Open Letter: 5 Things We Really Want PRs To Know

Dear PR folks,

We don’t hate PRs. In fact, many of us have friends working as PRs. But on particularly busy days, we have to admit, PRs can be a bit trying on our patience. Yes, journalists aren’t the easiest people to get along with. Yes, we know you have your clients to answer to. And yes, we are grateful for all the interviews and quotes you get for us – without PRs, our stories would often take a lot longer to do. It’s a love-hate relationship.

And, today, we just want to highlight five things that we wish PRs would stop doing. Because, to be really honest, the relationship between PRs and journalists can certainly be a lot better.

1. Don’t ever ask, “Is this a good time to call?” 

Well, if it wasn’t, would we have answered the phone in the first place? Asking such a question puts the journalist on the spot – basically, there is NEVER a good time to call. And since by some weird stroke of luck we saw, and responded to, that blinking light on our phone, tell us what you want in 30 seconds. These niceties are nice but absolutely unnecessary.

2. Media tracking is your job

You sent your press kit over? Okay. You called and managed to get an editor on the phone? Cool. You want to ask her when she’ll be featuring your stuff? Hold it. Don’t. It’s really annoying. We don’t know when we are going to feature something. Honest! Sometimes we do and we give an answer, in which case, it’s fantastic. But if we say we don’t know, please just leave it as that. Asking if you could call back in a week’s time isn’t going to make things any better. In fact, we would be tempted to say, “Why don’t you just read the magazine? Isn’t that part of your job?” We don’t like to be mean but editors really do have better things to do than be your intern.

3. We are not our colleagues’ secretary

When you call to ask if we can attend an event organised by you, we return the courtesy by saying Yes or No. That’s all that you should expect of us. To ask if we know if our colleagues are attending … that’s just … pointless. (1) If we were sending someone in our place, that person should have already RSVPed. (2) If nothing is said about someone representing us, just. Drop. It. We don’t go waving invitations around the office asking who would like to go for such-and-such event. Everyone takes care of her own schedule so it’s rude to ask if we know anything about another person’s calendar. We are really not helpful that way. If you need to check up on another person’s RSVP, put the phone down and call the main line again and ask for that person.

4. Friday evening is a bad time for events 

You and your clients probably don’t want to hear this but yeah … we work hard all week and we really want to spend our Friday evenings with our loved ones. Sometimes, we do attend events held on Friday evenings but if we don’t, it would be appreciated if you don’t push us to change our minds. We know that attendance is important for any event but please know that in this age of poor work-life balance, any time we get after Friday 6pm is preferably me-time. Oh, this applies for Saturday and Sunday events too. I mean … what were you even thinking?

5. Find out if a journalist prefer to be contacted on the phone or via email 

We admit we are a bunch of inconsistent, fussy, hard-to-please species. But some PR firms got it right from the start. A PR firm – which we shall not name – keeps a  spreadsheet that details every single journalist’s personal preference. If she has said in passing that she prefers an email over a phonecall, it will never call her. If she has said she does not read a press release in Times New Roman font, it will change the font of its press releases before sending them out to her. Of course, there are other faux pas that have been committed before … such as, spelling the name of the journalist wrong, getting the name of her publication wrong, or even sending your press kits in a bunch to one writer and expecting her to play mailroom clerk for the rest of the company. We are pretty sure the most successful PR professional (which is really 70 percent of the industry) will never do something like that.

Please note that this letter is not written to humiliate any PRs or make your jobs any harder. This is written based on the many conversations we’ve had with other journalists and public relations practitioners.

[PRs have their go at Cosmo now. We ask PRs what they want us to know.]

9 Responses to “Open Letter: 5 Things We Really Want PRs To Know”
  1. Diane Li says:

    PRs want Cosmo “journalists” to know just one thing: it’s hilarious to call yourselves “journalists.”

  2. Roo says:

    “Is this a good time to call”? is a polite way of asking if you mistook the call for perhaps, say a job opportunity or emergency call that you’d drop the Facebook chat you are on for; instead of a scum-of-the-earth PR persons’ plea to a diva to assist in providing useful information for work.

  3. Jack says:

    @Diane Li

    Definition of Journalist:

    a : a person engaged in journalism; especially : a writer or editor for a news medium
    b : a writer who aims at a mass audience

    What are you not getting here? Your comment is unnecessarily catty and defensive, considering the fact that the writer has brought up some valid points.

