Post 68:08 Hateful?

A couple of days ago, it was suggested to me that this blog expresses a hatred of PR people and that some PR people are therefore fearful of approaching me.

Hate is a strong word. So let me put on the record how I feel and why I blog.

I certainly find that many PR people make amateurish mistakes and this ticks me off because it wastes my time. This blog becomes a way of letting off steam. It’s also a better way of letting off steam than being rude to PR people, which I think I hardly ever do. PRs who call me will, I hope, always receive a respectful hearing.

I also write about PR because I want PRs, their clients, media and the general public to know about my experiences. I think the constant amateurism deserves a little sunshine.

I’m aware that there is an asynchronous relationship at work here, and that it would be very hard for a PR to blog in a similar vein. But hey, FakeSteve is a useful precedent for all sorts of things …

There’s also an undercurrent of exploration in this blog. Like many people, I am concerned that PR’s prevalence can sometimes limit debate, rather than allowing it to flow freely.¬† I also feel that PR’s role in grooming news for easy consumption is something that is poorly-understood by the public. Many readers and viewers, I believe, are not always aware that content presented to them as “news” and which they understand to have been filtered for news value by professional, well-resourced, editors, was in fact motivated entirely by commercial agendas and put together by professional, well-resourced, PRs. Sunshine is needed in this arena, especially in an age of corporate social media.

In my work, I try to avoid news manufactured for those purposes. That means I end up saying No to PRs a lot. Or I ask a lot of questions trying to learn whether or not there is value beneath the groomed messages.

Very often, PRs blanche in the face of that questioning, interpreting it as hostile.

If that makes me appear hateful, so be it. But it is is not hostility, for the record. It is trying to do my job by digging into a topic. And it is an expression of frustration at having to explain the same things over and over and over.

If it makes me hard to approach, well surely that should be a challenge to public relations practitioners to communicate effectively with a less-than-receptive target. I though that was what PR was all about.

Post 67:08 Media literacy, permeation and expectation

One of the things that amazes me on my podcast is how good most of the interviewees are.

I expect it from the vendors – they’ve had media training and should be able to conduct an interview.

But the majority of interviews I do on the show are with people who just happen to work in the industry it covers. They’re not media trained.

But in 36 episodes, I have only had one interviewee who was so rambling that the interview was unusable. Everyone else has done great.

I give people a cue. I say “I’m going to go all ‘radio’ on you now” and then do a formal introduction before launching into the first question.

The quality of responses and the way folks fall so easily into the interview makes me think that the strucutre of these things has permeated very deeply into the public’s collective consciousness. So deeply, in fact, that mimicing it is not so hard.

The flipside of this famliarity, I think, is that people recognise a good interview when they hear it. Perhaps when media lets them down with material that does not meet their expectations, journalism starts to get its bum rap.

Post 66:08 I cannot believe I have to write this, but here goes

Hey PRs. Two tips!

  1. READ THE PUBLICATIONS YOU PITCH TO BEFORE YOU PITCH TO THEM
    Note the sections they include. Form an opinion about the type of readers the book or site cultivates. This will avoid you wasting time when calling journalists with bad ideas. It will also mean you are actually delivering value for your clients by making informed, likely-to-succeed pitches instead of stabbing blindly in the dark and making them and you look like amateurs.
  2. “MY CLIENT PARTICIPATES IN THE MARKET YOU ARE WRITING ABOUT” IS NOT A PITCH
    About 50% of approaches I receive from PRs consist of nothing more than “We do the thing you are writing about. So interview us, please.” You’ve got to do better than that, folks. Have an angle, an idea, a point of differentiation to offer. Follow Tip 1 to develop these points. The people that do this, get interviews. The ones that assume their status as market participants makes them worthy of my time earn¬†opprobrium, not coverage.

Post 65:08 PR kids deserve better from their managers

Over the last week or two, I’ve had a few sad calls from young PRs.

I’ve tried to be nice but the calls have been dreadful. They go like this:

PR: Hi. I’m XXX from PR Agency YYY. I see you have a feature on topic ZZZ.

Me: Yes I do. Who’s your client?

PR: Company A.

Me: Why do they belong in this feature?

PR: Ummm … I’m not sure. Their products help people to communicate
OR
My client sell solutions for this
OR
I think my client might work in this area.

Me: Yes, but lots of companies do the same thing. Why does your client belong in the feature?
OR
What sort of solutions?
OR
Okay: I understand they are in the right areas. What is their response to the three questions I wrote in my feature brief? It would be nice to know that, before committing to an interview with no idea of what might be said.

PR: I don’t know. I’d better ask them.

I don’t blame the young PRs for this. They are young. They have little experience and therefore are not very good at pitching … yet.

My anger for these calls – which are supreme time wasters for all concerned – is not directed at the kids. It’s directed at their managers.

Why are these kids being hung out to dry by their bosses? Why aren’t these kids – who have to be pretty smart to get a gig in PR – coached and educated to make better calls than these? Why aren’t their colleagues giving them some techniques that help them to deal with a senior (I don’t think I’m big-noting myself here) journalist?

And why can’t their managers, who are, after all, allegedly good at managing reputations, see that their agency’s reputation is being trashed every time they put an inexperienced and under-educated person on the phone?

I understand the need for some on-the-job learning. I understand that a kind of Darwinian test that winnows out those who can pitch and those who cannot is important in PR. That’s why the kids who make the calls have my respect. They’re having a go. Often, they plug away with multiple, increasingly futile, calls. They’re trying to get the job done.

But the people they work for, I believe, often have not taught them how to do the job adequately. The constant calls I receive in which young PRs know nothing about the technology their clients offer, their clients’ activities and the wider technology industry leads me to believe the kids just are not getting decent on-the-job training.

That’s cruel, unfair … and massively stupid for dozens of reasons. And if you use a PR agency – you’re paying for this at probably 50% of agencies I deal with.