4 Common Mistakes When Engaging the Media

Heather Hoopes-Matthews • June 17, 2019

In all my years as a journalist, it never failed: 5:50 p.m. and my work phone would ring.  Did the caller not know we had a 6 p.m. newscast?  During the decade I spent working for a variety of television stations, the ‘show stopping phone call’ was one of the recurring mistakes people made when trying to reach members of the media. These landmines are easy-to-avoid IF you are aware of them.  So in the spirit of the 10-second soundbite, here are the four most common mistakes:

  • Do not call close to deadlines

Yes, news is now 24-7, but there are still general deadlines for print, digital and broadcast journalists.  Educate yourselves about the medium and consider when might be best to call.  If you are unsure, research or ask.

  • Limit your word count

I rarely had time for lunch – or even a trip to the restroom – so I definitely didn’t have time to read a long, detailed email (or field a long, detailed phone call).  Brevity is best.  Your subject may be complicated, but for my initial engagement, I needed clear, concise communication.  Quite frankly, “you” were one of a dozen people A DAY trying to pitch stories.

  • Ditch the blast email

Email software is helpful, but it often ended up in my spam folder.  I would only realize that when a contact would follow up with a personal call asking if I had a chance to consider covering the upcoming event they emailed me about last week.  “What email? What event?” Although the methods and tempo of news has evolved, personal connections remain critical.

  • Know your journalists

Speaking of personal connections: the people who caught my attention had clearly done their homework and knew a little bit about me before they reached out.  If nothing more, they were familiar with the story I covered the day before.  Or, in some cases, that I was from Kansas and graduated from the journalism school at the University of Missouri.  Too many others assumed I was a Gamecock or from South Carolina …

Landing media coverage is valuable to your company and to your awareness, branding and public relations efforts.  The potential upside is well worth the upfront time investment to prepare your pitch, and avoid these common pitfalls.  Feel free to email me if you have any questions.  Our NP Strategy team of former journalists can help you navigate what may feel like uncharted waters. And, since we’re free of our old daily deadlines, we’re available to take your call at any hour. Well, just about.


Heather Hoopes-Matthews is an award-winning journalist with extensive experience in South Carolina. A graduate of the prestigious University of Missouri-Columbia journalism school, Heather has delivered live news from the center of hurricanes, worked with “The Capital Gang” at CNN, and conducted investigative reporting that changed a South Carolina law to protect children.

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