For years, we've provided ProfNet members with guidelines on how to interact with reporters who submit queries via ProfNet. While these guidelines are intended for our subscribers, they really apply to any PR professional or expert who interacts with a journalist, whether on their own or via a query we posted on Twitter on behalf of a journalist:
- Do not use queries as stepping-off points for pitches that are irrelevant to a reporter's request -- not even “just this one time.” If a reporter is looking for alternate story ideas, she’ll say so in the query. Otherwise, keep it on-topic.
- Contact with reporters should be made only via the channels specified in the request. That is to say, don’t call a reporter unless he includes his phone number. You might think calling will set you apart from everyone else who is e-mailing, and it will -- but for all the wrong reasons. Think about those calls you get while you’re eating dinner with your family or sitting down to watch your favorite television show. Now multiply that by 50, 100, 200 or more.
- Don’t add reporters to an electronic mailing list without their permission. It’s the easiest way to alienate a reporter and to make sure they remember you (and your client) – but not in a good way. Even if there is an unsubscribe option at the end of the e-mail, if it’s unsolicited, it’s spam.
- Do not attempt to badger or coerce a reporter into contacting or quoting a given source. Reporters know their jobs. They know what will – and won’t -- work in their story, so while you may have “the perfect source,” it may not be what the reporter is looking for. Don’t take it personally – there are other opportunities for publicity that will be a better fit for your client.
- Don't editorialize on what you think of the topic, who they need to get in touch with or why. They often have a particular slant they need to include, and it's not up to you to judge or question it. Emailing them to tell them you don't like the topic or that they should write about something else is not going to win you any points -- and can result in your ProfNet membership being terminated.
- Don’t use queries as a way to advance your own personal interests or agendas, except in cases where the reporter explicitly requests responses that are personal in nature. This is a big one, especially in cases of controversial or political queries. Requests from columnists, in particular, will be more opinion-based than those for news articles. I know it’s tempting to reply to queries that seem to have a particular political or ideological bent, but again, it’s not helping you in any way. Instead, focus on how you can: 1) help the reporter find an appropriate source, and 2) get publicity for your expert.
- Follow through. If you promise to connect a reporter with an expert or to provide them with information, make sure you fulfill that promise. This is especially important in the case of freelancers, who might get an assignment based on their ability to produce the promised experts.
- Above all, use common sense. You know what’s appropriate and what isn’t. If you aren’t sure, it’s best not to reply. As my old journalism professor used to say, “When in doubt, leave it out.”
What do you think? Do you disagree with any of the above? Anything I left off?
Next week I’ll be posting some guidelines for reporters, authors and bloggers for submitting queries. What should I include? Is there anything you've experienced that you wish reporters didn't do? Please share in the comments below and I'll include the best ones in the post.