7 tips for contacting a journalist from a former journalist
Annoying, unprofessional, an invasion of privacy? These are just some of the words used by journalists in the UAE (and I’ve heard worse) to describe the tactics of some sloppy PR professionals. PR professionals here outnumber journalists by 6 to 1 so that should give you a fair idea of how many calls, emails and even WhatsApp messages the average journalist receives on a daily basis.
Common sense is usually the key to drastically improving journo/PR relations but here are a few tips to make sure you don’t get it wrong. Trust me, you’ll thank me later.
- Use targeted mailing lists
PRs need to have mailing lists, which have been set up to target a specific editor of a specific outlet so that when a journalist gets a press release from a PR, they know it is relevant for their publications. It really doesn't take a genius to know that sending out your press release to anyone with an email address isn’t going to get you the results you want. It’s childish and unprofessional and a journalist doesn’t want to have to trawl through their emails deleting dozens of press releases on beauty products and watches, when their beat is fast cars or F&B.
- Send the right images
This may sound like a no brainer to most but you’ll be surprised how many people get it tragically wrong. Images are vitally important when it comes to deciding whether a story will be a good fit for a particular publication so you need to get it right from the get go. It’s important to learn what a high resolution image is and what the minimum size is for print. Tell your clients that for print they need headshots in high resolution, then send one out with releases, where possible, as a link.
- Never WhatsApp
Never contact a journalist by WhatsApp unless you have a close personal relationship with them. And even then, don’t WhatsApp images as they are always going to be too low resolution. The only time a journalist might welcome contact on WhatsApp is during events like GITEX or Cityscape when they need to get to an interview or a booth on time to meet with a client. The only other exception to the WhatsApp rule seems to be with Arabic media as many Arabic journalists actually request info on WhatsApp.
- Don’t send files by WeTransfer
Don’t send loads of files via a WeTransfer that expire in 48 hours or if you do, only send a maximum of 10 images. But using DropBox solves this problem. The images don’t expire and people can go in and choose the one image they want rather than having to download 4GBs worth of images over an hour to then discover that the document or image they need isn’t even on there. This is PR 101.
- Stop using phrases like: “Just to follow up”
I’ve been told by many friends who are journalists that words like “just following up” “I’m not sure if you received my email but…” are words of death that will only ever result in your press release or enquiry being rejected or ignored. As a general rule of thumb for all forms of communication, don't make a nuisance of yourself and don't email/call/text/ the words "just to follow up".
- Don’t bombard them
While it is sometimes unavoidable, journalists receive tens if not hundreds of calls from PRs a day so the chances of your call being the one they actually want to listen to are slim. PR agencies simply shouldn't call after every press release distribution. Pick a few of the most important outlets to call or if you have a good relationship with a journalist, call them when you know they aren’t on deadline. For the rest, send gentle reminders via email but limit it to one or two follow ups max. If you aren’t getting a response by follow up number two, you may have already been blacklisted, so be careful.
- Don’t invade their privacy
Everyone, even journalists, has the right to a private life. That means, they deserve to spend their weekends in peace. Unless a journalist has added their personal number to their email signature, don’t attempt to contact them, even if you have managed to get hold of their number. Journalists generally hate it when people contact them on their personal number about work even during work hours - especially someone they don't know who is pitching unsolicited stuff. Unless you have been told to call them on the weekend, avoid reaching out to them at this time.