Public relations: 3 good ways to really annoy a journalist

A few months ago, I had the opportunity to give a group of local business people an introduction to the basics of PR.

To start them off on the right foot, I thought I’d ask my journalist friends on Facebook whether they could think of any common howlers a PR newbie might want to avoid.

You might say it touched bit of a nerve.

Within minutes, I had literally dozens of responses from journalists and editors of all descriptions – radio, trade mags, local news, you name it…

…all of them REALLY, REALLY ANGRY.

And, it turns out, all of them are annoyed (the quotes below are genuine) by basically the same three things. Which gives you, as the savvy PR operator who would never usually make such mistakes, a great opportunity to have a little fun at their expense…

Fancy turning your mild-mannered journalist pal into a screaming, swearing, dervish? Just follow these three simple steps:

1. Don’t bother to find out what the journalist usually covers.

“I get a lot of dross from PRs that’s of no relevance whatsoever.”

“Agencies which don’t understand our remit drive me insane.”

It is a well-known fact that most journalists receive well over 100 press releases per day.

You know what that means? Correctamundo! It means they must really, really love press releases… and they definitely want to receive yours.

If they’ve never covered that subject before – say, they write for Knitting Monthly and your release is about industrial springs – so much the better. They’ll learn something, and won’t their readers have a nice surprise when they give it that double-page feature?!

Well-respected public relations agencies consider each media contact in turn. Some even reposition the copy slightly to suit each one! No wonder they’re so expensive.

Get a big old email list, and bang it out there. You might get lucky.

2. Grammar, punctuation and vocabulary? Just make it up.

“Superlatives are fantastically annoying.”

“Did they skip that English class or something?”

People become journalists because they love to write. If your press release is already well-written, it’s pretty much a personal insult.

Here are some simple rules of thumb you can use to maximise an editor’s writing fun:

  • In any matter of punctuation (particularly if it’s anything to do with quotations), your English teacher 20 years ago was right, and the journalist gets it wrong. Every day. Correcting them is a kindness, and they’ll thank you for it in the long run.
  • Wherever possible, use terms like “best”, “fastest” and “most popular” – especially if you don’t have any evidence to back them up. The problem with modern news copy is the way pesky facts frequently obscure a really colourful opinion. Boring!
  • Conversely, the linguistic technique employed when submitting a personal quotation must needs be as formal as is reasonably practicable. It is not by any means efficacious to write as one actually speaks; one’s status will be enhanced far more by a demonstration of multisyllabic vocabulary and employment of the passive voice.
  • Apostrophe’s? Your totally free to make the rule’s up. Nobodies going to mind.

3. Waste as much of their time as you can.

“Why call several times a week? It’s just irritating.”

 “People quoted in press releases who aren’t actually there when you call to get them on air – Arrrgghhghghgh!”

Everyone knows journalists have been laid off with abandon in recent years.

Some PR professionals think this means the relative few who remain have a ridiculous amount to do in very little time. Dullards.

Actually, it means the best way keep your journalist buddy sweet is to help them protect their job… and this means you have to make them look busy.

Journalists will thank you kindly for any of the following:

  • Bury the interesting bit of the story, ideally halfway down your press release. Like a good crime thriller, a great press release will gradually set the scene, allowing tension to build and characters to develop before getting anywhere near the action. Working out what’s actually happening, where, when and why, is no fun if it’s too easy.
  • Call them. All the time. Email is notoriously unreliable, and journalists incredibly forgetful. It is important to call to check the email was received, and then call back to remind them what a great story it was, to find out whether they’ll use it, and again after it’s been printed to ask why it wasn’t printed. Journalist love to talk on the phone. It makes them look important.
  • Don’t respond to their queries. The best thing about deadlines is the whooshing noise they make as they fly past. There’s nothing quite like that adrenaline kick as time begins to run out to close an edition or get a news bulletin on air. Making journalists wait until the last possible minute is all part of the game. Unbelievably, some PR agents ruin it all in the name of efficiency, the spoilsports.

Naturally, there are plenty more techniques one can use (please feel free to make your own suggestions in the comments box below), but these three points should at least give you a solid platform to achieve a good, sound level of journalist annoyance.


P.S. I have recently discovered the best way to annoy a journalist is actually to spell it “jounalist”. I nearly did that throughout this article, but decided that in-jokes in blogs are silly. I trust you are duly grateful, and admire my restraint.

P.P.S. Thanks to everyone who responded to my Facebook comment all that time ago… especially if you have now been flagrantly quoted without your permission. If you recognise yourself, you may claim a pint when I see you next.


2 thoughts on “Public relations: 3 good ways to really annoy a journalist

  1. I tried replying earlier but needed to log in, so I lost it…grr!

    Anyway, extremely well written David – although your blog has left me somewhat fuming as it reminds me of exactly what ANNOYS THE PANTS off me about PR people – and they all do ‘being annoying’ without even realising it half the time! ARGH! (*goes off to fume*)

    • I’m sorry that the inefficiencies of my blog functionality have added to your pain, Nikki.

      And I’ve no idea what you mean about us *all* being annoying… *ahem*

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