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Common pitfalls of PR-journalist relationship building

Many People Shouting Me to Stand Out in a CrowdWe’ve been talking a lot about the PR-journalist relationship and the nature of pitching. Here we asked PR professionals to dish on the hardest part of building that relationship and the pitfalls that come with it. Their exact responses are below, but most agree: selling the pitch takes work, engagement and mutual interest. A thick skin and a willingness to keep trying are tools of the trade.

Crystal Richard, director of PR at Onboardly

I think the hardest part is selling them on the idea or the story, followed very closely by making the first point of contact. Whenever I have down-time, I’m constantly reaching out to journalists, asking for nothing in return to build that relationship, because there’s nothing worse than pitching them at first point of contact. But once you’ve built the relationship, you still need them to like your pitch and over the years, we’re noticing that things such as launches, or even funding announcements, aren’t as much of a hook as they used to be. You really need to deliver something fresh, unique and ultimately well aligned with that journalist.

In terms of worst experiences, I’ve had journalists be rude to me and send email replies ranging from “UNSUBSCRIBE” to “I do not, in fact, care.” You really have to develop some thick skin and, at the end of the day, remind yourself that an email will not come out of the screen and bite you. Otherwise, you’re never going to last in PR.

Aimee Yoon, co-founder of Dotted Line Communications

The hardest part about building relationships with reporters is that you have to balance the pitch with being a real person. Journalists shouldn’t be seen as a means to an end, but rather as a partner. PR professionals should aim to build relationships while selling stories. It should go without saying, but it’s important to be responsive and make it a good experience for the journalist to work with you. This builds trust and could ultimately make you the go-to source for their next story. It’s also so important to know what their beat is — I know journalists agree with this. PR pros should do their research and target the right people at the right time.

In terms of pitfalls or worst experiences, sometimes PR people can push too far. Odds are that you will be working with the same reporter again, so be careful not to push your client’s agenda. Journalists get angry for wasting their time, and after a couple of “no’s,” it’s time to move on.

In terms of what works, it’s important to note that there are more PR people than journalists now, so getting their attention and getting them to take the time to speak with you is important.

Michael Juba, content marketing strategist at EZ Solutions

Really, the hardest part of building a relationship with a journalist is personalizing the relationship so it’s not just all about using journalists to get mentioned. It’s about building trust with each other and sharing and engaging with each other’s content.

The biggest pitfalls are pitches that go unrecognized. It is hard when you are pitching to journalists who get hundreds of pitches a day, and making yours stand out can be difficult.

It all comes down to personalization and treating journalists like real people, not just an email address you are pitching because you want to get your brand mentioned.

Robert Barrows, president of R.M. Barrows Inc. Advertising and Public Relations

The hardest part … getting through the clutter … because you may already be “spam.”

Sherry Gavanditti, public relations and media specialist

As a PR specialist who was a journalist for more than three decades, I have been on both sides. The hardest thing for journalists to deal with in PR flacks is insincerity and disrespect. Pitching stupid ideas, building fake rapport, and being self-serving are also real no-no’s. Wasting their time by pitching off-topic stories/subjects that do not fit their beats or specialties are also no-no’s that will make them totally delete your emails without reading them and hit ignore when you call them. Also, if you can email your pitch rather than phone them, it’s a good idea to do so. They don’t enjoy being disrupted with pitches while on deadline. Respect their deadlines as well. Don’t give them 20 story pitches at once. And DO NOT PESTER THEM if they’ve said no to a pitch, even if you think you found a slightly different angle to the same story. Also, building a rapport means reading other article[s] they write, sending them a brief thank you when they do run a story, and keeping an eye and ear out for hot scoops that you can give them, even if it doesn’t serve you or your client personally.

If you want to Google me, you’ll see I’ve been quite successful in getting media coverage for my clients utilizing what I’ve learned on both sides of the fence.

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