Email Etiquette in Media Relations: Can we Expect Journalists to Respond to Every Mail
31 Jul 2019
At a recent media event, a leading journalist was talking about how even after spending almost two decades in the media sphere, he is still unsure about the best approach to respond to pitch mails from the different PR agencies and companies.
Most journalists face this dilemma. Should their responses to the pitch mails be personalized, can they just use a standard response and simply change the specific information such as the names, or does the pitch even warrant a response at all? This is a big part of why journalists simply avoid responding to most of the emails that they receive. In their pursuit to educate, inform and entertain, journalists are working longer hours than ever and they simply do not have the time to keep up a pattern of responding to every email that they receive.
More importantly, will a standard response even do any good for either of the parties? Frankly, unless the two parties are communicating through other channels as well, a standard or automated response to an email does not serve any purpose. Many publicists who have received automated responses from journalists have admitted to aggressively following up with the journalist in question through different channels to more accurately gauge their interest. Interestingly, some of these publicists also said that the journalist in question often had often not read the email before sending out their response.
All this comes down to one simple fact; publicists would like to receive a personalised response from the journalists that they pitch to. At the same time, they are also aware of how busy the journalists are and this undoubtedly takes some pressure off the journalist. However, as one PR consultant put it “When a client wants earned coverage in a national daily, I have to make that happen. This means that I have to send carefully crafted pitches out to the journalists and diligently follow up with them. I respect the fact that they are very busy individuals, but at the end of the day, I have to try and get my client what they want, because that is my job. As a journalist, when you do not respond to a pitch mail, it also does not seem right to lose your temper when the PR professional tries to follow up with you. The fact is, that they are simply doing their jobs, just like you are.”
Journalists have always said that their pet peeve is when PR professionals send them pitch mails that are completely unrelated to their beat. When this happens, most journalists usually avoid responding, in the hope that the PR professional will familiarise themselves with the journalists’ work before they send them another pitch. Otherwise, it is a waste of time for both parties and is quite simply; lazy PR. A very large number of publicists have also been blacklisted by media organizations for sending a pitch to a journalist without paying attention to the content that they produce. This is why publicists should take a good look at their pitch mails before they click on the send button; because it takes a lifetime to build a reputation and a minute to lose it.
However, at the same time, journalists could also be missing out on a lead for a story, by ignoring emails from a particular publicist or agency. The onus for this does not fall on the publicist. A PR professional cannot always decide what would be a good fit for a journalist. Hence, if it is not a good fit, the journalist should try to respond so that the communication improves. When a journalist does not respond to emails, PR professionals sometimes stop pitching to them altogether. On the other hand, some publicists also say that, they can never be sure when a journalist might decide to use their pitch and so they continue to send across information that they think is relevant, unless the journalists asks them to stop sending mails.
Since developing relationships is also a very important part of Public Relations, most PR professionals also talk to a journalist before or after pitching to them through email. This helps build a camaraderie between the journalist and the publicist and usually guarantees responses from the journalists on the pitch mails. The people who put in the extra effort and time get the best results, and most publicists say that they go after an opportunity until they are explicitly asked not to.
Journalism and Public Relations are both professions that are far beyond the regular 9 to 5 jobs. Both these professions have their fair share of crises, putting out fires and hurdles. The relationship between journalists and the PR professionals is mutually dependant and is unfortunately suffering because of a lack of communication. If a simple email can help bridge the gap, that is a topic worth focusing on.