5 Things You Should Never Say to a Journalist

Here’s what you should avoid when communicating with the media as part of a PR campaign.

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Most entrepreneurs recognize the power of publicity and what it can do for their brand. Even one well-placed story could generate an immense amount of traffic for your business. 

Although hiring a PR agency is typically the best way to see results, entrepreneurs who don’t have the budget to engage an agency often reach out to media directly. If that’s the route you want to take, you need to do so with caution. Approaching media the wrong way can do more harm than good. Here are five things you should never say to a journalist when implementing your own PR campaign. 

1. Can I pay you to run my story? 

The first rule of thumb? Don’t offer to pay a journalist to cover your business. Journalists are employed to provide credible content and reporting. This question is not only insulting, but can also put the reporter’s job and reputation on the line. In fact, many news outlets have a policy where their team of journalists and contributors cannot accept gifts valued more than $100. 

You can’t buy a favorable story on a top-tier news site. Save your money and instead put it towards boosting articles journalists write about your business on once they’ve been published. 

Related: 7 Strategies Entrepreneurs Can Learn From The Kardashians

2. This is off the record

For the record, it’s always on the record when speaking to the media. Be mindful that whatever you say to the press can and might be used in a story. Some journalists are willing to interview you on background or might agree to keep certain details out of the story, but generally speaking you shouldn’t say anything that you don’t want made public. Before you speak to a reporter, map out the points you’d like to convey. To ensure you get all your key messages across, you can also write and submit a press release to the reporter before or after your interview. 

3. Are you getting my emails and messages? 

They are. No answer is the answer. There’s nothing worse than bombarding a journalist to see if they got your release. If the media is interested in your story, you will hear from them. It’s okay to follow up once, but stick to that. Though it’s rare, there’s always a slim chance your initial pitch wound up in their junk folder. For that reason, I recommend using a different form of to follow up so that a second doesn’t wind up in the same folder. If you emailed them the first time, try calling their work phone to follow up. Some journalists or freelancers might be okay with you calling their cell phones or texting them, but be careful not to bombard them, especially after normal working hours. 

Following up more than twice is definitely too much, and you could quickly find yourself on a blacklist or be delegated to the reporter’s “block sender” pile. Instead, focus your energy on doing your homework before you start pitching so that your pitch is actually relevant to what they write about. Offering an exclusive (and indicating that in the subject line) will help you stand out in their inbox. 

Related: How to Make Your Marketing Emails More Effective

4. Can I read your story before you run it?

The simple answer is no. Journalists will never reveal their whole story to you before it’s published. A journalist writing about you is doing you a favor, not the other way around. The last thing any reporter wants is for someone to walk back a statement right before their story is supposed to publish. That’s why it’s important to ensure your facts, figures and information are all accurate the first time you’re being interviewed. 

5. Can I get back to you next week? 

If a journalist wants to write about you, don’t delay by not replying with answers to their questions or putting off scheduling an interview. You need to strike while the iron is hot. News writers in particular work on tight deadlines and often write several stories a day. If you’re unavailable, don’t have a voicemail or simply don’t respond, you’ll get filed into their “too hard to reach” basket and might miss the opportunity. 

Your lack of urgency will also set a precedent for future stories, because you’ll no longer be top-of-mind when a reporter needs an expert from your field to comment on a trend. There are many others out there in the world who are all competing for this same journalist’s attention. At the end of the day, when pitching to the press, you have to make their life as easy as possible.

Journalists are people too, and they work under extremely tight deadlines to publish reliable stories. This is why the power of publicity is so credible compared to paid advertising, but understanding the idiosyncrasies that come with publicity is invaluable. Although you might ask a member of the media any of the above questions with the best of intentions, it could jeopardize your relationship with that person in the future. Avoiding the five questions above will hopefully allow you to continue your PR journey without hitting any bumps in the road.  

Related: 10 Ways to Get Global PR Exposure