Gini Dietrich

Media Relations: Why The Economist Thinks We Have it Wrong

By: Gini Dietrich | January 27, 2014 | 

Media Relations- Why The Economist Thinks We Have it WrongBy Gini Dietrich

It’s that time of year when journalists get sick of PR professionals and lament about the industry, as a whole, in high-profile publications.

This time? The Economist.

The subject? The five things PR pros get wrong when “reaching out to journalists.”

The author lists:

  1. Dear [[Firstname]]. Forgetting to do the mail merge when you send the blast email.
  2. Dear Firstname. Having the journalist’s name in a different font or color.
  3. Dear Ms. Lastname. Not knowing the gender of the person you’re sending an email to (this happens to my husband all the time), which isn’t hard to find with a quick Google search.
  4. The completely inappropriate pitch. We’ve covered that on Spin Sucks a thousand times or more. Do your research. The media database companies are there only as a starting point.
  5. Following up on the follow-up to a follow-up. My favorite thing in the entire world is when I delete a pitch because it’s irrelevant (do not get me started on why I don’t respond to every email) and the PR pro resends it with “resending to get this at the top of your inbox.” Seriously? Seriously.

The Entire Industry isn’t Wrong

Here’s the problem.

I don’t disagree with this ranting article.

The author is right. These are all problems that are consistently seen day-after-day in the inboxes of journalists and bloggers.


It does get a little tiresome to be beat up on all the time because some in our industry can’t get it right.

I’m not going to rehash all of the things you should do to get your story placed (do your research, build a relationship, make the subject relevant, don’t harass). If you read Spin Sucks often, you already know all of these things.

Media Relations Done Well

Rather, I’d like to focus on the underlying message of his article: Ask for what you need after you build a relationship.

The language of emailed requests has unwritten rules, and many of them are just like the rules for meeting people in person when trying to make a deal to mutual advantage. Make eye contact, shake hands, and ask for a name. Remember the name. Ask questions; learn about the other person. This signals a willingness to take the next step in building trust. Don’t constantly push in a direction the other person clearly doesn’t want to go: That is conversational incompetence. Find out where the journalist wants to go, and see if you can get there together. And if it doesn’t work out, take no for an answer, and try again elsewhere.

Think about your media relations efforts as the same as networking (or dating, for that matter).

Would you go to an industry event, where journalists were a’plenty, and hand your business card to every, single one of them, saying, “I have the best story for you!”?

Of course you wouldn’t.

You would go to the event, meet journalists, ask them questions, find something in common, ask for their business card, and follow-up a day or two later (or three, if you follow the “Swingers” rule).

We can’t change the entire industry overnight, but we can certainly show journalists there is a symbiotic relationship.

Do your homework, apply some elbow grease, and get to work.

About Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. Join the Spin Sucks   community!

  • Look, the horse is dead. The five problems listed are very real problems. I encountered them DAILY at the newspaper. My favorite and executive editor/publisher of the Daily News Journal were the emails that were addressed “Dear Mr. Journal.”

    I still think this is a result of PR professionals being unable (or unwilling/too afraid) to manage expectations of clients. As one repeat offender told me when I finally asked her why she’s pitched the exact same story to me on roughly a monthly basis for a year with the same response each time, “They don’t give me a choice.”

  • Oh, and number 6. If we do run the story, don’t call the newsroom and ask for clips. Stop being stingy and buy a bleeping paper.

  • ClayMorgan It’s kind of like the conversation we had about hiring an intern to blast out news releases. It HAS to start at the top. Otherwise the young professionals won’t have the ability to say no.

  • ClayMorgan I think that happened A LOT before it was easy to buy papers if you didn’t live in the city. You know…in the good old days.

  • ginidietrich ClayMorgan  Clay – I remember that we talked about that exact situation when we met!
    When I was fresh out of college, I was in that same situation. It sucked. And, it was why I hated media relations for a long time. I was forced to pitch things that weren’t stories. I remember telling one reporter once – “I know this isn’t a story, but I have to call you.” I hated feeling like a used car salesman trying to sell something to someone who wasn’t interested in buying. Ugh.

  • While it’s not anywhere near the same scale, I always have to laugh when I get guest blogger pitches addressed to “Webmaster”, “Mr. Editor,” or “Mr. Sucks”. 


  • jasonkonopinski Mr. Sucks FTW!!!

