19.3.09

Don't Panic! Why PRs should slow down a bit


…I’ve had a couple of shockers this week. I contribute to a new media analysis site, which is great as it enables me to don the journalist cap and see things from the other side of the PR fence. Someone once said if a job’s worth doing it’s worth doing well, and that should be said of all areas of PR, even the dull stuff like features pitching and sending out press releases. Is it time or pressure that leads PROs to make embarrassing mistakes? Whatever it is, don’t panic so much, take all the time you need to deliver quality work, whatever it is, within deadline.

Most entertainingly, today I received a press release dated July 19, 2009. This was for a leading services company from a well-known PR firm. I won’t go into the subject heading typo but that was equally unprofessional. Was the junior executive under so much pressure to get this release out that the date and subject were so out of kilter?

Also this week I used Response Source to help me generate comment for a feature. I was explicit in my instructions thus:

“I’m currently overseas so please send one paragraph comment with name, title and company URL with whom to attribute it and I’ll come back with any further Qs. Please DON’T pitch a phone interview as I’m just after comment.”

Only a third of respondents came back in the format requested – and they came in closer to the deadline, probably because they’d taken more time about it to give me (the journalist in this case) what I needed.

To the multitude that clearly didn’t fully read (or believe) what I wrote and offered a phone interview with spokesperson X from company Y who “has some strong views on this subject” - great, so do I: take your time and deliver as requested or you go straight into the trash box and everyone’s time has been wasted.

It’s all about time, and I know first hand that PRs don’t have a lot of it, but if a job’s worth doing…

14 comments:

  1. I think the problem is that they don't have a lot of time so they don't read the request properly. I constantly get people who've seen a request, see the word 'Guardian' and 'Technology' in it and start pitching any old thing because they're working on keywords (or 'tags' in Web 2.0).

    Best I had lately was when I'd been going through a lean patch and had some commissions from the Times. I was delighted. I put a note on Twitter saying 'three commissions from the Times, yay!' or something equally erudite; within minutes I had a pitch from a numpty asking whether his client would be able to offer comment. He had at no stage asked what the pieces were about...

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  2. Thanks Guy

    You must experience this sort of thing all the time. I've been there (exec level) where there's all this pressure to get quick hits, blah blah blah. That's wrong, it should be about delivering what the media needs to help it relay something of value to its audience in turn. That's part of the reason Hatch PR's members left the traditional agency model.

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  3. I have made dumb typing errors lots in my career, and unfortunately some of these wind up in the subject line of a pitch. But for a release to be dated 19 July, it must mean no one looked at it besides whoever wrote it, and that person could be quite junior. This kind of time pressure and 'profitability is all that matters' is what drove me out of the typical agency model because I don't think it serves the clients very well. And clients have quite a knack for identifying these problems in their team. It's a lot less 'opaque' than most agencies think and it catches up to you in terms of reputation.

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  4. Having been on both sides of the fence like Chris I feel torn. I think it comes down to greedy PR agency bosses. They pitch for clients they have no understanding of (in technological terms), see it as x grand a month on their balance sheet. Stick a junior on the account and turn up to monthly meetings to host time wasting 'messaging sessions' that they'll send the client an extra bill for. They keep the account for 12 months, then lose it... but just move on and soak up some other poor marketing manager's budget.

    We the press, are the unlucky recipients of the drivel that emanates from this process.

    I say blame everyone except the juniors.

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  5. One further comment from me... on occasion, the pressure is coming from clients, not agency bosses. I have had situations before where clients have been incredibly, ridiculously demanding and flatly refuse to take into account how the journalists want to be pitched. (Disclaimer: I'm not talking about any Hatch / current clients!) But when the clients act like bullies, the end result is drivel. At Hatch we turn away prospective clients who seem like bullies because frankly, we don't need the headache. It's not worth it.

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  6. I couldn't agree more, Emily. And whenever I'm media training PROs with What The Press Wants (www.whatthepresswants.com if nobody minds my mentioning it) I always make it clear that we'd be pleased to put ourselves, as real journalists, in front of the clients to tell them what we really need and why theirheavy pitching techniques won't work. For a price, of course!

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  7. I agree with Emily: a lot of the problems seem to stem from the clients themselves. Although, as a journalist, I think PRs are there as consultants more than anything, the people holding the pursestrings don't often see it that way. It's one reason why I like to use email for rejections - I know they often get forwarded even if it's in the sense of "see, this what we have to put up with".

    I hear about situations where the agency has simply sacked difficult clients because they start to wreck the agency's morale and, in turn, it's ability to do business for other clients. But those clients always find a home and tend to gravitate to those agencies who work the way they like to work. For that reason, I'm not surprised to see the same names turn up in journo blacklists: the one named after one the key rules of writing news brings a wry smile. I reckon if you turn up in one blacklist, it's misfortune. Two or more smacks of carelessness.

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  8. I've had 10 years in PR and about 6 months in journalism - and yes its an eye opener to just how bad (and good) my former profession can be.

    On occasions PRs have been incredibly useful and saved me a lot of time and research. The reward has been juicy comment from their clients in my articles/reports... and I'll keep going back to them too. The bad - not actually listening to what I'm asking for in about 90% of cases. Response Source is great when under time pressure, and terrible for getting good quality information.

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  9. There are clearly 2 different types of PR's -there are those that are hired in a consultative manner who advise their clients and influence that actual activity. Unfortunately, the other type is more 'outsourced services', whereby the client assumes knowledge and passed 'down' to the agency. In my opinion, it is the latter where most of the dross is generated as the client think it knows how to do it, but no longer has contact with journalists or an unbiased view. The agency in this case is delivering against targets/ numbers, rather than delivering a value added service

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  10. As a client of a well known PR agency, what I'm really interested in is results but not at any cost. I'd prefer a few high quality pieces that both meet the needs of the journalist and ourselves as a business. It's similar to relationship sales. Spend the extra time getting to know a customer and what turns them on, be clear what product you have to offer and where it meets the customers needs and everyone benefits. Saying that everyone's human and can makes mistakes. It's probably worth checking as journalists and PR consultants that in writing someone off you don't throw the baby out with the bathwater e.g. Recently in a rush, I forgot to attach a release when emailing my preferred set of journalists. One intrigued by the subject line, politely emailed back and consequently ended up with the exclusive.

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  11. Part of the PR process is educating clients and managing expectation. If they want to put out a release saying shit then the agency needs to tell them it's shit and not to expect anything. Some clients get it, some don't. It's usually the bigger firms that don't get it. Maybe they have been tainted by years of poor PR techniques and think that's just the way it should be? It's a difficult job and everyone is under pressure but there is surely a basic level of competance? We are all former journos at Monument PR yet we have sometimes fallen into traditional traps, due mainly to client pressures and time constraints. I agree with Chris. It's important to take a step back and breathe a little, not just for the sake of your health but for the sake of the media business as a whole...take control..err...reclaim the release

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  12. great in theory, Mambjo, and I'm with you 100% to push back on a client, but at some agencies that's not possible when the buck stops with an MD who's desperate to save the client - especially when that client knows how important they are! I love having gone independent as you really CAN stay true to your ethics/PR beliefs and tell the client what will and won't work and the buck stops with you, not an MD who won't say 'no'.

    Overbearing salespeople should read this comment trail!

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  13. Good PR takes time and planning and replying to a Response Source request without thought is plain unprofessional. If your agency boss and/or client does not understand this my commiserations - it is probably time to plan your escape. On the flip side, after 20+ years in PR I've come across lots of journalists who didn't take time to get the story right. Lets hope that both sets of these 'rushed professionals' die out in time.

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