The Unwritten Rules of Media Relations

The battle surrounding a recent violation of one of baseball’s “unwritten rules” shows the power of such rules in any arena—whether you’re pitching a ball to a batter or are making a pitch to a reporter.

On June 4, the double-A Hartford Yard Goats faced the Trenton Thunder. Heading into the ninth inning, the Yard Goats were throwing a combined no-hitter (meaning the starting pitcher and relievers who entered the game behind him had not allowed a hit for the entire game), a feat that doesn’t present itself very often.

With one out in the ninth, trailing 3-0, the batter at the plate dropped down a bunt and broke up the no-hitter, violating one of the most debated unwritten rules of the game. 

For those who don’t follow baseball, or need a refresher, baseball has long been known as a sport with a long list of “unwritten” rules. These ambiguous actions aren’t explicitly defined as illegal in the rulebook, but they can lead to the other team feeling disrespected and provoked. Stealing a base when leading by a wide margin, flipping a bat or admiring a home run after hitting it and even swinging on a 3-0 pitch with a large lead (seriously) are things that fall on the list of “unwritten rules” that can put a target on a player’s back, or even lead to a brawl as it did in this instance.

Such “unwritten rules” can also come into play when you’re contacting reporters with a pitch. Much like in baseball, there are practices in use in the PR industry that can not only cause your pitch to be ignored but have an adverse effect on your relationship with a reporter.

Here are three unwritten rules when pitching reporters:

  1. Over-contacting a reporter. You know that feeling when someone emails you and then comes to your desk to walk you through the email before you’ve even opened it? Now imagine that happening hundreds of times per day, consecutively, or even at the same time. Unless it’s breaking news, it’s generally a good idea to leave time between outreach to the same reporter. If you send an email, allow at least 24 hours for them to digest the news before following up with a second one.

  1. Bait and switch. I have breaking news for you. Unless it’s actually breaking, don’t use misleading words or overpromise sources intentionally when you know you can’t deliver. Journalists appreciate transparency and honesty. Leading with a catchy subject or headline without having substance to your offer will grab a journalist’s attention—but only once.

  1. Publicly pitching on social media. Sure, there are reporters who appreciate the occasional DM on Twitter, but publicly pitching multiple journalists on social media outlets comes across as spammy. Everyone can see your replies and mentions on Twitter, and reporters seeing the same copy/pasted message to other journalists isn’t a good look. Besides, many journalists don’t want to talk shop openly on social platforms.

So, the next time you step up to the plate with a story to pitch, remember that just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should. While there’s not a definitive right way to pitch, there is a wrong way to do it. Consider these tips and remember the unwritten rules of the game to improve your chances of hitting a home run with your news.

The article originally appeared on O’Dwyer’s PR. You can view it here.

Tommy Morgan