    • Diane Li says:

      Jack, I agree with your broad definition of a journalist – but Cosmopolitan opened the door with this post by self-proclaiming themselves as journalists when clearly the work they do is really feature writing (at best) and glossy product editorial.

      Readers read Cosmopolitan because they want to read feature articles – i.e. boyfriend advice, not current affairs. Or maybe yes, as in who the writer is currently dating.

      They’re also happy to find out new skincare products pitched by PR employed by advertisers, which by the way are really the ones paying for the running of glossy magazines and in an unspoken way, the employer of these “journalists.”

      If the writer, and as you put it so clearly the “writer” and not journalist, put out this post in his/her capacity as a writer then it wouldn’t be as jarring. It might even be a fun exchange with PR people they interact with every day.

      But the writer chose the title journalist in a whiny tone, and so I’m pointing out one simple observation. I mean out of the 5 points they raised, it’s clear how much importance is given to product press releases, product launches and opening events.

      I’m happy to read about new lipstick colours and know it’s not easy to stand out at all as a feature writer in the competitive magazine world but you cannot honestly believe they will think of themselves as journalists. Unless they start researching and reporting outside the PR person’s product release and ask good questions.

      • Deborah Tan says:

        Hi Diane,

        I was tempted to leave this discussion as it is because I feel strongly that you are entitled to your opinion that magazine writers are not journalists. Fair point made. I personally find it hard to call myself a journalist because (1) I don’t write for a newspaper or any media that may score me a Pulitzer and (2) magazine writers do not chase news and cover current affairs as keenly as our colleagues from the newspapers.

        This post was written firstly in good humour and it wasn’t in our intention to “slam” the occupation that we do work very closely with. As the writer states early on in the post that we recognise that the relationship between a PR and a magazine writer is love-hate one.

        The five points we made in this post may seem “trivial” but they have happened often enough for them to stick. I’m sure magazine writers/editors have had their fair share of idiosyncrasies and we are certain we have been called many names by PRs as well.

        But to say that we do not give any importance to the press materials and product information is unfair. Nowhere in this post have we said that we don’t look at press kits. We may not be able to determine just when we will feature something but it doesn’t mean we did not look at it.

        You have correctly pointed out that we are obliged to consider featuring the products of our advertisers. I don’t think any editor in her right mind would deny that. But we do determine how we want to feature something and how we want to write about it. A fair number of products featured in magazines (in general) are from non-advertisers as well. Incidentally, they are a result of excellent PR.

        We appreciate good PRs because without them, stories simply wouldn’t get written in time.

        Nowhere in this post have we said that PRs are not doing a real job. In fact, we mention great practices some PRs have been known to do. It’s not because they are pandering to diva behaviour, but it’s because they have shown how the relationship between PRs and magazine writers can work.

        Which is why I feel I have to stand up to jibes like “anyone who writes for Cosmo isn’t (worth much)”. It’s true we will never be the ones to uncover a corruption scandal in a government agency. It’s also true that we are unlikely to find ourselves in the midst of a war, covering the suffering of civilians. But my colleagues put in a lot of effort to ensure their stories engage the reader and provide information that a woman will find useful. Sure, it’s possible people will not think colouring your lips with a lip pencil first before applying lipstick is a useful tip but to some, it could save them for the potentially embarrassing situation of lipstick-stained teeth at a client’s lunch.

        Denise Li – our features editor – takes the initiative to arrange for interviews with authors and career experts on Skype at night so she can get the best quotes for her feature stories. Lili Tan – our sub editor – doesn’t file a health story until she gets a doctor to verify the health advice in it. Such research may not seem like much but they are what professional writers do and we are proud that we work for Cosmo.

        Yes, Diane, we are not journalists. But what we write, we put our names and faces to them because we are willing to be held accountable for our mistakes, and that is a sign of someone who writes for a profession.


  4. deviousDiv says:

    OMG this cracked me up. For all the folk who say Cosmo writers aren’t journalists- can you get your head in order? They write, they work on deadlines, they run around looking to interview folk, and they publish- sounds like a journalist to me!

