During media training sessions, I share examples of easy ways to completely piss off a reporter — not as a tutorial — but as a cheeky way to say DO NOT do these things ever if you want to maintain any kind of healthy relationship with media.
Below you will find the ones that bothered me when I worked as a journalist. There are definitely others so feel free to share in the comments section below. I had some help from some friends and former colleagues. So, please do add to the discussion.
Do any of these things, and you’re in for a world of fun. Trust me.
1. Tell a reporter how to do their job – They love that. Criticize the subjective tone or focus of a story while you’re at it. Bonus points if you can do this while never mentioning that the story was technically 100% accurate.
2. Ask them why they didn’t cover your story – Reporters love justifying how they do their job and the decisions they’ve made — to PR people. If you ask with a little bit of attitude, all the better.
3. Only be helpful when you want something from them – Reporters can’t tell when they have an artificial one-way relationship with a PR person. No need in investing a little time in getting to know them and THEIR needs.
4. Send them a media advisory right before an event – They will never guess that you don’t really want them there so you made it logistically impossible to get there on time without being able to say they weren’t invited. Or, you’re a moron.
5. Only communicate with them by email or text – Reporters love nothing more than a controlled message via email with no chance to ask a question. Sometimes (legal implications) you have no choice — but we’re talking about the other 99% of the time. An email is great for communicating tone, too.
6. Promise a scoop then hold a news conference – Nothing says “I love you” like a broken promise. And, chances are they communicated the promised scoop to their editor, too, so you now have double the fans in that newsroom. Excellent work!
7. Ban them from anything – If there’s one thing reporters truly love, it’s being punished for doing their jobs. So, ban them from news conferences or events. Lord knows they’d never tell anyone, especially on social media.
8. Tell them how lucky they are to get what they got – It certainly works with spouses — so why wouldn’t it work with reporters, right?
9. Make them go through Access to Information – They understand that there is some information that will require access to information — but the true joy comes in having to go through the red tape to get something simple and easy.
10. Ask them if they’d ever come work for you in PR – Nothing says manipulation like false flattery and dangling a carrot. You better be serious.
11. Make them watch other people eat – What is more enjoyable than attending a Chamber luncheon or keynote address and watching people eat while you stand in the corner waiting for the speaker. No need for a media table at all.
12. Hold a news conference with inadequate audio/visual facilities – Today’s reporter has to listen to the speaker, ask questions, video, tweet, etc. all at the same time. Would an audio board and camera riser help? Sure. But, what’s one more thing for them to do at this point?
13. Call their boss to complain about them — This was one of my favourites — when the PR person would go over my head. I can assure you I didn’t hold a grudge and didn’t dig into your organization more aggressively.
14. Return their call at 4 p.m. – You’re busy so reporters completely understand if it took you 6 hours to get back to them just to say you can’t help. I’m sure the next time YOU want something, they’ll be as gracious.
15. Cut a media conference short just to make your guy look important– Ah, yes, we’ve all seen the smile, pivot and walk away as the PR person jumps in and says “I’m sorry, he has an appointment.” Exudes transparency.
16. Send out a media release with a contact who’s not available – It’s a great tactic. Send out a media release and put the person’s name at the bottom for media to contact. But, that person is not available. Even better? Put out a news release with no media contact on it. Reporters will likely just print exactly what you wrote.
17. Leak your scoop to a ‘friendly’ reporter to diffuse the story – You have a big scoop and call the organization/person involved for comment. Next thing you know, a rival media outlet has the story. Oh well, forgive and forget, right?
18. Tell them you used to be a reporter – The way to a reporter’s heart is to tell them you walked away from journalism for a better life in PR because they’re totally not passionate about what they do. They’re in it for the money.
19. Threaten to sue them – Hell, when you don’t get your way on a story, threaten to sue them even if you know you have no chance of winning. Media organizations certainly don’t employ lawyers, right? I’m sure it will help with future coverage, too.
20. Lie – No biggie. It’s easy to repair your reputation after being caught in a lie, having it published in the newspaper and then viral on social media. Reporters will forget all about that.
21. Call out a journalist, publicly, on social media: You know, getting into a Twitter war with anyone is such a fantastic and productive idea, why not do it with a professional wordsmith like a journalist? Challenging their integrity in a public forum is a much better approach than, say, calling them and talking about it professionally. Let me know how this one goes for you.
22. Tell them “I don’t understand why this is a story?”: This is like saying “do you have any idea what you’re doing?” There is very little chance this will make the reporter go harder at you and your organization. This is even more effective if you, personally, have zero experience in the media.
