Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Most effective ways to annoy a journalist - Part 2

What do you call a hungry person who shouts ‘you irritate me’ or spits ‘mmxxxi’  yet you are offering him a bowl of rice?

In Part 1 of the series Most effective ways to annoy a journalist, real NEWS, not PR blabla’s, was said to be what reporters and editors look for in your pitch, which helps you endear yourself to them. But look, that is not the same as saying real news buys you automatic media coverage of your organisation or event.

You know very well that well fried and tantalising Chambo fish brought to you in a tattered, scrappy and unwashed plastic plate loses its appeal to you. The manner in which you talk to reporters and editors about NEWS in your organisation can do two things:

It will EITHER earn you media coverage OR will force the editor to do what is not so hard to do and for which he/she owes no one any apology – putting the invitation aside to look at it ‘later’. Trust me, ‘later’ from an editor or reporter is not good news at all. The journalists themselves don’t know when that ‘later’ will come.

One thing that irritates editors or reporters in Malawi has to do with Media Relations practitioners’ timing of their invitations to news events.

Probably you know the nature of their work requires reporters to be flexible in their schedules, for example leaving one assignment to cover some breaking news somewhere. However, reporters do also have their own news projects that they work on, with deadlines. In fact meeting the strictest deadlines is one of the things that make newsrooms of serious news media houses very hot places.

As a PR person you earn yourself a minus if you interrupt a journalist’s work by inviting them to an event which you had been planning for weeks or days but about which you did not inform the media person well in advance.

This is what I mean: Your organisation has been conducting some research in the country and it’s time for the dissemination of the findings or results. You set a date and inform other stakeholders, for example, partner organisations, government departments etc.

On the day of the dissemination of the research findings, half an hour before the scheduled starting time, your superior asks you how many media houses will be represented at the event. You remember you did not inform any but at the same time you realise how the absence of the media will badly reflect on you and even on your superior.

You pick your phone, start dialing reporters and editors ‘We have been conducting a study on XYX issue. We will be presenting our findings to the public at XXX hotel. We will be starting at 9am, so our driver is on his way to get a reporter from your media house.’

Serious? What if all the reporters at the media house you are calling are working on their own projects which they cannot afford to leave even for a mere half an hour?

Well, if you thought I consider such a PR person unprofessional, you should waited to hear this: There are times when someone calls an editor ‘Bwana (sir), I am a driver from VVV organisation. Mr/Mrs so so (the organisation’s PR person) has sent me to get a reporter for our event starting in half an hour’.

When I was with Zodiak, this is how my colleagues and I used to feel each time we got such type of invitations: Why do some PRO’s do things as though we have reporters assigned to sit on a bench, waiting to be picked for news conferences/events?

It’s just luck, sheer luck, if you get media coverage if that’s the style of your Media Relations. Otherwise, editors or reporters are likely to tell you ‘Oh thanks. We will get there ourselves’.

Usually, that is politely put to you but you can be assured that 95% of the time, behind that polite response is great disappointment or even anger.  The editor is therefore unlikely to dispatch a reporter to your event. As I indicated in Part 1 of this series, even without your event or news conference, a journalist will still find news elsewhere.

It is not just the interruption of journalists’ own scheduled work that irritates them when you do things this way. Something more does.

Journalists feel that the fact that you ‘forgot’ to inform them about your event well in advance simply suggests you don’t really value how the media can help you. As such your organisation doesn’t  deserve media coverage. That’s very bad but that’s the reality in the newsroom.

Reporters and news editors cherish anyone who gives them news. Yet they can, and do, though not overtly, loath PR persons who conduct themselves unprofessionally despite offering opportunities for real news. A journalist can be a hungry person who gets irritated by the very person who offers him a bowl of rice. Of course as you might have seen, that is not without good reasons. It's not a question of being ungrateful.

The bottom line is - Unless it’s breaking news, avoid calling journalists just minutes before your event starts. It reflects lack of planning on your part; cultivates journalists' resentment towards you and can estrange you from the media.

Include the media in the planning of any event that you wish covered and give journalists adequate time, at least some two or three days or even weeks before the event, depending on its magnitude.

This works to your organisation’s advantage. The media house prepares for you by identifying the right reporter to cover you and by doing the necessary background research about the event or the issue if necessary. That allows the media house to cover you as comprehensively as possible which helps in the dissemination of your organisation’s core message on an issue to your target publics.

However, if you would like to be good at irritating reporters and editors, call to invite them to an event starting in just 20 minutes of your conversation. Above 90% success rate guaranteed!


In Part 3 of this series, I will be discussing how news conferences irritate journalists.

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