5 things journalists hate – soundings from the Stempra North Conference

On Friday I attended the Stempra North Conference in Manchester and wanted to share the highlights from the media round table event which highlighted 5 things journalists hate.

The round table included Rachael Buchanan from the BBC, freelancer Richard Gray and Oliver Moody from the Times. I would have preferred the tone to be a little more positive on the best ways to pitch and examples of pitches that worked. However. Here are the highlights of 5 things journalists hate so we can all avoid them. (God help you if you don’t because there was some serious wrath here!)

PR agency pitches

Overall there was a strong sense that PR agencies really get it wrong on all counts. PRs start badly by not introducing themselves properly. It’s often junior staff making the pitch and they’re usually under pressure from management to get the pitch out without being interrupted. And even then the delivery needs work. There’s also a strong message that pitches (good and bad) are really poorly targeted e.g. pitching a story about beer to a health correspondent. There wasn’t much love for agencies going on at this event.

Badly timed pitches

Pitch as early in the day as you can, and certainly not in the afternoon if your story is for the next day. Journalists say they’re too busy to pick up stories in the afternoon with short lead times. So the message here is plan ahead if you have a big story and would like to secure national coverage.

Emails (generally)

Journalists, just like the rest of us, get hundreds of emails each day. They don’t have time to read them all. (Just like the rest of us). There wasn’t really any practical help on how to cut through the other hundreds of emails in their inbox adjacent to yours. Though there is a suggestion that if you have a track record for pitching well with a good story you’ll stand out…eventually.

Emails that don’t get to the point

Journalists, just like the rest of us, read their many hundreds of emails in preview, so pitches need to get to the point. Ditch the logo at the top and save the space to sell your story in the first sentence. Or you’ll be ignored. Think 30 second elevator moment.

Asking journalists what their deadlines are

If a journalist is contacting you for information they don’t like being asked what their deadline is. Richard says, “If I’m asking you, that means I want it now.” I think this is a little unfair as all PRs need to fact check before handing information over to a journalist – it’s more than our job is worth. So, I would argue that it’s good practice to ask about deadlines so you know how long you might have to gather that extra information.

But they do actually like embargoes

There was one positive from the round table. We discovered that journalists like embargoes. Embargoes give them time to talk to people, record interviews and film footage. It’s a level playing field and it means time to get the story right. But don’t use fake embargoes. There was lots of calling out certain sectors who do this and the comments were not favourable. The words ‘for immediate release’ at the top strike fear and loathing into these guys.

I’ve lost count of how many pitches I’ve made in my career and I know how tough it is. I think the relationship between journalists and PRs is an interdependency. I would have liked more of a sense of this from this round table event and a few more examples of what it looks like to get it right.

If you’re in need of some practical tips, take a look at my tips on being media friendly part 1 and part 2.

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