As B2B PR pros, we’re always looking for creative ways to tell a story. We look to secure an article or segment that not only hits priority message points, but appears in an influential publication relevant to the company’s business. When pitching a significant news announcement, perhaps about a new product or VC funding, securing a story ahead of the announcement date is critical to a smooth launch. Timing is key.
Depending on the announcement, we may seek an exclusive, meaning one reporter has access to the news before others. Or we may go with an embargo, which means offering the news to a wider pool of media targets at the same time.
Despite the best strategy and planning, PR plans can be foiled if the journalist goes silent and we’re ghosted. It’s a common term in dating, but when it happens in PR, a job based around effective communication, it’s particularly frustrating.
So what should you do when you are ghosted by a reporter?
Don’t take it personally
It can be easy to assume the reporter has stopped responding because you did something to turn them off from the story, but that is likely not the case. Journalists are people, too, and sometimes things happen that pull them away from their job. The news item you’re discussing can seem like the most important thing in the world to your team, but for the reporter, it’s just another story. If they need to step away from work for personal reasons, emailing the PR person they’ve been in touch with may not be at the top of their list.
It’s helpful to follow reporters on Twitter, as they’ll likely post if they have to take time off. It can at least provide a reason why there’s no response and can give peace of mind knowing you did nothing ‘wrong’ to lose the story lead.
Also, don’t be afraid to reach out to an editor. Especially if the publication is highly relevant to your client or company’s business, the last thing the publication wants is to have issues with a company that can bring future news items. An editor can likely clear the air, or at least push the reporter to respond with an explanation.
Follow up, but know when it’s time to stop
The art of the follow up can be its own blog post. A well worded and relevant follow-up often nets great opportunities, but it pays to understand when enough is enough. If a reporter has gone silent, feel free to follow up a few times on the same channel you’ve been communicating through, most likely email. If there’s no response in a couple of days, shoot them a DM on Twitter if their bio says they’re okay with that, or send a message over Signal if their handle is listed. (Many reporters in the security space publish theirs.) If you hear nothing after a few days, it’s probably time to move on.
Give yourself enough lead time
For any type of media outreach, lead time is critical. PR pros don’t always have lots of advance notice because an announcement can come up at the last minute. But if you do have the luxury of lead time, try to build at least 10 business days to secure a strong story — and also to account for being ghosted. That way, if a reporter goes dark, you have enough time to approach other targets you’ve already slated as relevant for the news. This will be more comfortable for the PR team, and it doesn’t force the new reporter to scramble for an interview and rush to get a good story together.
Communicate with stakeholders
Our jobs are based around communication. Don’t be afraid to be honest with a client or your internal team about the status of a given pitch or initiative. Being ghosted by members of the media is an unfortunate part of being in PR, so it’s up to us to share the reality of the situation. A client might think their agency is working slowly, isn’t putting in enough care, or is doing a bad job if a journalist has gone quiet. To avoid misunderstanding, have an alternative strategy ready, like new targets or moving back the announcement date to allow more time. At the very least demonstrate that you’re thinking critically to overcome barriers and pushing hard to keep the process moving.