  • LauraPetrolinoI opened the door for that comment. 🙂

  • jasonkonopinski LauraPetrolino Oh Jason, there are soooo many comments you opened the door for with that one, I choose the soft pitch since it is Monday and I’m trying to be nice 🙂

  • LauraPetrolino jasonkonopinski Sigh.

  • ginidietrich ClayMorgan Yes, turning interns and junior account execs loose on media pitches is, too often, standard operating procedure at agencies. They don’t get the guidance and training (or time) they need to do the job right.

    I’ve known a couple of people who are expert media pitchers. They were so good that they were actually given that job full-time at big agencies—something that 90% of PR people would probably consider a death sentence. But they enjoyed it, because they were good at it. (And they were probably good at it because they enjoyed it.)

  • Someday I’m going to write a book using dating as a big analogy for communications and pr as a whole. It is simply amazing the endless parallels, and this is definitely one of them. I think we have all dated this “PR Pro” and even if it starts out ok, it never ends well. My favorite is the follow up, to the follow up, to the follow up, again…as a dating parallel, “hey, I just wanted to send a text to make sure you got my last text asking if you got my email confirming my call to see if you wanted to go out tomorrow night.”

    Don’t be a bad date folks!

  • ginidietrich Oh I don’t know Gini. I don’t think it took that much effort to stay on hold while I transferred you to circulation.  🙂

  • RobBiesenbach ginidietrich lauraclick I have no problem with newbies and interns doing it. They have to get their feet wet sometime…Just teach ’em right.

    It is such an odd problem, because I still operate under the assumption that most people know better.

  • As usual, right on Gini.  In response to these articles/comments from the media.  Just wish that they would take a look in the mirror. Wouldn’t it be great if the media always told us their deadline and story lines in the voice mail or email?  It would help both the reporter and the pr professional.

  • There are a lot of people who do a great job of building relationships by following approached similar to the one you’ve described ginidietrich… by getting to know someone and working together for mutual benefit. It also gets harder to say “no” when you’re approached by a friend. 

    There’s only so much ranting you can do but if I had a nickel for every time I did a presentation on blogger relations with real-life examples of exactly what The Economist is criticizing, well, you know. To receive emails like that in 2006 when I started blogging was one thing – and it wasn’t good then either – but it’s 2014 now and it hasn’t stopped. The other day I received an email addressed to Barbara because the person was sloppy and my retired blog is called Bargainista. Aside from having juniors who don’t have proper leadership within their organizations, influencers have to stop responding to this type of outreach or poor pitching will continue.

  • LauraPetrolino I’ll always remember what garyvee says about this: “Don’t try to close like a 19 year old on a first date!”

  • Well said, ginidietrich ! You’re right…we’re not perfect. Nor, I would add, are any of the other professions that comprise the current working world. If I had the proverbial nickel for every boo-boo I’ve made in my professional (AND academic) life, I would be sipping margaritas in Tahiti right now rather than dealing with the New England winter!
    But we…like everyone else…have to do our homework as we ply our trade. It only takes a minute to do some quick research on a topic or an individual before acting. And, just like engineers, we need to “test-drive” our communication programs to make sure they’re fault-free. (I love getting mass emails addressed to “Dear APR” myself! Makes me feel important!!)
    I will share your thoughts with my Principles of PR class to which I am heading as soon as I hit “Post.” Thanks for making my day!

  • DickCarlson

    LauraPetrolinoIn my world — learning development — it’s the offshore developers who need this book.  I’m deluged with very nice people from India who email me, friend me on FB, try to connect with me on LinkedIn, and keep stalking me constantly looking for “partnerships”.  (I’m a one-man consulting shop.  The chances that I’d hire you are right up there with finding Vishnu pulling Slurpees down the street in a 7-11.)  But no matter what I tell them, they keep on pitching.

  • SavvyCopywriter

    Well said! I’m glad so much attention is being brought to this annoyance (because that’s all it is… an unproductive annoyance).The same can be said of guest bloggers, and other types of media outreach folks that believe in using the spaghetti approach to getting exposure/backlinks/whatever their little heart desires. It’s ineffective, and it’s far more costly in the long run. When you invest on the front end with the right approach to reaching the media, the results of your efforts on the backend will be exponentially more lucrative.

  • SavvyCopywriter Ah, the old “spray and pray”.

