When things go horribly wrong: What to do when a journalist bad-mouths you on Twitter

Posted on: 2012-11-19 in How To

A valuable lesson in pitching national journalists from Hannah Stacey @hanstacey

I’m sure I’m not the only one who sees a certain amount of irony in journalists taking to Twitter to complain about PRs wasting their time: after all, it takes a nanosecond to click ‘move to trash’ but rather much longer to open TweetDeck and mouth off at how gosh darn angry you are to the world.

I’ve written in the past about how I think journalists should pipe down on Twitter about PRs, primarily because it achieves diddly squat other than making everyone think you’re a bit of a whingey twit. Unfortunately this week I found myself at the wrong end of a good old PR bashing on Twitter.

Imagine the scenario: a news story breaks overnight that provides the perfect chance for your client to comment on a new policy espoused by a prominent political figure. Realising this is an opportunity too good to miss, you hastily call and fire out an email to as many relevant editors and comment sections as you possibly can – timing is essential.  

Given that the client did genuinely have something interesting to add to the debate on this issue, I was somewhat taken aback to see a scathing tweet from a national comments editor I had emailed that publically named and shamed the PR agency I work for to his 5,000+ followers, pronouncing his hatred for the PR profession (apparently largely caused by my email).

Now I’m the first to admit I may have been a little too hasty to get the word out – it certainly wasn’t the finest-crafted pitch I’ve ever sent and it will make me think twice before rushing out a pitch to a number of editors, but it didn’t warrant a reaction as though I had sent Jedward in electronic mail form straight to the journalist’s inbox where they proceeded to assault his eardrums with a hideous rendition of ‘Ice ice baby’. Indeed, I’m sure he was just feeling a bit fed up with the endless stream of PR emails that he probably receives on a daily basis.

But as a PR professional whose public image is all-important, what should you do when this happens? Here are some top tips for dealing with the whole sorry situation:  

1)    Don’t cry – Take a deep breath. Resist the temptation to either bawl your eyes out or unleash a tirade of your finest French at the journalist in question. Maybe log out of Twitter for a couple of minutes to avoid the latter happening. Although you may have made a mistake, it’s unlikely to be the end of the world, and the journalist may just have been having a crap day and forgotten that PROs are people too.

2)    Reply on Twitter – preferably from the agency account if you have one. Say you’re sorry for being bothersome and ask how you can better pitch them in the future. Chances are they’ll ignore you because they’re busy doing something terribly important, but it’s good to acknowledge the misdemeanour in the public domain and try to make amends.

3)    Call them – When you’ve been publically tarred with the ‘incompetence’ brush, you may want to go and rock backwards and forwards in a darkened room, but remember there’s always a lesson to be learnt. It’s all too easy to send an email (which incidentally will never get through - they will almost certainly have already added your email address to their ‘blocked’ list) saying that you’re terribly sorry and it won’t happen again. Call them. Do say you’re sorry. But most importantly, ask them how you can better pitch them in the future. If they tell you to go jump off a cliff, at least you tried. And the best possible outcome is that they tell you how best to pitch them so that you can have more success in the future.

4)    Learn something from the experience - In this instance, my pitch just wasn’t targeted enough. The story was strong (it made both the Times and the Huffington Post), but on closer inspection it was mis-pitched to the publication in question, who appear only to be interested in comment from ‘proper’ writers. The lesson here was that time-old classic: research the publication you are pitching, no matter how hard pushed you are for time. The scattergun approach seldom yields coverage (and just represents wasted time). It can also come back to bite you hard in the proverbial, and to detriment of your agency as well. Another lesson learned the hard way!  

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About this blog

The B2B PR Blog is a resource for both PR professionals and people working in B2B industries on how to devise and implement successful B2B PR campaigns. The blog was founded by B2B PR specialist Heather Baker, who runs video production and corporate animation agency TopLine Film and digital PR and SEO agency  TopLine Comms. The B2B PR Blog takes contributions from sensible industry folk with something interesting to say.


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