    On the flip side- 5 things that this PR person wants journalists to know:

    1. If you want my help- be nice to me:

    Seriously, calling me and imperiously demanding that I connect you to expert X is not funny. I find it even less amusing when you talk down to me, or treat me like a single celled organism. I am not the telephone operator, I am not the automated answering machine. Person X may not even be the designated expert, and I may want to direct you to someone who is more qualified. I’m trying to help here, so being nice to me and telling why you want is always good!

    2. Last minute requests are not cool:

    You sent me an email expecting insights? Cool I’m happy to help. You want it ten minutes ago? Not cool. I sympathize with you, I really do, and I will try to accommodate your request as far as I can but I don’t answer to your deadlines. Responding the next day does not make me unprofessional.

    3. When I ask you to send your questions ahead of time for phone interviews:

    I’m not going to censor anyone. Its not unreasonable to give my experts time to prepare their replies for you. We are only looking to give you something tangible instead of silly fluff. It does not mean our people don’t know what they’re about. Implying that to my face will not really put me on your side or make me willing to help.

    4. Seriously, don’t call me on my mobile on a Friday evening- it is a bad time for me as well:

    You probably don’t think so but yes, we too work really hard all week and want our Friday nights. I know that your story needs to be filed tonight, and I do sympathize but I work from 7Am to 11PM on most days so my weekends are me time. Oh, this applies for Saturday and Sunday requets too! Maybe an email at 4PM on Friday may help? :D

    5. Send me an email asking for free stuff.

    I admit I am happy to share market insights (I’m with market research) but giving me a call and asking me to send you full market reports for 50 countries is not cool. I find it hard to believe you’re going to plumb through 10,000 pages worth of research to write a 1000 word article anyway.

    All of that said, I always have a blast with all the journalists and writers I work with- sometimes its good fun to embrace the crazy, and besides I’m geeky enough to get excited by story ideas on a Sunday so I may probably reply anyway and help you. I’ve even replied and helped journalists when I am out on Friday night with the girls, but then I’m just a workaholic PR person so don’t mind me. ;)

    In fact- Cosomo ladies & gents- feel free to drop me a line if you need help with any stories you may be working on. I’m a nice PR person, I promise. I won’t even send you free samples. ;)

  5. Charlotte Tan says:

    Cosmo pages are good packing materials. Especially when packing glassware. Just crumple ‘em up and shove ‘em into the empty spaces of the box! Works better than bubble wrap!

  6. Diane Li says:

    Hi Deborah, you wrote “But to say that we do not give any importance to the press materials and product information is unfair.”

    I think you might have misunderstood what I meant when I wrote “I mean out of the 5 points they raised, it’s clear how much importance is given to product press releases, product launches and opening events.” – was this what you were referring to?

    If so you misunderstood my sentence because my point was that this post titled was “5 things journalist wants PR people to know” but out of the 5 points, 3 relates directly to media releases, event RSVP… I wrote that line to emphasize my point that magazine writing revolves heavily around product/event.

    As for the other 2 points on phone etiquette, it’s my opinion that it plays into the diva stereotype. Does it mean that as good practices the feature writers should similarly keep a spreadsheet of which PR person likes to be contacted on by phone or by email? Just saying.

    You also wrote “Nowhere in this post have we said that PRs are not doing a real job.” But nowhere in my comments have I claimed you said anything like that.

    Finally you wrote “I feel I have to stand up to jibes like “anyone who writes for Cosmo isn’t (worth much)””. Those are your words never once mine.

    I’m not one to say a thoroughly researched piece of writing with compelling perspectives cannot be award-winning because it comes from a magazine. Perhaps it’s exactly the dearth of such good magazine writing or perhaps I’ve stopped flipping magazines for too long to notice good ones.

    I’m also not one to say magazine writing is not a respected profession because as I’ve said, the magazine world is competitive and it’s clearly difficult to manage scheduling and deadlines, which gives insight on why magazine writers would love for PR people to know the 5 points above.

    But that’s time management. The unseen work magazine writers do involve managing PR and advertisers and readerships, and then there’s the actual writing and it’s my opinion it takes a lot to be a strong, good, respected feature writer. The writer laments about how PR people call up to ask if his/her product or event will be featured – but perhaps that’s how PR people sees magazine writing because they see the writer as an extension of their product release.


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