5 Pet Peeves of Working in PR
Nova Halliwell is a communications professional living in New York City.
At my first agency job in New York, I worked alongside a media relations specialist who wanted each of his annual coverage reports to be as thick as a phone book. Every December, he would drop the three-ring binder on his desk with a resounding thud. “Now that’s a coverage report,” he would say.
It was impressive, to be sure, especially when he would call out his best hits. “National magazine cover story. 8.6 million circulation.”
What he didn’t mention was that the publication was something of a throwaway – one of those free magazines that are stuffed into a seatback pocket or shipped to an organization’s national mailing list. Millions of people receive it, but relatively few bother opening it.
While I’ve come to appreciate the pride my colleague took in the sheer volume of coverage he generated, I still don’t agree with the approach. “We need to get ink” never made sense to me. Instead, I prefer to place one outstanding story in the right outlet – be that a national newspaper or a top-tier trade – as opposed to a publication that’s widely circulated but rarely read.
Circulations figures, impressions and total number of clips are all good performance indicators – but there’s no substitute for quality. When someone values quantity instead – when they say that they “just want ink” – I shake my head. It’s my first pet peeve of working in PR. Here are four others.
“I don’t do media.”
Having worked in PR for more than a decade, I’ve seen plenty of communications plans written by people who don’t interact with media – or at least haven’t done so in a very long time. I know because the drafts often contain a passing reference to a fax machine and sometimes even call for a press conference.
“I’m not sure an announcement about online survey results warrants a press conference,” I once suggested to my manager.
She not only disagreed, she double-downed – forging ahead with the event and all but guaranteeing national media attendance at it. Since she wasn’t part of the pitch team, she never understood what an uphill battle it was to get interest.
While there’s plenty of room for specialization in PR, working with media should always be part of the job. If you’re not pitching, you’re not relevant.
“Here are the questions.”
At my last role, I worked with a group of people who I dubbed “The Vultures.” Whenever there was leftover food in the kitchen, they would swarm the room, place whatever scraps they could find between two paper plates, slip it into a standard mailing envelope and stack the bundles in the communal refrigerator.
This ritual had nothing to do with me, but I always let my disgust be known. In fact, the only thing that riled me up quite as much was when I received an interview request from a colleague or agency team member that simply said, “Here are the questions,” without so much as a talking point to follow.
A list of questions, while helpful, would be even more so if accompanied by answers. Providing the former with the latter is like doing only half the job – and, I would argue, the less important half at that.
Given how pressed for time executives are, drafting responses isn’t just a nice way to help them prepare – it’s often instrumental in getting them to agree to the interview in the first place. We’re here to support our clients, not give them another thing to do.
“I emailed the reporter.”
I can count on one hand the number of times a member of the media told me that he or she preferred to be contacted via phone – and one of them was because the reporter was affected by a network outage at the time. (Another was because I had inadvertently pitched an interview with an executive who had been arrested mere hours beforehand.)
But those are extenuating circumstances. Most reporters prefer e-mail. So do I. So does just about everyone.
But when a timely, personalized and substantive e-mail pitch isn’t getting any traction, then it’s time to pick up the phone.
E-mail is good, but it’s not the only way to reach someone. And it’s no substitute for building real relationships. Let’s not hide behind our computers.
“Will it run in print?”
Did you ever notice that no one seems to have a copy of The New York Times, but everyone wants to know if the article they’re mentioned in will appear in tomorrow’s edition?
I’ll concede that it’s a perfectly reasonable question. After all, there’s a certain cache to seeing one’s name in print.
But when a client or executive becomes indignant when they learn the article will only appear online, I have to roll my eyes.
Let’s get real: online is shareable; it’s often seen by a larger audience; and it’s available via search for years to come. Don’t snub your nose at that.
Save it for the people who are stealing all the free pizza.
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