Tag Archives: Journalism

Ten things PRs do that really annoy journalists – part seven

To restate, this series is intended as constructive advice to those who work in PR, a job that I know can be difficult and thankless. I’ve spend a decade dealing with PRs, many very good (see here for a recent example), others not so. I’ve also spoken to dozens of other journalists about what really grinds their gears about  PRs. This is the summary of that experience and those conversations. The story so far…..

1) Expect journalists to operate as an unpaid media monitoring service

2) Going oddly silent/AWOL

3) Sending irrelevant press releases

4) Writing like a PR, not a real person

5) Pitching like they’re selling timeshare properties

6) Arranging conference call interviews

Number seven is one that will surprise no one, but one that still happens far too often: saying you’re going to do something and then not doing it.

As in, “Oh yes, I can send you those quotes from our client by the close of play today”, or “Not a problem – we’ll get that case study interview lined up for you”, or “We’ve got all the data sitting here – it’ll take a while to go through it, but leave a gap in your article and we’ll send you the stat you need, and you’ll just be able to insert it before filing your copy.”

Over the years I’ve heard all these promises and more. Many times the PR is as good as their word, but all too often they’re not – the quotes don’t turn up until the next morning when the article is already filed, the case study interviewee gets cold feet, or the PR discovers they don’t actually have the necessary stat.

Why is this a problem? Is this just pompous journalists being overly critical of their PR partners?

I don’t think so. I don’t get bothered by it because I’ve been let down; I get bothered by it if it means I in turn let someone else down – specifically, if I fail to deliver to a client by the deadline I’ve been set.  That really is a problem for me.

But still aren’t we journalists being a bit harsh here? After all, the PR is no doubt hoping to be able to help, is genuinely doing his or her best.  In most cases they don’t deliver simply because they’ve been let down by someone else – very often the client of a client. It’s a bit harsh for journos to have a go at them for that isn’t it?

To some extent yes. No one is perfect. However, this happens too frequently in the world in PR. I think it’s the sort of over-promising and over-delivering that gives the industry a bad name and that makes it a more stressful place to work that it needs to be.

Journalists would be far happier if PRs were more realistic in their promises. If they explained that they will do their best to sort out a case study interviewee, but they don’t know for certain that their client’s client will agree to it, then the journalist wouldn’t rely on them – he or she would be able to judge accurately whether or not it was worth waiting and if it was worth the PR spending all that time on something that doesn’t work out in the end.

Am I being too demanding? Or naive even? Should journalists just accept that that’s life. People let you down. Deal with it – basically don’t rely on a PR to help you out with a job that, at the end of the day, is yours to do.

I guess so. I’m not paying for this help from these PRs so I have no right to demand that they do anything.

I know though that if I worked in PR I want to be one of the ones that journalists did trust.

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Are your media spokespeople doing this? Question 5

Are they following up after an interview with an email to the journalist?

If they are then well done them – they’re doing better than almost anyone I’ve ever interviewed. The handful or so who have done this over the years are the ones who I’ve gone on to form good, long-term relationships with. I’ve had a good source of information and opinion, and they’ve got a lot of good coverage.

So, why does it happen so infrequently? I’m just suggesting something like: “Good talking to you just now. Hope you found what I had to say interesting (by the way, I’d welcome any feedback you have on how I came across..) – I look forward to seeing the finished article and to working with you on similar pieces in the future.”

How long would it take to fire that over to a journalist after an interview? What impact could it have on the coverage they got in that piece and the future relationship they built?

The thing is that it just doesn’t occur to most spokespeople, and usually that’s because they’ve not had media training, or the media training they have had hasn’t covered this. Why don’t you help them get more out of the interviews they do – why don’t you book them in for some media training?

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Ten things PRs do that really annoy journalists – part six

Five more to go in this series. Just to recap for anyone joining late, this is a list of ten things that PRs do that really annoy journalists. It’s not meant to be an attack on individual PR professionals, or on the industry as a whole. (I’m not the sort of journalist who posts lists of PRs’ e-mail addresses saying he never wants to hear from them ever again – http://business.timesonline.co.uk/tol/business/columnists/article6977065.ece?openComment=true. Ouch.) I am though the sort of journalist who puts a lot of effort into building mutually beneficial relationships with others in the industry, and this is part of that effort.

So, with those caveats in place, here’s what I have so far:

1) Expect journalists to operate as an unpaid media montoring service
2) Going oddly silent/AWOL
3) Sending irrelevant press releases
4) Writing like a PR, not a real person
5) Pitching like they’re selling timeshare properties

Number 6 is fairly straightforward but is a perennial bugbear of mine, and of many other journalists. It is arranging conference call interviews.

