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contacting journalists

This is not what I’d intended to blog about this morning, but there was a message in my inbox that I found particularly alarming.

The sender is a PR guru, and she’d sent this message out to her mailing list to promote a new teleseminar. The message began:

You know that journalist you’ve been hoping will write about you?

Do you know her dog’s name?

If you do, and you can tie the name into an email pitch you’re sending, it will
make her snap to attention and ask herself, “I wonder how this woman knows Cupcake’s

It sounds nutty, but it works!

Yeah. I couldn’t let that go. My response:

“Actually, as a working journalist myself, I can tell you that your proposed tactic sounds pretty creepy. Journalists attract stalkers at an alarming rate, and simply putting a journalist’s personal details into an email heading or text could — and very likely would — come off as obsessive and alarming.

“I think what you’re looking for instead is finding commonality with the journalist you seek to approach. For instance, if you and the journalist you’d like to contact are both interested in rock climbing, you can send an email about bouldering or equipment to ask a question or share a tip. Then you can add a section about what you’re trying to promote.

“But emailing a press release that has the title “How’s your dog, Cupcake?” could easily be construed as a threat against the journalist’s dog and/or home. As a journalist who has been actively stalked, such an email would definitely make me “snap to attention,” but not the way you’d hope. I know many others in my field who have had — and/or are having — similar experiences.”

I had no idea if my response would be read by a live human being, much less be taken into consideration. I do understand that there are small business owners and others out there who are desperate for press coverage in order to keep their livelihoods afloat right now.

But journalists are people, too. We’re generally not as powerful as some people make us out to be — it’s our editors who make the final decisions on what goes into a magazine or newspaper or up on a website, though we can suggest topics. If we don’t — or can’t — write a 2500-word feature about your new venture, please don’t take that personally.

And please, if you’re going to follow what this PR guru appears to be advising and start digging up personal information about the journalist you want to contact, be mindful of how you use this information. Put yourself in the journalist’s position and ask yourself what it would be like to receive that “How’s your dog, Cupcake?” email from a total stranger who has actively dug into your life and knows a great deal more about you than you do about him/her.

The good news? I did hear back from the PR guru: “What you are suggesting, Jennifer, is exactly what I meant. There needs to be a logical tie-in. I am explaining that on the webinar today.” I hope so, because from the marketing message that was sent out to who knows how many people seeking publicity, this wasn’t clear in the least. I remain concerned that too many recipients either can’t or won’t tune in to the seminar for this clarification, but will instead take the original marketing message to heart.

Journalists absolutely want to hear from people in the community. We love being alerted to ideas for stories and being informed about upcoming events and projects that otherwise we may not have known about. But let’s dial down the creepy, okay?

Categories: Thoughtful Thursdays
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