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What not to say to journalists

After spending 20 years working in the media, I had been on the receiving end of more bad PR pitches than I could possibly remember. Unless I was really busy I didn’t mind them. I found a lot of it amusing – I once got pitched erotic underwear while working on a kids’ TV show. But worse than the bad pitches, were the thoughtless remarks. That’s what really got my goat. Little asides, or lazy responses which undermine the relationship between journo and PRO.

My philosophy is that it’s the job of the PRO to make the journalist’s life as easy as it can possibly be. Give them everything they want, as quickly as you possibly can in the most convenient way possible. Because generally someone in their organisation is making their life harder than it needs to be.

So never say one of these:

1. This is perfect for you
Is it? Is it really? You give me the pitch and I’ll decide whether or not it’s perfect for me. Even if it is perfect for me – that’s my judgement to make. I’m already thinking of ways to teach you a lesson.

2. If you write about it you can keep it
We’re talking about products here of course. Gifting has long been a great win-win for PRs who want coverage and journalists who have eBay accounts. But saying this is tantamount to blackmail. It’s trying to shift the balance of power. And that just stinks. If you say it – guess what – I don’t want it.

3. Take a look at the website. there's loads of details on there.
Right. Yeah, okay. I’ll get round to that sometime never. If you want me to learn about something tell me about it. That’s kind of what you’re paid for isn’t it?

4. If you click the links at the bottom of the email you can download the images you need
If I’ve asked you for high-res images – send me high-res images. Don’t make me go rooting about in my inbox for your original message so I can click through and download my own. You could have sent me the images in the time it took you to write that reply.

5. Can you call me back?
Absolutely. I’ll send you a list of dates and times and you can pick the one which suits the best. How about that? As a journalist, if you’re leaking me an exclusive from Downing Street, yeah I’d call you back. I’ll take you out for dinner and rub your feet if you like. But if you just want to tell me about those new pizza bases … we are no longer friends.

6. Can I ask a favour?
No. No you can’t. That’s not how this works. It’s even worse if I know you personally as you’re transgressing professional boundaries and manipulating the essence of our relationship. Do me a favour… jog on.

Former journalist and broadcaster John Warburton, is now managing director of Manchester PR agency jwc

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