They just don’t work. I’m not just talking about the practicalities. True, sometimes the technology doesn’t work. I particularly remember an interview with the VP of Sales of a US-based teleconferencing company; for about five minutes we had terrible interference on the line, but we’d spent a long time trying to arrange it and I really needed her quotes, so I persisted, asking her several times to restate the point she’d just made. She gamely struggled on, getting louder and louder, until finally I could just make it out above the crackling din – “I WAS SAYING THAT OUR SYSTEM SUFFERS FROM VERY LITTLE INTERFERENCE!” Very similar to a flat I once viewed above a busy road. The estate said something. I couldn’t hear so moved closer and asked her to repeat it. She said it again. Again it was drowned out by the rush of cars below. On the third attempt she shouted: “I WAS SAYING THAT THIS IS A VERY QUIET FLAT.” I could only reply sheepishly: “It’s not really though, is it?” “YES IT IS! VERY QUIET!” She wasn’t having it at all. I think the incessant sound of passing traffic might have driven her a little mad. But anyway, I digress, and to be fair on conference call technology, almost all of the time it works fine.

No, the real problem is that it ruins the dynamics of the conversation. Interviews work when there’s a journalist asking questions and an interviewee answering them. You can develop a rapport, progress the conversation in directions you both find interesting, really get to the crux of whatever it is you’re discussing. It takes a bit of time to get beyond the formal introductions and the wariness that most interviewees feel, but if you’re a half-decent interviewer you reach that point, past where people are trotting out safe truisms, where they’re really delving deep into their expertise and coming up with something fresh. And that’s where you find the really interesting material for your articles.

The problem with conference calls is that you never get beyond the formality, the wariness, and the truisms. The interviewees spend too much time thinking about the other participants on the call and not enough time thinking about the issue in hand. They’re wondering who’s best placed to deal with a particular question. They’re worrying about saying something off message. They’re trying to impress their colleagues. I don’t blame them – it’s just how people tend to behave in a group.

I do though blame the PR executive who allowed it to happen.

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Do editors want your pitches?

The ability to pitch to editors is absolutely essential for anyone who wishes to use the media to convey a message. However that pitch is made – be it e-mail, phone or in person – if you can persuade an editor to run your idea for an article you will be very well placed to get good coverage in that article and so reach your intended audience.

However, it is not easy to do well. It is a large part of the reason why companies hire PR experts – in-house and agency. They need people who know how to pitch article ideas to journalists and editors. It’s the skill that marks out the PR professional from the amateur.

And yet, very few PRs know how to do it well. From my experience as a freelance journalist, and from canvassing the views of editors I know and write for, the vast majority of pitches from PRs are poorly conceived, clumsily expressed, and very often a waste of everyone’s time.

This is a problem, not just for the PRs but also for those editors. The first thing that any PR should bear in mind when building a pitch to an editor is that the editor genuinely wants to receive good pitches from PRs. They absolutely rely on them.

Put yourself in their shoes. Their publication is well-targeted – perhaps on a trade such as retail, a business activity such as human resources, a geographical region such as Brighton, or a hobby such as running. Even if they work for a national newspaper they will have a section they edit, such as the arts. The point is that there is only so much you can say about retail, HR, Brighton, running or the arts. And these poor editors need to fill an entire publication or section every month, or every week or every day.

After a while every editor runs out of ideas. Unless they can find a good source of new ideas they will start repeating themselves, their publications will become stale and their reader numbers will fall. Once reader numbers fall so does revenue from subscribers and advertisers. It is a vicious circle that can prove fatal to any publication.

So, they need to find new ideas. They try everything they can to generate them themselves – brainstorming in editorial meetings, asking ad sales colleagues, scouring the Internet for ideas, networking at conferences, and so on. But no matter what they try they will always be reliant on third parties for fresh article ideas.

That’s you and me – PR professionals and freelance writers.

Without us, most publications you see on the news stand would rapidly become very dull. We play a vital role in providing the editors of those publications with new ideas that will stimulate their readers and boost their advertising revenue.

So, they want you to succeed. When they open an e-mail from you they want to see a good idea that they can use.

However, this doesn’t mean that they’ll accept any idea you send. You are up against stiff competition – hundreds of PR professionals and freelance writers, to say nothing of the hundreds of amateurs who want coverage for their cause, story, or business. So, you need to know how to stand out from the crowd.

In my next post I’ll be sharing my thoughts on how to do exactly that (or to learn exactly how to do it, sign up to my course on Pitching to Editors – http://www.alex-blyth.co.uk/training_details.php?id=3) but for now, I’d like to offer this optimistic thought to every PR out there who is struggling to pitch an idea to the media. It’s always difficult, and with so many publications suffering from plummeting ad revenues and so dropping their pagination, it is more difficult than ever beofre. But it is not impossible. And the people on the end of the phone or reading your e-mails DO want you to succeed!

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