Notes From a Hired Pen

Reader Question(s): Working with PR people

This week’s Reader Question comes from the comments of last week’s reader question.

Christine asks: “I know you have covered working with PR people in the past, but I haven’t seen you yet address just how much work you want PR people to do when pitching you stories? Is it ever helpful to have the PR person pitch a fully formed narrative that is, of course, relevant to what you write about? I avoid sending press releases to freelancers, and usually only engage when I have a story idea that I think they would like to write. That being said, I don’t want to overstep my boundaries.”

Christine, let me preface this by saying that I don’t speak for all freelancers – there’s no way I could because we all work in such different ways, so I’ll answer for me.

I very rarely take PR pitches and turn them into stories. I try to pitch stories to my client that no one else has, and if you’re blasting out a press release to every reporter and blogger in the country, then that pitch isn’t going to be different enough for me to present something different enough to sell to my client. I get running pitches blasted to me all the time. I’m sure my editors at running magazines are getting the same things, and if they bite, they’ll assign it to someone in house. Example: the salon in this story - I found them. They didn’t send a press release to everyone and anyone about runners and pedicures. If they did, I probably wouldn’t have done this story (which I pitched because it’s something my running friends talk about often). That’s not saying they would have gotten no press coverage if they went with a big PR blast, but I would have passed on the story.

Personalized pitches are OK – even saying “I’m sending this to you exclusively – but I still very rarely turn those into stories.

I don’t ignore the PR world, though. Most of the time, I’m reaching out to them for information or to set up interviews. In those cases, what I want from PR people is to be timely in their response, and to be honest with me every step of the way. Example: I have a story in tomorrow’s Philadelphia Inquirer about non-traditional running events. In that story, I mention bad things that have happened at Tough Mudders, and I wanted a statement from Tough Mudder on those instances. I reached out to their PR contact, who responded  immediately to let me know that yes they wanted to be part of the story, and then she got me the company’s statement well before my deadline.

Running away from me would have made the PR firm look foolish, kept their client’s side of the story out of the piece, and annoyed me to the point that I wouldn’t have wanted to work with the PR firm, who has multiple clients, again. If you’re a PR person working for a firm that’s being difficult, sending me a heads up that “hey, I’m having a hard time pinning them down and am not sure I can make your deadline,” I’m going to understand that.

To go back to the running pedicure story: the salon featured there responded to my interview request immediately. When I emailed the PR contact for the Mirage, she got back to me too, and confirmed they did that package last year but weren’t sure they were going to do it this year. Perfect responses.

So while I’m on this topic, I’ll share some notes about pitching me:

1. Do not pitch me on Twitter or Facebook or Linkedin. I have a contact form on this website. Use it.
2. If I reject your pitch, don’t argue with me about my decision. I hold on to rejected pitches in case I want to use that company in a story down the line. Telling me I’m wrong in saying no means your pitch will get deleted instead of saved. When I emailed with the Mirage PR person for that running pedicure story, she also pitched me a second story, which I rejected. She didn’t tell me why I should reconsider, which means I’m holding it in a file that I will check later when I’m looking for new stories.
3. It’s fine to say “I saw your story in X publication,” but don’t tell me where I need to place a story. One PR person insisted that I write about his client for a very local newspaper that pays $25 a story. If you really need your client in a publication, that’s on you, not me.
4. If I just wrote a story on topic Y for the New York Times, I’m not going to write another story on topic Y for the New York Times but include your client this time. Yes, this has really happened, multiple times.
5. Don’t add me to your list without asking.
6. Use Google beyond the first two search results.
7. And please please please please don’t do the hard sell on meeting me for coffee or lunch so you can pitch me your clientThink about my life: I work from my home in Southern New Jersey. Most likely I am wearing sweatpants and sneakers. If I’m writing you in the morning, I probably haven’t showered yet. Meeting you for coffee in the “the city” (whether that city is Philadelphia or New York – yes, I get New York PR people who assume anywhere in New Jersey is a short jaunt from New York City) is going to take a huge chunk out of my day. It also costs me money. If you pitch me a story and add at the end “I’d be happy to meet up with you to talk about it” – that’s okay (though I’ll say no). But I’m not going drop everything for the purpose of hearing a pitch that you could send my way over email. I have never met the PR people I work with the most. The “in real life” meet up is not a necessary step.

Christine, did that answer your question? I don’t mean to sound snippy, but dealing with bad PR people is one annoying part of my job.


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One Response to “Reader Question(s): Working with PR people”

  1. Christine says:

    Thanks Jen – really appreciate it. Funny how much of this is common sense to PR people, yet how few of them follow it. I always say that we are a profession that resembles lawyers, where the good ones are far outnumbered by the bad ones. Thanks for the tips!

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