Last week's column (WI #334) on the dastardly deeds of PR reps (I apologize for offending some by using a term that I only meant endearingly, really!) received many thoughtful and wonderful responses. I'd thought I would share two of them. Here are comments from a fellow editorial colleague as well as from a PR person. And I thank all of you that took the time to write back to me (even including those PR people that also included pitches for their clients). The more we talk to each other, the better we can all do our jobs.
David, You and I have been in this business for a long, long time. We've seen lots of PR people, and most of them are well-intentioned-- said with the knowledge that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. I have an ethical concern about swag or even free product samples. Yes, appointments and press tours seem to collide with the fourth dimension, and yes, lots of vendors waste their time with regurgitated PPT content.
There is a dividing line between journalism and technical expository writing. Journalists have to describe what they see, in context. Tech writers have the additional ability to put technical perspective into what they're writing. Journalism has to be free of bribes, just as Congress has become saturated with money and influence. The phrase "We the people" is now "We the business"..... and money, swag, and other financial considerations influence the outcome in ways that the reader ought to know about.
And so the major problem is that a PR person has no knowledge if they're getting a geeky journalist, a tech writer, a channel advocate, or some hybrid individual to target. Then there's the story that an ad salesperson told them was the target of the publication vs. what the editors think vs. what they read and discern as content. This can make life tough. Swag is for Guatemalan customs agents.
Another fraction of the problem is the American method of vendor/advertiser sycophancy that favors the funder's interests ink, rather than the readership's in targeted content. Harry Newton, for all of his unbelievable boorishness, at least put it all on the table when he said that you got ink when you paid for it. Others in our industry have this little dance they do when they shuck and jive and blush when they tell the little white lies about what their content's all about. And we went from 392 publications in the computer industry down to about 40 in print as a result of the lack of veracity that ensued. But I digress.
Hey, David I really appreciate your weighing in on the subject of what makes for a good PR professional -- it blows my mind that "PR" and "low standards" have become synonymous to so many journalists.
Regardless, I have come to understand that that is simply the reality right now, and the best way I can counter this is to demonstrate my value (both strategic and tactical) as best I can to every editor I come into contact with. My personal goal is to reduce the perception in the eyes of the tech trade and business press of PR people as useless greedheads whose purpose no one can quite figure out...and here's how I do this:
1) I pitch good story ideas that my client fits into rather then pitch my client (with the exception of product, funding, or standard corporate news)
2) I leverage my relationships to give the press access to people and information they would have substantial difficulty talking to or getting a hold of without my participation
3) I do all I can to make sure my executives are prepared and understand the point of the interview
4) I act accordingly when I realize the meeting tanked and address the points of failure with both clients and the media
5) I educate (yes, educate) both the press and my clients on a wide variety of issues
6) I learn all I can from both the press and my clients and leverage that knowledge to make me more useful
7) I am straightforward and do not set unrealistic expectations
8) I am smart, dedicated, and care about doing a good job
9) I treat my associates the way I would like to be treated -- and keep in mind we are all human beings and even the best PR people, editors, and executives make mistakes at one time or another
10) I follow up after press briefings
These are not listed in order of importance, they are all important. Anyways, I'm sure this is a rant you have heard before, and it is not the first time I've read something along these lines. What I liked about yours is that you at least included some things that add value to you rather then just focus on the problems. It also gave me the chance to create my own little manifesto, which I am sure I will re-use.
My firm is considering partnering with a non-profit to teach a seminar on "PR 101" to entrepreneurs who either aren't ready, or can't afford an agency or even in house staff. I have a little file to store content for that class, and your column, and this email are in them. If nothing else, it is a starting point... So thanks.
I have had a tough week but I am not here to cry on your shoulder:)
Elizabeth Safran, Trainer Communications
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