Media relations: it’s about relationships, not spam
There’s a perennial battle between journalists and PR professionals. They don’t like receiving our irrelevant press releases yet we keep on sending them. We then phone them up numerous times to check whether they have received them. That’s the basis of the problem.
A campaign has been launched by the Realwire chief executive Adam Parker named ‘An Inconvenient PR Truth’. They propose a PR ‘bill of rights’ which includes points such as these: once a PR practitioner has sent a press release they aren’t allowed to ‘chase’ the recipient by phoning them; the headline should be succinct and there are to be no file attachments.
I agree with some of the points in this ‘bill of rights’ and think there are some good ideas . However as for the name – An Inconvenient PR Truth – I think they could have avoided the spin. However, it has gained a lot of attention which might have been one of their aims from this Convenient PR Stunt.
In a comment on my blog Realwire’s Adam Parker said where I could find a rationale for their name. He sees the problem as one that people are reluctant to tackle head on and draws the analogy with climate change. Knowing this information changes my opinion slightly on the name as I can see the connection. But even so.
Both journalists and PR practitioners are busy – and we both have jobs to do. Why all the disagreement? As a university student I don’t want to enter the world of work conscious of such troubles. I live across the corridor from a journalism student and we are the best of friends – because of living with each other we understand how we could use each other in the workplace effectively rather than seeing each other as a problem.
I understand completely that there are some agencies out there who are simply concerned with sending out hundreds of press releases to people who won’t find them relevant – but this doesn not describe all agencies. Angie Moxham, CEO of 3 Monkeys, makes a good point in PR Week – ‘It is all based on individual relationships with journalists’.
We are taught about media relations in University so how is it that some people in the industry seem to have forgotten the importance of this?
Relationships are important both inside and outside the workplace. You wouldn’t start telling your grandparents about your sex life (well I wouldn’t…) so why tell a cycling publication concerned with the environment about a new 8 litre supercar?
PR is about understanding your target audience and picking the correct ways to communicate with them so treat the media in the same way. Learn about a certain journalist – make sure that when they see your name on an email they don’t let out a sigh but instead they look forward to seeing what you have sent them.
I contacted Kate Carter, fashion writer at The Guardian, who posed the question to colleagues in her office including Rachel Dixon, Susan Smillie, Hilary Osborne and Rick Peters. The overall feeling that came back – minus a lot of ranting – was that PR practitioners try to be/act like their friends without knowing them at all; PR practitioners claim to know their publication better than they do and when they phone they speak so quickly and for so long that the journalists have no time to interrupt them – even when they aren’t interested.
They also send emails entitled: ‘I know how much you love whisky’ despite the fact they have never met and the journalist couldn’t think of anything worse.
Phone hounding is another point which affects journalists. Kate Carter seconds this: ‘Particularly when they are calling to pretend they want to know whether you would be interested in receiving something which they have already sent twice.’ I can see how this would be irritating for journalists, however in PR we have to chase things otherwise we won’t meet our targets.
All of this aside, one issue that can be helped the easiest is spelling. Personally I can’t believe that PR practitioners would send out a press release with spelling errors but apparently it happens. By asking journalists what they find irritating I have learnt so much.
Perhaps if agencies asked this question to the journalists they deal with they would get points they should work on? There are definitely some techniques I won’t be using in my future career. I think PR practitioners try so hard to create a friendship that it just seems false and fake instead of investing the time and effort needed to really be of some help to the journalist.
I agree that sending irrelevant press releases to journalists is unprofessional and downright irritating for them – 1.7bn irrelevant press release emails are sent each year in the UK according to inconvenientprtruth.com – that is a lot. Some people say: ‘Just delete them’ but when you receive over 300 emails a day it can take up time that could be spent elsewhere.
As a PR student I am constantly being reminded to send press releases that have been tailored for the journalist. Regional paper? Give it a local angle. Make it relevant for them.
So before you click send on that email:
- Just have a think.
- Do the research.
- Be concise- it saves your time as well as theirs.
- Do you know the journalist well enough to write that about them?
- Tailor it to them.
- SPELL CHECK.
And journalists… cut us a bit of slack I am sure you find them interesting sometimes? And free gifts can’t be that bad.
I will be keeping a close eye on this debate as I am sure it will be one that is carried on for some time to come. Who knows with the rise of new media and email being regarded as old hat PR practitioners might even find a new way to target journalists. Watch this space, or MySpace or Twitter space…