  • SavvyCopywriter

    jasonkonopinski Haha! Another great analogy for that type of outreach 😉

  • The Economist emailed me saying ‘You link us all the time on Sundays and thank you, but you aren’t very influential and no one really cares about you, anyway you could get ginidietrichto post about one of our articles?’
    It was addressed to Ms Goldfarb. 

    Obviously had they Googled they would of known how big a name I am world wide. But since I love them I said ‘Write about PR which you never do. That will get her’

    While I might rant about individuals or businesses vs my industry the fact is if everyone did it right, and everyone did it well how can we stand out? I think the real problem is too often the awards go based on popularity or financial klout vs what worked best or who did the best. Like Cannes for Advertising. You have to pay them to enter the judging vs them deciding who the best was from the year. Which means ‘Congrats you won the best of those who had the money to enter their crappy ad for our judging’

    And while the economist I am sure get’s a TON of inquiries for their books and arts section, for the most part if they are talking about your brand in an article it is a coin toss on whether it will be flattering or not.

  • ClayMorganginidietrichluckily for me already had a life sized wall decal of my last follow friday. Sold out too in less than 2 days…all 6 of them!

  • katievukas

    ginidietrich Thank you so much for writing this, Gini.  Yet another reason I’m grateful to my friend for introducing me to Spin Sucks.  Taking more of a low-key approach with the goal of genuinely trying to be helpful is such great advice.  Thanks again.

  • Howie Goldfarb ClayMorgan ginidietrich Also, didn’t *everyone* use a clippings service, Clay?

  • I love getting emails for Gini Dietrich – addressed to Gini, “Dear Gini” – yet under my email address. Um… don’t see a problem here? But the best are the one’s for Dear Arment. 😀

  • SavvyCopywriter jasonkonopinski We are the Anti-Spray and Pray Coalition and we have come to confiscate your computer and mail machines.

  • I can’t believe we are still having to talk about mistakes like these. Come ON people! It’s frustrating to think some people (many people) are still employing these techniques and think they might work. I agree with what ClayMorgansaid earlier — it comes down to managing client expectations. As professionals, we need to identify realistic opportunities and be honest with clients. We need to be judged by results and not by the number of emails or pitches we completed.

  • Hear, hear!  I appreciate the networking/dating analogy for understanding the reality of media relations.  

    Also, there’s the power issue at play between journalists and PR people. Each has something the other wants, but it’s the journalist’s market. So the journalists get to be as nit-picky and vocal about their peeves as they like.

  • Palemota

    There’s a tendency to make the pr pro/journo relationship, so different from any other, like it’s especially complex and it takes a special kind do of talent to make it work. While it has it’s idiosyncrasies, it is not much different from any other type of courting – be it dating, networking or selling.
    Also, is it really as one sided as most pundits would have us believe? Given that PR has existed for this long and we are often a key source of information for journos, surely they can conceded that they need us just as much as we need them. Why are they always the coy maiden? What am I not seeing?

  • Palemota

    @Tarageissinger I’m curious to hear the kind of measures that you would put in place. Given the ongoing debate about ROI in PR, I’m interested to hear how others are doing it. Please share

  • katievukas I’m grateful to your friend, too, Katie! Thanks for the comment … and for reading.

  • jasonkonopinski I’m totally changing your nickname to Mr. Sucks.

  • LauraPetrolino LOL!!

  • wandawhitson I agree, Wanda. It definitely should be a symbiotic relationship. As someone who is pitched a gazillion times a day, it’s pretty frustrating to get so many emails from PR pros who don’t do their research. I got a follow-up one this morning from a guy who was on Shark Tank over the weekend and wanted to know if a) I watched it and b) would cover it. Clearly he’s not done his research. So yes, it would be nice to know what they’re covering IF the pitch should be going to them in the first place.

  • EdenSpodek There are definitely faults on all sides. I once got into a debate with a PR pro about how rude it is to delete or ignore emails from him and his team. I can’t answer all of the emails and, if I do, I tend to get another email back arguing with me about why I’m wrong and the franchise opening in Florida is a good fit for Spin Sucks.

  • KirkHazlett It always makes my day when I learn you (and other good guy professors) are teaching the next generation the right way to do things. What makes me sad is many young professionals know how to do things the right way, but don’t have the confidence to stick up to their boss when told to do it wrong. I wish I could be in every one of those meetings to protect them.

