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Advice from the other side: Media and media relations people share do’s and don’ts to work together

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BY ARLINE ZATZ

It’s sometimes a love-hate relationship between reporters and public relations specialists, but anyone in the business knows, they need each other to each do their job.
After querying writers and public relations specialists, and honoring their request for anonymity so they could respond honestly, I’ve compiled a list of what drives writers crazy when working with those in public relations and the things public relations representatives can’t stand when working with writers.
What irks writers when dealing with media and public relations representatives:

  • Responding to specific questions with generic press kits or releases.
  • Offering a source or spokesman for an interview who is hard to connect with by deadline. If you are offering and encouraging an interview, make sure that source has time readily available.
  • Misspelling the journalist’s name, or getting generic greetings like “Dear Journalist,” or “To Whom it May Concern.”
  • Demanding proof of assignment after a writer accepts an unsolicited FAM trip. Often times writers pitch after a trip when they have a better sense of the stories they can write.
  • When public relations people won’t give out information without a publication name and date. Sometimes, as freelancers, we aren’t sure who we are writing the story for, and publication schedules can be fluid.
  • Don’t tell me I’m not important enough for a trip, or interview.
  • Allow, and encourage, your people to form relationships with me.
  • Don’t expect me to lie. If a hotel is horrible, I want readers to know not to book it.
  • Don’t send press releases that don’t apply to what I cover.
  • Know what I write about.
  • Don’t insist on sitting in on an interview. This suggest you don’t trust me and changes the dynamics between myself and the subject.
  • If you insist on sitting in on an interview, don’t try to redirect the conversation or the subject’s answers.
  • If you say you’ll get back to me within a few days, I expect you to meet that timeline. If it takes you longer, don’t be mad when I don’t use your information — it probably came in after my deadline.
  • Don’t send follow-up emails on generic press releases. If I’m interested, I’ll respond to the first one.
  • Don’t write press releases full of links you need to follow to understand the basic information.
  • Don’t ask for my questions in advance. Not only does it stilt the interview, it creates extra work for me. I jot notes reminding me of questions I might ask, but never write out full questions ahead of time.
  • Don’t ask me on a trip or to an event and then cancel if someone higher profile comes along. I won’t forget and I won’t accept the next time I’m asked. and who knows who I might be working for next.

Public relations people respond

  • Often times we don’t mind if a significant other accompanies a writer on a trip, but don’t say the companion is an experienced travel photographer if they aren’t. It’s a waste of our time to set up extra photo opportunities.
  • Come to us with a definite assignment.
  • When requesting a press trip, send general information about yourself, like other articles you’ve written, and about the publication, such as its circulation and market.
  • Give me time to find experts for you to interview. I can’t always find someone within an hour.
  • Know what size images you need and how many. “Hi-res” can mean different things to different people and publications and send “whatever you have,” or “a bunch,” is too vague.
  • Double check your information on our organization or company by looking at email signatures or media kits on our websites. It’s surprising how many writers get names and numbers wrong in articles.
  • Be upfront about how much information you will use. Don’t say you want to feature a destination in an article and then only run a sentence or two.
  • It’s easier for us to secure complimentary accommodations on FAM trips if the writer will mention the hotel in the article.
  • Let us know when the article will run.
  • Do research before you call me.
  • Bring and use a GPS unit during visits. It saves us time from preparing directions when you are on your own.
  • Don’t request extravagant amenities unless you have a story assignment that is about extravagant amenities.
  • Reply when we follow-up with you after a trip.
  • Don’t cancel a media trip at the last minute, unless it’s a serious, unavoidable reason. It takes a lot of time to put together the events and if people don’t show up, it makes us look bad in front of our clients.
  • Show up on time for trips, follow our planned itinerary, stay for the entire duration and don’t opt out of activities at the last minute.
  • Let the trip planner know about any food allergies or dietary restrictions before a media trip.
  • Don’t forget contributing partners. They should also be named in articles about events or trips.
  • Request everything you want from a trip up-front, whether it’s complementary accommodations, meals or spa services to accommodate complimentary requests during the busiest part of tourism season, or during holidays or weekends.
  • Share the article with us once it’s published. Send a link or a tear sheet.
  • Respond to pitches, even if it’s a simple “no thanks.  ♦

— Arline Zatz, a member of OWAA, is the award-winning author of “Best Hikes with Children in New Jersey;” “30 Bicycle Tours in New Jersey;” “New Jersey’s Special Places;” “New Jersey’s Great Gardens and Arboretums;” and “100 Years of Volunteer Wildlife Law Enforcement in New Jersey.” Her features and photographs appear nationally in newspapers and magazines. She is also a Certified Tree Steward and a Certified NRA Hunter Education Instructor.
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