Career Advice

10 Things PR People Do That Drive Freelance Journalists Nuts

By Natalie Burg July 9th, 2015

I want to preface this list by saying there are great PR reps out there. The ones who really understand storytelling, research what you do, and send over stories worthy of coverage. And if that PR rep has a gift for facilitating, she can quickly wrangle even the flakiest of sources for timely interviews and follow-ups.

But as the people standing between you and your story, these reps also have the power to be another kind of gift—the kind that might be flaming on your doorstep.

Whether it’s from negligence or ignorance or something worse, some PR people don’t help us out. Instead, they make us insane—even though it would only be to their benefit to do the opposite. I brought up this topic to a group of freelancers, and 96 comments later, we could have turned all the responses into a book.

Here are the worst things PR reps do to drive us absolutely bonkers.

1. They pull a disappearing act

A PR rep sends you a great story lead, then immediately sets an out-of-office reply and goes on vacation. Here’s a tip: If you are the press contact, it’s pretty important that the press is able to contact you.

2. They add you to the mailing list

You cover entertainment news in Cleveland. Some PR person randomly adds you to a distribution list for the Strawberry Farmers’ Association of Washington. How they found you is a mystery, and so is figuring out how to unsubscribe.

3. They ask for an aimless hangout

Sometimes a PR person sends an email with an invitation to “get together and chat about some ideas for you.” Who has that kind of time? Do you think freelancers are salaried? Maybe try Tinder for someone to chat with over drinks. Stick with concrete pitches for writers.

4. They confuse their job with your job

A PR rep sends a great pitch. You get a publication on board and set up the interview. Then the PR person comes forward to say she’s only on board if she gets to approve the entire draft before publication. It’s not our job to write advertorials for your clients. You write the advertorials; we’ll do the journalism.

5. They call you

How can you tell if a freelance writer wants to talk to you on the phone? Easy: Are you a PR person? Then the answer is never. (And yes, we got your email. We always get your emails.)

6. They try to be quotation bouncers

Having the PR person listen in on your interview is awkward enough, but we get that it’s her job to chime in with background info, secure follow-up information, and give the client tips about his interview skills after the call. But when it turns into a constant stream of interruptions, rewordings, and requests to take that off the record, the PR rep can run so much interference that by the end, you don’t have a single usable line.

7. “When is the story going to run?”

We don’t know. We didn’t know when we did the interview, we didn’t know last week when you asked, and we don’t know today.

8. They do just enough research to embarrass themselves

Of course, we love it when reps do their homework and send us pitches that are relevant to what we cover. But skimming one byline does not equal research. Saying, “I know you cover the healthcare industry” to a writer who actually covers technology and wrote one story about a hospital that uses new software is really like saying, “I saw your name on the Internet once, so you’ll do.”

And please don’t drop weird personal facts you’ve gleaned about us from our blogs in your emails. That just feels icky.

9. “Please post the following article to your publication”

Yeah… no. That’s not how this works.

10. They ask for changes to a live article

Correcting typos or factual errors is one thing. We writers are not above making these flubs, and we would rather sheepishly tug on our editors’ sleeves and ask for a fix than let the inaccuracy remain there, shaming us forever.

But making sure that direct quotation was what your client “really meant” was your client’s job, and nitpicking our storytelling choices is what our editors are here for. After it goes live, your job is done.

Image by Dean Drobot
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