  • SavvyCopywriter Part of the problem is many people footing the bill want immediate results. We’ve started telling prospects if they expect any real results in the first six months, we’re not the right firm for them.

  • ginidietrich I still like Cupcake.

  • Howie Goldfarb I feel like I should call you Ms. Goldfarb from now on.

  • belllindsay Freaking people.

  • Palemota I think what TaraGeissinger is talking about here is quantity vs. quality. We should be judged on getting stories placed that actually have a business effect vs. contacting a certain number of journalists.

  • DwayneAlicie Yes…and they influence the way people feel about our industry. Which, I guess, is good because without it, I wouldn’t have a blog.

  • Palemota The biggest issue – and I see this as a blogger – is the sheer number of crap pitches they receive every day. I receive probably 25 or 30 every day. Imagine if you write for The Economist.

  • jasonkonopinski Yeah…I’m not going to stop calling you Cupcake.

  • ginidietrich That would be a sad, sad day.

  • SavvyCopywriter

    ginidietrich Smart! That’s a struggle in the copywriting/content marketing world too. I’ve had many clients/prospects think that just rewriting a couple of pages on their website, or adding a handful of blog posts will skyrocket them to the top and make them immediate industry experts. Not the case… If it were that easy, everyone would do it.

  • SavvyCopywriter Amen.

  • My response to the Economist article: Well, duh. 

    (BTW, Grantland ran an oral history of Swingers the other day. You might like it.

  • I’m not a PR guy, though I’ve worked with some of the best. This is what I recommend to anyone that is trying to start a relationship. Get to know the expertise of an individual, learn as much as you can about their circle of peers and influencers. Invest in the time it takes to educate yourself, and be in a position to have constructive conversations. You’ll both be better for it.

  • ginidietrich

    engagetony Thanks, Tony!

  • ginidietrich

    kateupdates Thanks, KF!

  • ginidietrich

    360Connext Thanks, Anne!

  • ginidietrich

    StephAnnGee Thanks, Steph!

  • ginidietrich

    xmodax Thank you!

  • ginidietrich

    EdenSpodek xoxo

  • ginidietrich

    corinamanea Thanks, Corina!

  • corinamanea

    ginidietrich My pleasure, Gini.

  • katievukas

    ginidietrichkatievukas Thank you for your reply, Gini!  If you already posted the following article, I apologize.  If you didn’t, you may find it interesting.  Title: Conference Season Is Here.  Don’t Stink At Twitter

  • katievukas I haven’t seen this – thank you!

  • freighter Amen, amen, amen.

  • bradmarley No way! I’ll go find it.

  • ginidietrichDwayneAlicieoh you would have a blog but a much different one. Probably something about fashion or organic beading.

  • ginidietrichHowie Goldfarbeveryone else does.

  • ginidietrichEdenSpodekactually anyone trying to pitch you a product or brand to talk about should go through your archives. This would prove you do this all the time. In fact daily.
    What do these people think you are Chris Voss?

  • ginidietrichEdenSpodekI just had that Eureka moment!

    It must subliminally be really hard to be called a PR PRo. I mean who wants to heard the sounds PR PR ever associated with their names? Comm Pro works. Message Guru. Phonics DareDevil absolutely. But PR PR sounds like something a cat does. PURR PURRRR-O. PURR PURRRR-O. Makes you fall asleep.

  • xmodax

    ginidietrich you’re welcome!

  • EdenSpodek

    ginidietrich Back at ya! xoxo

  • kateupdates

    ginidietrich Of course 😉

  • ginidietrich

    KristineDarbell xoxo

  • Hear hear! Always on target, Gini 🙂

  • ginidietrich belllindsay I got one addressed to “Hi Spodek” yesterday. Grrr!

  • Howie Goldfarb ginidietrich It’s good to know you’re out there spearheading change Howie. 😉

  • Howie Goldfarb ginidietrich Picking a fight with someone has to be the ultimate in “what not to do”. Sheesh! On the other hand, wouldn’t you like an office in Florida right now. It’s kinda cold outside right now, even for ski fanatics. 😉

  • ginidietrich

    The_Xman It gets tiring

  • EdenSpodek ginidietrich belllindsay This makes me want to send you spoof emails with that, but I will restrain myself..

  • tressalynne Thanks, love!

  • ginidietrich

    GaryBDavis Thanks, Gary!