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Do Reporters Hate Your Company?
O'Dwyer's Public Relations News O'Dwyer's Public Relations News
For Immediate Release:
Dateline: New York, NY
Thursday, March 16, 2023

Polly TraylorPolly Traylor

If you’re issuing press releases regularly and doing outreach to key media influencers but still aren’t getting any coverage you may wonder, what’s up? You’ve got a product in market with real customers, you’re growing revenues and hiring staff. Analysts are positive about your technology and traction, and you’re getting positive reviews online. There are likely a few reasons why the press is ignoring you—and you can do something about it.

I started my career in journalism at well-known publications including CIO and The Industry Standard. I was on the other side of the phone and computer screen from young PR reps who failed to do their homework on me or my publication but demanded attention regardless. Their ability to succinctly explain their pitch in a way that was clear and piqued our interest was often subpar and self-serving.

The practice of PR has undoubtedly matured over the years. I’ve worked with many intelligent and capable people doing this tough job with true professionalism, savvy communications skills and a desire to help reporters rather than blindly push their message out. Yet the dynamic of reporter-PR rep friction continues today. To make matters worse, the field of journalism has changed dramatically with the Internet.

There are increasingly fewer independent publications battling a difficult revenue model. This means fewer places to pitch and with exponentially more tech vendors on the market. The reality of digital publishing economics also means there are far fewer reporters churning out more content, and the content is tracked religiously for page views with high metrics to reach. No wonder reporters can’t respond to all—or most—pitches and why they sometimes lack patience.

With this backdrop, here are a few things your team might be unwittingly doing to reduce your chance of coverage and worse—make top reporters and editors hate your company to boot.

Uninformed pitches. This is an age-old problem in PR land. The spray-and-pray method is for amateurs. It’s critical to research reporters prior to a pitch so you can understand the topics they cover and how they cover them. Your media list may encompass 100 or more reporters and publications but that doesn’t mean you pitch them all every time. A reporter who covers only the financial aspects of startups won’t cover your pitch on a new product. A reporter who covers industry trends and features on new technology, however, may want to see it but isn’t likely to cover it unless it’s part of a larger piece. In that case, send it as an “FYI” but keep your expectations low.

Long and confusing emails. The truth is, even if your pitch is perfectly targeted, you’ll probably get ignored if you can’t tell your story clearly and succinctly. Create a straightforward and specific subject line that’s crystal clear about the content of the message. A few lines stating the nature of your pitch and what you’re offering the reporter—an embargoed press release, an interview, new research—is enough. If you can pique interest in one short paragraph, they’ll write back for more information.

Harassment. There’s plenty of disagreement on if you should follow up and how often. If you’re certain that your pitch is targeting the right person at the right time, my view is that it’s okay to send a follow-up email because people are busy and miss things. Following up multiple times, on the other hand, is annoying and reporters might block you in the future.

Boring stuff that has no news value. This should be obvious, but it’s useful to take an objective eye at what you consider newsworthy. If you’re not sure, make friends with a PR expert or reporter from any field to ask their opinion. Partnerships, awards and new executive hires are generally not newsworthy, though issuing a press release can still be a good idea for SEO purposes and to have a timeline of key events on your website. Other pitches that fall into the boring category include minor product enhancements that don’t result in a notable benefit for customers, your executives speaking at an event or “feel good” announcements such as volunteering or company contributions to a charity. You get the idea.

Sloppy press releases. Along the lines of poorly written emails, poorly written press releases are worse because they live in the public record for a long time. Reporters won’t keep reading if they have no idea what you’re announcing after the first few sentences. The most critical elements are the headline and the first paragraph: Get to the facts and context quickly and without jargon. If you’re not confident in this practice, hire somebody with experience. There are also plenty of resources online to show the way. Here’s a guide and templates from HubSpot.

Too self-serving. Public relations is, by nature, a self-serving practice. Your goal is to build your company’s brand and generate awareness for customers, investors and partners. Yet can you, in turn, help a reporter? With top media influencers in your sector, it takes time to build a relationship. There should be some give-and-take. This might be through offering unique research or access to interesting data or reputable sources inside or outside of your company. They might love to speak to one of your high-flying board members, for instance. Are you willing to offer your executives as resources to get an off-the-record reality check on a controversial industry topic? Maybe they’d love an exclusive on an announcement. When in doubt, ask how you can help.

Not adhering to deadlines. Journalists live and die by deadlines, especially given the amount of content they must produce on a weekly basis. If a reporter asks for information or requests an interview and you wait a few days to respond, that’s no good. If the request isn’t urgent, the reporter will tell you. Otherwise, assume that you need to respond ASAP.

Not prepping execs before calls. These days, reporters will often ask for email interviews because it’s more efficient. But if you’re lucky, they’ll want to do a live interview with your executive. This is a wonderful opportunity that can result in better coverage and engender a “stickier” relationship with the reporter. But if your executive doesn’t have experience doing media calls, you’ll need to prep them on norms and expectations. Risks include that your executive doesn’t answer the questions well and sets his or her own agenda, blasts the competition or takes too long to answer questions. All these things will irritate the reporter to no end. It’s smart to give your spokespeople a quick overview on the reporter and publication and what they may ask ahead of the call.

Unfortunately, you can do all these things and your favorite publications may still not cover you. There’s not always rhyme or reason to that reality, so don’t take it personally. But by following these guidelines for respectful and helpful communications with the press, you can build a foundation for solid coverage on industry sites where your customers read up on the latest tools and trends—and you won’t end up on anyone’s blacklist.


Polly Traylor is Senior Director of Marketing Communications at Komprise.

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