‘I’m not your boyfriend, so don’t text me’: The 10 PR tactics reporters hate most

Reporters get 38,000 emails a year, and more than two-thirds of them are from people seeking publicity. It’s no wonder — in 2015, there were 5.3 times as many public relations specialists as reporters and correspondents, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Those two figures go a long way to explain the fraught relationship between the two sides, which often have competing interests to begin with.

Communicating has never been this frictionless, so PR pros feel the need to get aggressive in order to be heard over the din. This often, well, rankles the reporters they’re trying to lure. So, in the spirit of a public service to PR folk, we asked a bunch of journalists for their most hated PR tactics. Here’s what they said:

The lazy pitch
“Google search is almost 20 years old. It’s really good. It’s incredible how some PR professionals don’t bother to use it to learn anything about the journalist they are about to pitch. People will call me who don’t know my beat or my publication. I’d tell them off, but I can already tell from the tone of their voice that they are far sadder about the situation than I ever could be.” — business editor

The cheesy pick-up line
“Most hated PR tactic in the digital age would have to be starting a pitch with some reference to one of my recent tweets. I get that you want to show you’ve done your homework, but that should show through the pitch itself. It really feels like a cheesy pick-up line.” — tech reporter

The ‘factual error’ claim
“When publicists call me to line-edit a story for tone after it’s already been published. I understand that a lot of being a talented flack is chutzpah, but every few months I will write an unambiguously negative story about a company that has done something ill-advised and the PR will call me up and tell me there are ‘factual errors’ in my story that they want to go over with me. Then said factual errors will appear to turn on incredibly obscure interpretations of their own boilerplate, often including outright lies their executives have told the public, that make the lies appear technically true (‘We never actually said the water wasn’t poisoned, just that it was drinkable. I mean, it’s physically possible to drink any liquid.’) and go on to feign astonishment when I refuse to change the copy to accommodate them.” — tech reporter

The ‘circle back’
“Sending multiple follow-up emails to ‘circle back’ or ‘touch base’ on pitches that I clearly have no interest in.” — business reporter

The robotic pitch
“The more robotic you sound, the more jargon-y, the more over-explain-y, the more formal, the less likely I am to engage, especially if you’re cold-pitching me for the first time. I’m much more responsive to PRs who are more casual and indicate they know my work without coming across as overbearing or like they’re trying to sell me something.” — columnist

‘I’m not your boyfriend’
“I’ve had people send 1,000-word DMs out of the blue. It makes me hate the fact that I leave my DMs open. It seems to be common in tech. Also, texting me when I clearly haven’t responded to email or phone. I’m not your boyfriend, so don’t text me.” — tech reporter

“Media companies are the worst at being covered. They are the most sensitive. They have a terrible tendency to say ‘no comment.’ And declining to explain why they do what they do. That’s not a good look at a news outlet. And it’s happening more and more. I think the closer you are to the sausage-making factory, when you’re an executive, you know how much coverage is bad. My reaction would be, let’s improve the reporting.” — media reporter

Playing hardball
“Like other powerful institutions, [tech companies] will do things like encourage critical responses of things they don’t like, selectively feed info to counter a negative storyline, blackball you if they are displeased with what you write, and ask for things like quote approval (we’ll talk to you on background, you tell us which parts you’d like to use). I don’t think they’re any better or worse about this than, say, the White House or Hollywood. I do think they have more to work with (there are lots of outlets that cover tech, some with less rigorous ethics), but tech companies also have a big chorus of critics online, so it’s not like they can get away with a whole lot.” — tech columnist

Poor timing
“The pitches that go, ‘Hey Sir, I really liked your story on X mega trend that you clearly spent weeks on. Now that is has posted, was wondering if you’d like to talk to my client about that trend right now, as he is tangentially related to the subject and surely you are planning to revisit that story with an immediate follow-up today.’” — business reporter

False intimacy
“I get slightly irritated when a flack I’ve never met sends me a pitch disguised as a personal email filled with insincere compliments. Just because you cruised my Twitter for five minutes doesn’t mean we’re bros, bro.” — lifestyle reporter


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