D is for deadlines
The A to Z of media relations
Supported by Unicepta
Ah, the bane of journalists’ lives. We live by them, so it’s only fair that PRs should live by them too. A deadline represents the latest time that a journalist can file their story. With online journalism, the deadline can be incredibly tight but for feature writers on weeklies or monthly publications, there will be a longer time scale.
Now, journalists may moan about deadlines, but have you ever switched onto TV news and seen a blank screen? Or opened a newspaper (I know, old school) and spotted yawning white space? No? That’s because all the deadlines were met.
A deadline represents the very latest time for a journalist to file their copy. It is not an arbitrary time. It is set by the media outlet, not the journalist. It is not moveable. Do not assume that every journalist working for a specific section of a publication or broadcast has the same deadline.
Some journalists may file ahead of time while others will be filing right up to the wire. If their copy is late, it has a knock-on effect on other parts of the production cycle.
PR ‘no nos’ relating to deadlines
Calling on deadline needlessly
You’ve got 300 words of copy left to write and five minutes until your deadline. The sub editor is getting twitchy. Your phone rings. You pick it up to hear ‘I’m just checking you received my press release’. Cue an involuntary flurry of your favourite expletives. It happens!
Calling on deadline to clarify your previous comments were ‘off the record’
Too late. Journalists aren’t mind readers. If you don’t specify at the outset that your comments are ‘off the record’, they are considered ‘on the record’.
Calling on deadline with an offer
Calling on deadline with an offer to provide a unique insight or access to a key individual if only the journalist can hold fire for today. That’s all very well but there’s a major issue with this scenario. What would you suggest the publication runs in place of the article? Should there just be a blank space with ‘Back soon with a better story’?
By delaying running the piece, the journalist also runs the risk than a competitor may scoop them. I once held back on a story, only to find that the company’s chief executive – who I had previously upset with another story – picked up the phone and gave it to a competitor. You may be able to control your actions, but you have no control over other people within your organisation.
Calling minutes before deadline
It may be unavoidable, so we’ll give you the benefit of the doubt, but ringing just minutes before a journalist’s deadline is not helpful. By this stage, most hacks will have the bulk of their article written. They will have considered its structure carefully. If you are offering information that could change the journalist’s opinion or mean that their article needs to be completely rewritten, they will not be grateful.
However, if you are ringing with a scoop (as if?) they will be eternally grateful.
Calling after deadline
Some PRs seem to think that, if they call after deadline, the story will not run. Er, no. If you call after deadline, it just means you have lost the chance to offer guidance or comment for the article. And no, you can’t complain. It is your fault.
Calling to say you can’t help
It happens. Sometimes you can’t find the necessary information or the journalist’s preferred spokesperson is unavailable. Just be honest and let the journalist know as soon as possible, preferably long before deadline. This gives them time to either find an alternative spokesperson or to change their planned article.