02 Nov 2016

Don’t Commit These Crimes Against Journalists

In the media relations system, mistakes made by PR agencies are considered especially heinous. In Sydney, the dedicated journalists who call out these embarrassing felonies are members of an elite squad known as the Journalist Victims unit. These are their stories.

[Chung Chung]



  • No, I’m not exactly comparing media relations to a vicious crime scene in Law & Order or any of its spin-offs. That only happens when you get it wrong.
  • As you have long suspected, there really is an email chain investigative unit designed to make fun of your public relations faux pas.

How do I know this? Because they told us.

I was one of a bunch of budding PR pros who recently attended Media Connect’s Media Insights training course, which covered the do’s and definitely don’ts of media relations. It was a chance to meet with technology journalists and learn a thing or two about what they like, what they need, and why they feel compelled to let their inner “arsehole” out from time to time. Here’s how you can avoid the latter:

Build Relationships

Yep, just like they told you at uni, networking is the real deal. And that’s lucky because ain’t nobody ever gonna pass up free food and booze. Just like in any two-way interaction, a journalist is far more likely to a) come along to your event b) reply to your request and c) proactively reach out to you for information if they … well, know who you are.

Once you get to know a journalist, you’ll get a feel for how they like to work, and you’ll be able to use this insight to provide value to them and your clients. Are they out of office on Thursdays? Do they hate answering their mobile phone? Do they have certain dietary requirements? Do they live out of town? By establishing genuine connections and positioning yourself as a solid and reliable point of call, journalists will begin to trust that you’re not out to waste their time. Until then, expect a lot of unread emails.

Read Before You Pitch

This seems like a no-brainer, but journalists hate, and I mean hate, being pitched a story that has nothing to do with them, their publication or their audience. A journalist of a magazine devoted to CFOs couldn’t give two Tonka trucks about your latest laptop bundle. A publication that goes out on a Tuesday will miss the boat with a Wednesday embargo.

Beyond this, get a feel for the writing style of the journalist you are pitching. Are they highly technical? Will they appreciate a sneaky pun? Do they absolutely hate a particular brand? Knowing this sort of information will help you craft your pitch and story accordingly, which means it stands a greater chance of being picked up.

By taking the time to read and understand the publication before pitching, you’ll know how you can tailor your content to suit the audience’s needs, further improving your odds of success.

Avoid Boring

In an industry full of overflowing inboxes and underpaid staffers, standing out has never been more crucial.

When talking about subject lines, one journalist told us we have two seconds to grab his attention, another was more generous and said we had 10. Avoid being filed into the elusive ‘PR’ folder by giving your media friends something meaty, provocative and new.

Journalists don’t care about version of your latest software. They don’t care about Gartner’s latest magic quadrant. They don’t care about a product that’s been on the market for the last eight months and they definitely don’t care that Company X says their own product is the best thing since smashed avo.

What they do care about is the return on investment. Is your story going to evoke a response from their reader? Will it get as many clicks and likes and retweets as they need? Will it help them meet their targets?

Journalists aren’t about to hand you over some free advertorial. Weigh this stuff up before you hit send and avoid getting a reputation for wasting people’s time.

Make Things Easy

Journalists are time poor and don’t appreciate being mucked around. When it comes to pitching stories, go out of your way to make things easy for them.

Proactively provide them with images, don’t wait to be asked. Before you say a spokesperson is available for interviews, make sure that spokesperson is actually in the country. And the small things also go a long way too. Be prepared to arrange transportation, and write addresses in one line so they’re easy to copy and paste.

One journalist assured us he’d break an unsolicited embargo, with another likening the scenario to a chocolate bar being waved in front of a child’s face. Another spent a good five minutes ranting about courier incompetency and uninvited packages. Each journalist has their own pet peeves you’ll learn from experience, from building relationships and (if you get it wrong) from being burned. Journalists will appreciate you taking the time to make their job simpler and will notice when you’ve learned from past mistakes.

An ARN journalist put media relations quite simply when he said, “You have an agenda, I have an agenda, and when those two agendas meet, everyone wins.” So take these nuggets of knowledge and swipe right on those agendas, because in such a small industry, not pissing people off is key. Both sides have their war stories, feel free to share yours below.


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