December 8, 2009
Somewhere between lunch and dessert, I concluded that PR professionals must be masochists. I was at one of those luncheons where a panel of reporters and editors are invited to speak and tell the audience — mostly of communicators — what’s wrong with them.
These events seem to always draw a large audience No matter how often we talk to reporters during work each day it seems that giving PR pros access to journalists in person is like dangling red meat in front of a pack of wolves or something.
I suspect that the main reason that PR people are willing to withstand the verbal abuse of jaded reporters is because we believe that by letting them take their best shots, we will ingratiate ourselves and get the placements we want in the end. Perhaps this feedback — no matter how critical — is a small price to pay for placement, we rationalize.
Still, I’ve sat in one too many of these events, and now believe that a response to counter some of reporters’ most common complaints about PR people is warranted. The following are some points I would love to bring up to a media panel if I weren’t so busy biting my tongue — all in the interest of constructive dialogue.
Journalist gripe No. 1: Don’t send me press releases that I don’t want or need.
Response: Believe it or not, it’s not all about you. Chances are, your name is on a large list of media people who receive these releases. Some days, news releases like this may be important to you, and some days they may not. But enough people on the list will be interested in this news release today, which is why we sent it. Keeping you on the distribution list for all news releases helps us remind you that we’re here, and we’re committed to keeping you informed.
Journalist gripe No. 2: I never use press releases.
Response: You must be new to the profession or you must be lying. Every experienced reporter uses or has used a press release in his or her work — at least has written about a topic that was originated by a news release. Journalists use news releases for background, reference material, titles, spellings and names, as source documents for quotes and attribution, and to obtain story ideas. Serious journalists who cover publicly traded firms get information from public disclosures in the form of press releases, and that just scratches the surface. Regardless of what a journalist says, press releases are useful, universal and relevant tools for both PR professionals and journalists.
Journalist gripe No. 3: After you send a news release, don’t call me — I’ll call you.
Response: We have to call you in order to find out if you received the release. We certainly understand that you may be busy when we call, which is why before launching into a breathless pitch, we should ask you if this is a good time to talk. But, by calling, we can find out if there were problems with the transmission of the release or whether you had time to review the document we sent. The personal nature of a telephone call is a priceless means to build a real relationship with you, so a follow-up call is nothing less than the first step in building a relationship that could ultimately prove valuable to everyone.
Journalist gripe No. 4: Take the time to learn about my organization.
Response: This time, you are right. Too many practitioners don’t take the time to learn about a publication, program or Web site’s audience before adding it to a distribution list. PR people must do their homework and study each media outlet and reporter before picking up the phone. If they do, they may ultimately reduce the number of articles that slam the PR profession for not attempting to learn about what journalists do, when their deadlines are, what they cover and how they cover it.
Of course, that’s what I’d like to say when sitting in the crowd at a media panel luncheon. But instead of voicing this from the crowd during the luncheon, I just ask the person next to me to pass the cream and sugar for my coffee. I’ve learned that there are times when dialogue is best achieved when one side does all of the talking.