Eight things you should never say to a journalist

Silence is golden, unless you treasure these eight rules.

In PR departments across the land, journalists are stereotyped unfairly as brusque, impatient, and even rude – tags which have become synonymous with the stressful industry thanks to propagation by such shows as The Hour and Drop the Dead Donkey. No wonder: they’re busy, caffeinated, and permanently on a deadline. The stereotype may only apply to a minority of journalists, but you still don’t want to annoy them unduly. Stay safe by avoiding these eight things never to say to a journalist.

“Did you get my press release…?”

Single most annoying phone call a journalist has to deal with. You sent it, so they got it. If they’d wanted to use it, they would have used it. They didn’t, and now they have to waste time explaining why.

“I’ve got a brilliant story for you…”

They’ll be the judge of that. Just cut to the chase and tell them the story, explaining how it’s relevant to their readership.

“Sorry I can’t help you with that”

People don’t want to hear what you can’t do for them. Got a high res image? Send it over. Got an amazing contact they could use? Share it. People respond to nice people, and if you help them, they’ll be more likely to help you when you need a link to your website or a subtle plug of a service or product.

“No comment”

At best this just sounds rude, at worst like you have something to hide. If you don’t want to answer a question, politely explain why, then move on.

“We need you to promote our product”

If it’s relevant to the story, fine, but you don’t automatically get a plug in the publication just because you’ve given them a free story. From their perspective, they’re giving you free coverage in return for the free writing. If you want to explicitly advertise your product, you can pay for an advertorial.

“Off the record, yeah?”

You’re about to tell them something juicy – but they can’t print it. It’s like someone saying “You’ll never guess what just happened! Oh I’d better not say…” Just don’t tell them! Also, don’t ring them up after an interview asking them not to mention this and that. Make sure you’re briefed and prepared before the interview; it looks unprofessional to retract statements after.

“It’s a bit rushed, but…”

Journalists don’t hate PRs – but they hate bad PRs. Journalists abhor sloppy press releases, poor images and a lack of basic information like contact info. Most of all, they resent long rambling pitches about a non-story. Don’t be a bad PR for your company – make sure your pitch is brief and clearly demonstrates the ‘hook’ for that publication’s readership, and that your press material is well written.

“I already answered that in your other question”

If a journalist asks you a question that sounds like a previous question, it is not because he/she is an idiot and has forgotten your last answer – it is because they are looking to explore another angle, or elaborate on or verify a previous statement.