Web Informant #334, 25 June 2003

The Best PR Skill: Follow Up




I have two words of advice for anyone interested in getting into the public relations business: follow up. Let me explain, but first let's put my week in the appropriate context.


I had a tough week, but I am not here to cry on your shoulder. First there were two editor's days with EMC and HP in Boston and New York. Around those full-day meetings were about a dozen different visits when I was back in my Manhasset offices with various vendors in town for a trade show or just coming through on their press tours. Now, normally I don't complain about these visits: I'll pretty much see anyone that has something new and interesting to show me, with just two ground rules (First: once we confirm an appointment, you either use it or lose it -- I don't have time to juggle your scheduling changes. Second, don't bring a huge deck of Powerpoints but talk to me and engage my interest.)


By the way, my ideal vendor visit is 45 minutes: more if I want more info, less if they aren't interesting or I have lots to do that day. I know it can be hard to keep schedules on track, and I try to be flexible on the day of the visit. But I am not here to talk about logistics.


All of this activity has left me filled with new products, new channel programs, and plenty of story ideas. But I can guarantee you that the companies that will get ink (or electrons if we just post to the Web) will be the ones that actually followed up on my requests and got me what I needed to do my stories. It is that simple. Following up is a lost skill, let me tell you.


It sounds so obvious, but I have been in this business a long time and have seen it rarely happen. My guess is less than 15% of the visits I take have any subsequent follow up component. That is a big waste of my time and the vendor's money, because these press tours aren't cheap when you add up all that is involved.


Here are some indications of problems when vendors are on tour. First, the PR person that accompanies the executive who DOESN'T TAKE ANY NOTES. Yep, it is unbelievable but true. What are these people doing? Making phone calls outside the meeting room to confirm the next appointment? Bad news. Not listening to the dialogue or helping "guide" their exec? Whatever it is they are doing, they aren't going to be following up on what was discussed.


Why is note taking important? Simple: the person who takes notes has a better shot at actually following up when the tour is over and actually delivering the story to his or her client. Here is an easy test that you can implement on your next press tour. You, the vendor exec, are in the meet with the editor and your PR rep. If an editor asks, "Can you get me X?" you glance over to the rep. If s/he isn't writing furiously at this point, fire the rep and find someone who can be more responsive to the press. And make sure that when the tour ends, all these notes get acted upon and just don't get filed away in some dark file drawer. Measure how many times your rep actually followed up with the editors that you met, and how many relationships you began to build with the press. Treat this as a better indicator of your rep's performance than the number of stories generated by the tour.  Why? Because we are building relationships with editors here, and those are the ones that will last.


I tend to take more meetings with the PR people that I have known for many years. Some of these relationships stretch back into the early 1990s, when our industry was a different world. These are people that know what I need, don't waste my time, and tend to steer their clients in the right direction when they come in my door.


Second, how about the executive who insists on plowing through a pre-set program that DOESN'T ENGAGE MY INTERESTS or WHO DOESN'T ANSWER MY QUESTIONS. At the one of the vendor meetings I was at, one of their executives is famous for never responding to a direct question with a direct answer. This person is never going to get a call from me, because there is no relationship and no interest on my part in trying to get his point of view.  If you are going to be cagey or not answer any questions, then don't go on the tour and stay back in the office, far away from the press.


There are meetings that go awry, too. Don't fret these: if the chemistry isn't working, for whatever reason, then cut your losses and move along to the next meeting.


Finally, bring props. Props (whether they are products or swag) help to jog memories and get the press to focus on what you are trying to do. I had a vendor that showed me her Master Card on this week's tour. It wasn't an ordinary Master Card though: it was a special debit card for their channel partners that accrued rebates offered by the vendor whenever a solutions provider sold any of her product. This simple but very powerful tool to build channel loyalty and promote their product line was the hit of the day. I ended up showing it around to a few of my editors and even mentioned it to a couple of other vendors too. We had a story in the works before the end of the visit. Totally unexpected, totally out of the blue.


Try to develop follow up skills. It can be a big help, and a great way to build a lasting relationship with an editor, not to mention get those stories placed.


Here are some comments from my readers on this column.


Entire contents copyright 2003 by David Strom, Inc. 

David Strom, dstrom@cmp.com, +1 (516) 562-7151

Port Washington NY 11050

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