Spam or relationships: you decide

This is an article by Rachel Todd.
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Wired magazine’s Chris Anderson has publicly reacted to it; Mark Hodson, who writes for the Sunday Times, has warned against it. But why do so many PR practitioners persist in bombarding journalists with insignificant information rather than trying to develop relationships with them?

Mass marketing goes against the very nature of PR: it isn’t about creating a mutual understanding and doesn’t facilitate relationship building. Quite frankly, it doesn’t do the reputation of PR or the company that it is representing any favours. From my own experience, when sending blanket emails and press releases to journalists the only thing that you are doing is creating negative PR for the company that you are representing.

Reporting from the San Francisco Media Relations Summit, the Misukanis and Odden team provide some key tips for PROs. One of the points that they make is that journalists still do not like being inundated with press releases.  The PROs that sent unsolicited emails and press releases to Chris Anderson, the editor-in-chief of Wired Magazine, are a great example of how not to engage in media relations.  In his blog post ‘Sorry PR People You’re Blocked’ Anderson publicly named and shamed 329 PROs by announcing that he had blocked them from his email inbox, in one month alone. In this one move not only did he cut the lines of communication between himself and the people in question but he also highlighted that mass marketing is still a product of PR departments.

Of course, not all PR people are the same. But what happens when the company that you represent doesn’t understand the pitfalls of mass marketing and your own professional integrity is compromised? How many of the PROs on Chris Anderson’s blocked list had the pressure of a fame-hungry manager or client behind them? Although as a professional you know what should be done, if your manager doesn’t allow you to take these steps, how can you get round it without compromising yourself or the business?

Recently I have found myself in this position. Just how do you explain to your manager that being named in every single newspaper and magazine is not always the only measure of success and that communications should be suitably targeted to those media outlets that have a place for your story?

The relationships that PROs form with journalists and media organisations have to be developed carefully and this is reflected in another tip made by Misukanis and Odden; ‘you are not the journalists’ friend, you are their resource’.  So in essence PROs shouldn’t mass market to journalists but at the same time they shouldn’t make the mistake of being too friendly.

Finally there is the day that you really get to grips with media relations; to journalists you are known as a trusted source and you are sought after by many companies due to your reputation with the media.  Whilst flicking through a newspaper you come across one of your stories but in a stomach flipping moment you also see that your company hasn’t been mentioned in the piece.  Why is it that even when you get it so right there is no publicity gain for the company? This is where it gets complicated.

Your objectivity as a trusted source may be great for your reputation with the press, but at the same time you can be sure your boss won’t be happy. It’s one thing for the company to appear to be benefiting its publics in the long term rather than helping themselves in the short term but to get no company mention at all is seen as disastrous for a lot of managers and not what they employ you for.

Media relations can be a pretty bleak part of PR but it does have many upsides such as giving your company credibility, relatively free publicity and the capability to spread a story quickly and across a variety of media channels.

In many ways you could say that working in media relations is like being stuck between the devil and the deep blue sea.  You should build relations with the press rather than mass market to them, but if you are too friendly they will resent it.  As a professional you should advise your company on what is best with regards to media relations but if your boss doesn’t agree, whose side do you take for the sake of your career?

When you have finally overcome the challenges and you are a respected source you don’t always get the publicity that the company desires.   When putting it like this is media relations more trouble than it’s worth? Many marketers and company managers may say yes, but the benefits of having strong relations with the media should, when carried out appropriately, outweigh the disadvantages.

Photography by Victoria Crampton


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