23. Ask them for the questions in advance of an interview: I’m sure they will have no issue with doing this, allowing you to meet for hours on end to come up with spin-worthy answers, rehearse them and remove all honest spontaneity from the interview. Even better? Ask for the questions in writing.
24. Tell the reporter what areas of discussion are off-limits: Journalists are widely known for being obedient and doing exactly what spin doctors tell them to do. If you went back and met their high school teachers, they’d tell you the reporter never tried to push the limits. So, the likelihood of them going to these “off-limit” areas of discussion you’ve identified, just to spite you, is very, very, very improbable. Giddy-up.
25. Issue an important news release at 5 p.m. on a Friday (bonus points for doing this on the Friday of a long weekend): This is a great strategy to bury a story. The media has no idea what you’re really trying to do here. They’ll just think it’s unfortunate timing. They will feel bad that you have to work so late on a Friday. On the plus side, they will appreciate all the overtime they get working Friday night while fending off angry texts and calls from their spouse/partner.
26. Complain about a reporter to other reporters: One thing is certain — journalists aren’t competitive in any way, shape or form. So, there’s no real harm in trashing one of them to someone from another network or paper. There’s no way it will get back to them anyways. Great way to make friends, show professional respect and build up relations.
27. Pack your news release with lots of technical jargon: Journalists are underworked and looking for things to do. So, a nice, thick news release packed full of industry or issue-specific technical jargon and acronyms is just the ticket for keeping them busy looking things up so they can make sense of the story. Don’t try to explain the jargon — that’s just patronizing. A little mystery will pique the reporter’s interest.
28. Hold a news conference but allow no questions: Most journalists don’t really want to ask questions. In fact, if given the choice, most would go back to school and take stenography. If you don’t allow any questions, there is no way anyone will take that to mean you have something to hide.
29. Tell them you are available for an interview right now: This is a great strategy because it’s unlikely the reporter has prepared any questions and by saying you’re available at this very moment and only right now — it prevents them from saying in their story you refused to comment. Trust me, they have no idea what you’re doing and this — in no way — will poison your relationship with them for when you need them in the future.
30. Tell a reporter something good then say it’s “off the record”: If you ever find yourself saying something you wish you hadn’t said, simply tell the reporter, after the fact, that it was all “off the record” and they can’t use it. Like a “get out of jail free” card, you can simply declare “off the record” whenever you want and it erases whatever you said. There’s no way it will ever be used. Whoever said “off the record” needs to be declared before you talk is just crazy. Make it up as you go along.
Since this post was originally put up, I’ve had incredible feedback from journalists around the world who made additional suggestions, many of which you can find in the comments section. Here they are (and please add your own in the comments section):
31. Hold a News Event and Announce Nothing Significant: Reporters have all sorts of spare time and love attending events with no significant news value. Making this an even better experience would including hyping up the event ahead of time and maybe even announce you’re going to live-stream it on social media to get the rumour mill going and ensure the reporters show up. They won’t hold it against you.
32. Keep Saying Their Name Over and Over: Nothing says “I’m not patronizing you” more than answering a reporter’s questions by saying their name 2-3 times per answer. Overlooking the fact that it makes the news clips almost unusable for broadcast journalists, reporters love being reminded what it’s like to be scolded by their elementary school English teacher. Ahhhh, memories.
33. Tell Videographers or Photographers What to Shoot: Visual professionals are TOTALLY open to suggestions from PR people on how to best shoot their story. I encourage you to give them framing and lighting advice while you’re at it.
34. Ask To Fact Check The Final Product: After the interview is over, ask the reporter to see the story before it goes to print to check for inaccuracies or misquotes. Heck, journalists are constantly getting their facts wrong, and it’s not as if there’s a rush to have the story done. This is good relationship building.
35. Pitch The Same Story To The Same Reporter Multiple Times: Journalists have plenty of spare time on their hands and love nothing more than filling that time rejecting the same story pitch over and over again. Bonus points if you can do it by email AND phone, showing your communications diversity and commitment to excellence.
36. Shout Out “Last Question” During The Middle of a Scrum: Instead of politely telling reporters “we have time for 2-3 more questions”, try just abruptly telling a half-dozen reporters with questions that you are taking one more question. The excitement and thrill of pitting them against each other, forcing them to yell over one another — and the pure joy that brings you — is what makes their job fulfilling. The best part is they definitely won’t take it out on you in story tone.
Conway Fraser is Managing Director of Fraser Torosay and a former journalist with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). Follow him on Twitter @ConwayFraser.
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