preference when doing outreach. Speaking about this, Quartz Health and Science Reporter Katherine Foley says, “When I get ‘Katherine-ellen’ I feel like a part of some a big list.”
Another pet peeve Katherine has experienced is when PR pros overstep their communication boundaries. She says, “I am always surprised by how bold these emails are. I go by my full name always. I get some emails that say ‘hey Kate’ and I’m like, ‘Woah, that very familiar of you.’” She continues, “If I ever get things sent to my personal email, that’s a turn-off, because that’s not what that email address is for.”
Pitching the Wrong Beat
While writing the wrong name of a journalist is a frequent annoyance, receiving pitches that are irrelevant to the journalist is a pet peeve that many of our podcast guests resonated with. For Michael Liedtke, Business and Technology Writer for The Associated Press, it is important that PR professionals understand the specifics around his general beat category. He says, “After a while…there’s stuff that you can tell is more, I don’t want to say spammy, but more mass blast stuff.” He continues, “You can tell from the subject lines that some people just they don’t understand what you’re covering or just sending like, ‘It’s tech so you must be interested,’ which is not necessarily the case.”
Similarly, it is imperative that PR professionals are aware of journalists’ current beats as they can often switch their reporting. Katharine Schwab, Deputy Tech Editor at Fast Company, knows this experience first-hand. During her episode, Katharine notes, “Now I’ve transitioned kind of full time to covering tech, but a lot of people in my inbox have not tracked that transition so I still get a lot of pitches around architecture or kind of niche design stuff that is just not relevant to me anymore.” To save the time of both yourself and the journalist, it is always helpful to check on their updated beat.
Lastly, do not be one of those PR professionals pitching drastically irrelevant pitches to a journalist. During his conversation with podcast host, Beck Bamberger, Alejandro de la Garza, Reporter Researcher at TIME, recounts a specific series of pitches that always caught him off guard. In response to our fill-in-the-blank segment when asked, “You will never get a response from me if,” he replied, “I keep getting these sex toy PR pitches very insistently, like three a week. They’ll just be like new from blah-blah-blah.”
Sending Too Many Follow-Ups
Lastly, the pet peeves don’t stop after the initial pitch. Many of our journalists experience frequent annoyances in the ways some PR professionals approach follow-up emails. During our podcast fill-in-the-blank segment, Heather Somerville, Tech Reporter at The Wall Street Journal, responded to, “The most annoying publicists always —” with “follow-up 25 times, not taking silence for an answer.” She continued, “That’s probably hyperbole. I would say, I’ve gotten as many as five or six.” Still, one must remember that while a follow-up can be another chance for landing coverage, it can also be a turn-off for the journalist.
On the same note, Dom Nicastro, Senior Reporter at CMSWire, made a distinction in the follow-up emails he entertains. He said, “ If I see the same e-mails from the same person, I don’t get too annoyed. I get annoyed if they persist in the sense like, ‘Dom. I mean, I really, really think this is a good story.’ That thing.”
(Click HERE to learn more about how to send a solid follow-up to a media pitch.)
Gaining insight into the minds of journalists is a fantastic opportunity to help improve and strengthen your PR efforts. For more tips on pitching, from finding the right journalists to examples of successful pitches, read more in our guide to pitching the media. To get the latest updates on our newest podcast episodes, be sure to subscribe to “Coffee with a Journalist” and follow us on Twitter.