Reporters Should Work With, Not Against PR Reps

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breakingnews.jpg“I work in public relations and I’m not afraid to say so.”

Given the barrage of attacks regularly aimed at PR people, it’s not surprising that some of us try to hide the fact that we work in the public relations industry.

One of the most common complaints lobbied by Wired Editor Chris Anderson, and most recently Seth Godin, is that PR people (ab)use email to pitch reporters stories that are irrelevant to their beats and areas of interest.

Chris and Seth are correct. But dealing with the symptom (and not the problem) will not solve anything.

So why do PR people pitch irrelevant stories to reporters? It’s not because we can or because of the relative ease of the email pitch. Rather, it’s because we never heard back from the correctly targeted reporter we pitched the previous day. And now we have to broaden our reach to include (admittedly) irrelevant journalists – because we are pressured to secure results (press coverage!) for our clients.

Online advertising people have it easy. They know exactly how many people clicked on their ads. They know precisely how many users “converted”’ and bought their product or service.

Publicists, on the other hand, have to send emails, make follow-up calls, provide interviews with clients and analysts and then just hope that the story gets published.

I am not complaining. I made the switch from (offline) advertising to PR this decade because I believe that the technology start-ups I work with need PR to establish themselves – even more than advertising, trade show attendance or most of the other marketing communications vehicles.

So what can help solve the current problem of editor inbox overload?

1. Reporters taking their message to clients, too – If Chris Anderson really wanted to make a statement, he would have blackballed the clients represented by those publicists, not the publicists themselves. Hitting people where it hurts is always more effective, because anyone can change their email address (and circumvent Chris’s spam in-box).

A former product manager of a deodorant brand told me about an experience he had and I think it‘s applicable here. He’d spend 60 or 70 hours thinking about various innovative ideas to promote his brand, but finally had an “a-ha moment” when he realized that his target audience only considered his brand for 15 seconds once a month when they went out to buy deodorant. It’s only natural for clients to be excited by their technology. But it’s important to put an outsider’s hat on when thinking about why a company’s technology is important to others. If editors put on an outsider’s hat, they could help publicists educate their clients.

I have read many interviews with journalists who encourage us to better educate our clients, but that’s easier said than done when they’re paying our bills and have lines of competitors who are ready to snatch our account. There is only so much we can do. Editors and reporters, we need your help in better educating our clients.

2.   Reporters replying to good pitches that don’t get accepted because of timing or other constraints – I do understand what it’s like to get hundreds of emails, and there are reporters who have written to me to say that they just don’t have time to respond to all of them. But working with publicists will only make the exchange better.

I am not trying to be lazy. I do research a reporter’s story coverage before pitching, and I don’t work with pitch lists of 100 or 200 reporters, instead focusing on lists of 15-50 reporters. But I have to show my clients results.

It’s easier to rant and rave then to do something. But if we work together, we can all come a lot closer to getting what we need.

3 COMMENTS

  1. If only more PR folks did their homework. Every newsroom I’ve been in basically has a firing barrel full of bad PR pitches, or a “worst-of” folder.

    There are basic things PR folks can control, things that will make me not click “delete”. Having a catchy subject header, addressing me by my first name, and — this one’s a doozy — remembering to not CC all of their contacts in a pitch. I like to feel special!

  2. You write:

    So why do PR people pitch irrelevant stories to reporters? It’s not because we can or because of the relative ease of the email pitch. Rather, it’s because we never heard back from the correctly targeted reporter we pitched the previous day. And now we have to broaden our reach to include (admittedly) irrelevant journalists – because we are pressured to secure results (press coverage!) for our clients.

    This is nuts. You’re saying that because you didn’t get what you wanted from the right person, you have some sort of right to spam the wrong one?

    I don’t care if your clients are pressuring you. Pressure them back. It’s worth it.

  3. I have to agree with Seth here. I am a PR person and while I agree there is pressure to secure results, I do my best to make solid recommendations to my clients on whom we should pitch and what the story should be. Widening the pool of targets to irrelevant reporters is a waste of time and money. If you are targeted and spend time on each and every pitch you send out, you are more likely to get a response. Sometimes reporters just aren’t interested in what your client has to talk about at the time, It’s your job to come up with other creative angles instead of reaching for reporters that clearly won’t cover your story.

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