Public Relations Basics: Follow the Instructions

Nothing irritates a journalist more than a public relations rep who can’t follow the instructions. The public relations/journalism relationship is a strange one. The reporter usually has the upper hand because they, along with their editor, have the ultimate say in whether an article gets written. Sometimes the public relations consultant has the upper hand when they offer up an embargo on a good story. But it’s usually the writer who is in charge of the relationship and that means the writer gets to stipulate certain things. As you’ll see, a public relations rep who ignores a journalist’s stated policies, whether intentionally or not, can wind up blacklisted or worse.

Every writer has a public relations policy; whether it’s made public or not is another story. One writer was very clear about what he expects from public relations contacts:

— Please don’t phone unless you are responding to a query from me. Exceptions to this rule are extremely rare.

— If you do call and leave voice mail, please leave your phone number first.

— Please don’t send faxes unless I’ve requested them, because I travel a great deal and am unlikely to see your “urgent” fax.

— Letters via U.S. mail are probably the most useless way of contacting me. I never open envelopes that have no return address. If you must send snail mail, write something in longhand on the outside of the envelope that explains what’s inside: kind of like the subject line on an e-mail.

— Please do not send boxes containing Styrofoam nuggets. They pollute the environment and are annoying in general.

— Never, ever send gifts.

These were just some of the rules that former San Jose Mercury News and columnist Dan Gillmor laid out for public relations firms. Gillmor’s rules are famous within both the public relations and journalism communities. And a sure way to get on the bad side of one of the most influential tech journalists of his era was to break those rules.

I don’t think anyone broke Gillmor’s rules on purpose; that would be a little case of professional suicide. The rules got broken when people didn’t follow the instructions, didn’t pay attention to details. Another case in point: a lame tech company that I will never cover as a journalist.

Why? Because the PR person couldn’t follow the instructions. He was emailing me press releases at one of my alternate email addresses, one I rarely publicize. In one week I twice responded to his emailed press releases with the following note:

“Please do not send press releases to this email address. This email address is for personal correspondences only. Please use [my regular business email address].”

Four hours later I received another press release from this same guy at my personal email address. Why couldn’t the guy follow the instructions? He ruined a relationship with a journalist because he didn’t pay attention to details. So learn a lesson from him–when someone has a policy regarding public relations contacts, follow the instructions. If you don’t, you are potentially harming your business and your client’s.

This article, written by Ben Silverman, originally appeared in PR Fuel (, a free weekly newsletter from eReleases (, the online leader in affordable press release distribution. To subscribe to PR Fuel, visit:

One Response

  1. Conor Herman says:

    Appreciate you sharing, great blog post. Thanks again.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *