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Why That Journalist Isn’t Responding to You

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Jan Schroder, Editorial Director of Schroder Public Relations and Managing Editor of Travelgirl magazine.

Yes or no. Why don’t they just respond to me?

That’s one of the top complaints PR people have about journalists and it’s no wonder. We all hate to be ignored – just ask that poor boiled bunny in “Fatal Attraction.” You spend time crafting a great pitch and sending it to them. So why can’t they just send an email telling you whether they are interested or not. It just takes a few seconds, right?

As someone who works in both journalism and PR, I can tell you exactly why they are not responding to you. And what you can do about it.

Yes, you have heard that journalists get a lot of email and that’s their answer to why they don’t respond to all the pitches they receive. Maybe that just seems like an easy excuse.

Let’s just do a little math here. A lot of journalists, me included, receive more than 300 emails a day. Let’s say we spend 15 seconds looking at one to see if it’s relevant to us, then another 15 seconds responding to the sender that we’re not interested. That works out to a whopping 2.5 hours a day that we have accomplished nothing towards getting our work done.

Another thing to remember is that most journalists are working with constant deadlines – some up to three or four each day with online updates. They have to remain focused on meeting those deadlines. And that can mean less time to respond to pitches such as yours.

This was a hard reality for me to swallow. I was raised as a well-mannered Southern girl who promptly writes thank-you notes following every occasion. Why honey, it would just be so rude and tacky not to! So I initially tried to respond to everyone who emailed me. Then I realized I could either take the polite route and nicely answer everyone. Or I could take the professional route and actually get my work done.

That’s just the reality, I’m sorry to say. So what can you do about it?

Do your homework before you send out a pitch. If you are targeting a few journalists in particular, spend a few minutes checking out their publications and what types of articles they write. Read their listings on Cision or on whatever database to which you subscribe. Follow them on Twitter – they may give an indication on what stories they are working. I work for a women’s travel magazine and in the past few days have received pitches about a cigar-smoking package at a hotel and pants for garbage cans.

Don’t take it personally. Remember that old “Sex and the City” episode when Carrie counseled Miranda on why her date didn’t accept her invitation to come up to her apartment. “He’s just not that into you,” she said. A simple concept in the dating world and one that is applicable in the business world as well. If a journalist is not responding, chances are good that he or she is just that into your pitch. It’s not personal.

Follow up, but only to a point. Yes, it is possible that in that massive, relentless sea of emails journalists receive, your perfect pitch got overlooked. But how you should follow up varies by each journalist. That’s the tricky part. I don’t mind a follow-up email asking me if got their press release or the occasional (short) phone call. But a lot of journalists would rather pick up a hissing rattlesnake than answer a follow-up phone call and they will more often than not respond poorly.

I wish I had a magic solution. Journalists and PR folk may often have an uneasy alliance. But we need each other to do our jobs.

I’ll close by paraphrasing a line from the bestselling novel spawned by that ”Sex and the City” episode by Greg Berendt, “He’s Just Not That Into You: The No-Excuses Truth to Understanding Guys.”  (I switched out the word men for journalist.) “When it comes to journalists, deal with them as they are, not how you’d like them to be.

Jan Schroder is Editorial Director of Schroder Public Relations and Managing Editor of Travelgirl magazine.

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