My Freelance Journalist Rant Against *Some* PR People

As a freelance journalist, I have a love/hate relationship with PR people. They can be useful, but they can also be SO annoying.

A freelance journalist frequently needs access to great expert sources.  There are amazing resources for sources. I love HARO, of course, and I also have PR people that I can turn to when I need sources for a story.

Whether you find them on HARO (and HARO is full of PR people answering journalist queries on behalf of their clients), or whether you develop relationships with them, or whether you get cold emails from them, PR people can be great helps when it comes to finding story ideas and adding an expert voice to your piece.

This is the “love” portion of my love/hate relationship with PR people. When you need something quick, a good PR contact can come through in a major way. And it’s wonderful, and marvelous, and really helps. I really like many of my PR contacts, personally and professionally.

But there are *some* PR people that annoy the freelance journalist. If you are a PR person, don’t do things that put you on the “hate” side of the love/hate relationship that many journalists have with PR people.

freelance journalist PR fail

When Good PR People Go Bad

You are probably a lovely person. And, of course, you want to do what’s best for the client. But it doesn’t help if you send a mass email chock-full of stories that your client wants to be interviewed for. Fellow freelance journalist Aly Walansky was annoyed recently when a PR person grabbed a bunch of requests from her HARO queries and compiled them in a mass email to exemplify what sorts of stories the client would be great for.

For the most part, bloggers and freelance journalists want to be pitched on something relevant to their blog, or to a specific query. It’s a little more work than a mass email, but it’s more likely to receive serious attention. It’s frustrating to receive a mass email that contains a list of “story ideas” that aren’t particularly relevant to what I’m working on. It’s especially annoying when it’s clear that the PR person hasn’t even bothered to determine what I offer my audience, pitching me on something that doesn’t even matter to me or my readers.

What I like is when a PR person, usually someone with whom I’ve developed a relationship, sends me a thoughtful story idea with the opportunity to interview someone who would offer solid information that my audience would care about. Sometimes, my favorite PR people, who know that I am busy and probably have Life Things happening right now, include a quote from the client, along with a story idea. This type of email is often a life-saver for the freelance journalist. Personally, I love it. While I might not rush out and write the story right this second, these are the emails that get starred and filed away as blog post or article ideas. Eventually, I’ll get to it and write something that uses the quote.

Stop Pestering the Freelance Journalist. PLEASE.

What really kills me, though, is the never-ending “follow up” emails from PR people. Here are three truths about me as a freelance journalist:

  1. You are not paying me to write the content, so I don’t OWE you anything.
  2. I might not be that into your story idea.
  3. If I am interested in the story idea, I’ll file it away for when it’s convenient for ME. (Please see #1 for more details.)

Honestly, if you keep “following up” with me, I’m likely to decide that I don’t want to deal with it anymore and delete your emails as soon as I see them to alleviate that sinking feeling that afflicts my stomach whenever I see your name.

freelance journalist pr person

If I told you that I’ll probably use your information “somewhere,” that usually means that at some point when I need a story idea, I’ll pull it out. If I didn’t get back to you at all, it usually means I’m trying to avoid the “follow up” emails because I’ve had a bad experience with you. Or maybe I just don’t care about the story. Either way, continually emailing me isn’t going to result in warm fuzzies on your behalf.

See, I’ve had several PR people who, when I tell them the information is interesting and that I might use it, follow up religiously. I’ve found if I don’t respond, I only get one or two follow up emails. This, while still annoying, is an upgrade over being constantly pestered until I just post on the damn thing already. (Which often I don’t actually do because I’m stubborn and contrary like that.)

And that’s the thing. When I’m busy, or dealing with a death in the family, or trying to move across the country, getting another email about how I should totally write a post about the infographic your client just published isn’t going to make me happy. Instead, I’m going to feel harassed. No, you probably don’t know about my personal life problems. But it’s not like I’m going to tell you about them anyway.

I’m cool if you send me an email about something. That’s not a problem. Send an email. If I like it, I might use it. But please, please, please stop “following up.” Stop asking if I’m going to use the story. And stop asking when I’m going to post on it. Because unless you are actually paying me I’ll get to it when I have the time/desire/need.

The only exception is if I’ve actually interviewed your client at the request of one of my clients. Then, I find it perfectly reasonable for you to email me and ask when I think the story may run. In these cases, I am happy to respond and let you know that I am not responsible for the content publication schedule, and I will make an effort to email you when the story goes live. This is the type of follow up I’m good with. I like this type of follow up. It’s professional. It makes sense.

Also, please don’t cold call me with a story idea. That’s even worse

The freelance journalist loves many of the PR people in her life. Most of them are awesome and helpful. However, there are a few who are not. Don’t be one of the few who are not. If it’s that important that I write something about your client, immediately, then it needs to be important enough for you to pay me as part of the brand campaign.

What are your rants as a freelancer? Do you have PR people pet peeves? Do you think mine are unreasonable?


3 Responses to My Freelance Journalist Rant Against *Some* PR People

  1. Well, as a freelance writer and a publicist,I don’t entirely agree with your viewpoint. You see, most publicists are only doing what their client is asking them to do. We can’t go back to them without some kind of result. Following up is our only way of getting an answer. We don’t care if it’s a NO but we can not take silence as an answer. And too many freelance journalists after requesting sources just sit there and don’t bother to reply. Don’t you think that publicists deserve a definitive answer to our response? If you aren’t into the story then just say that. We don’t know what’s going on in your life so unless you say something that gives us direction I know why you keep getting bothered. Using terms like ” somewhere” and “at some point” frustrate us even more because we don’t know if we can then submit the idea elsewhere and in turn, when our clients ask us what is going on we can’t give them an answer. I do have a maximum follow up contact rule, but there are hundreds of freelancers out there that won’t tell you anything unless you do contact them a few times. We make our living cold emailing and calling. If we don’t do that then we don’t get results. If I didn’t cold call media then I would never get clients in the front door. I agree that if you aren’t being paid to write anything that it’s your prerogative to choose when and if you post. The whole point is to try to find a good balance between needs and wants for both parties. As a freelance writer I do understand where you are coming from, but in this changing world of media I don’t think it can be black or white in terms of defining how many times a person follows up. I think for YOU these are the rules you would like them to follow. And that’s fine, but it can’t be across the board like that.

  2. It is not possible for me (as a web site owner, and a writer) to answer every single request/query/rant that I receive about adding content to my site. A few simple rules

    1) If you can’t figure out what my actual name is, YOU LOSE! I don’t answer things that start with “Dear Sir”, “Dear Owner” “Dear [blank]” or “Dead Big”

    2) I don’t know you from Adam/Eve, why do I want to work with you? I don’t loan my car to strangers, and I don’t loan “my voice” to strangers either.

    3) Following up after I haven’t replied, gets you on the SPAM list, and then I don’t worry about it much.

    Just my point of view, others may enjoy this stuff.

    BCM

    • I think you make good points at pitches that really don’t have anything to do with your site. Those are the worst!

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