Wow! First off, plenty of people liked our Ragan.com article questioning the use of terms such as “media advisory” and “immediate release” on news releases. But others … you would think I wrote a controversial article about taxes, spending and the fiscal cliff. People complain how politicians turn negative and can not respectfully disagree. After reading some of the comments posted about our article, I’m beginning to believe some of the politicians learned such behavior from the public. Several of my critics depicted my attempt at humor as snarky and mean-spirited. I don’t care if you disagree with me, but what drives someone to verbally throw me off the cliff? I don’t dare claim to know the answers about society, but I gather I raised questions about some long-held practices. And instead of some of these PR pros seeing this as an opportunity to question conventional wisdom and at least for a split second consider a change of course, they decided the better approach was to depict me as an empty-headed jerk who must have stolen his awards and graduated by mistake from one of the country’s best journalism schools. But those folks don’t know my story because they didn’t take a few seconds to read it. Hey, the good news is a couple of people I haven’t communicated with in a long time read the article and got back in touch. We exchanged some pleasant emails.
Posts Tagged ‘PR pros’
Some People Called Our Ragan.com Article Mean-Spirited And Claimed We Have No Idea What We’re Talking AboutThursday, November 29th, 2012
While working in TV news, I once started a Twitter debate with a PR pro after I Tweeted adding the words “For Immediate Release” on pitches to reporters is unnecessary. The conversation inspired the PR pro to write a blog on the topic. I still don’t understand why PR pros add those words or other phrases such as “Media Advisory.”
- Even if you don’t write “media advisory,” no one is going to mistake your news release as an advisory from the U.S. Coast Guard or the National Weather Service.
- If you’re married to the words “media advisory,” save the phrase for straight forward, nuts and bolts news releases that accomplish little more than share information. Send such pitches to the newsroom’s assignment desk, which can forward the story to the correct reporter.
- Consider this: Have journalists ever told you they accidentally deleted your pitch because you didn’t properly label it with “media advisory”?
- Whether you write “For Immediate Release” or not, reporters assume if you send it, they can use it immediately.
- Just because a college professor or some PR agency taught you to write “Media Advisory” or “For Immediate Release” doesn’t make it meaningful or right.
- Those two phrases at the top of a pitch often gave me a heads up I was about to read something coming out of Boringville.
- If you write “For Immediate Release,” I assume you still type “www” before URLs and get your oil changed every 3000 miles.
- One final thought: PR has changed since 1980.
- If the public generally views a client as someone who viciously feeds off others, portray him as a victim of circumstances.
- If the public fears a client, transform that fear into fascination.
- If a client is unattractive with the personality of a reptile, bring out the unknown side that resembles a puppy dog who comes when called.
- If the public considers your client as not very smart, show how great instincts help her excel in her environment.
- If the public wants to keep its distance from your client, make people feel sorry for him.
- If you think TV would never be interested in your client, watch how many reality TV shows turn alligators into stars.
When someone pitched me a story idea, I often asked follow-up questions. The people pitching often didn’t know the answers. I could tell they sometimes guessed at answers. Other times, they needed to ask someone else and get back to me, which took time.
Consider pitching a story to media as simply the start of a conversation. A journalist won’t always read your pitch, shout “That’s it!” and follow up with “Let’s do this!” Reporters often hear ideas and want to mold them into something slightly different. PR pros can’t expect to know all the answers to every obscure follow-up question.
I recently pitched a story that inspired several follow-up questions from several members of the media. I didn’t guess at the answers. If I guessed wrongly, the client and I would look bad and break trust if the story didn’t ultimately deliver what we promised. Before providing answers, I called the client several times. Yes, I felt like a nag. But getting the facts straight is not only the job of journalists. That’s still my job. Ensure your clients understand your business relationship will include days of constant communications.
Also, you might as well be holding up two cans attached by a string if your client doesn’t pick up the phone when you call with a quick question. Often, people in public relations pitching me stories could not reach their clients in a timely fashion. Call it the bat phone. Call it the red phone. Call it whatever you want. But you need to exchange telephone numbers that won’t allow messages to swirl in the depths of someone’s voice mail. Journalists don’t often wait around. Too many other stories are waiting for them.
Someone in public relations pitched me a story idea and I shared it with an assignment editor. The assignment editor told me to tell the person we would file away the idea. To me, the concept of a media outlet filing away an idea is often equivalent to an employer’s letter stating it will keep your resume on file. I asked the assignment editor if she actually planned to cover the story one day. She said no. I responded that I would simply tell the PR pro the station is not interested. The assignment editor seemed uncomfortable with that option.
I told the PR pro the truth and she thanked me as if few in the media delivered her such honesty. If I told her otherwise, we would both knowingly be engaging in an unspoken contract of B.S. I’m tired of B.S. It stains too much of our world’s communications. I personally don’t want to contribute any more B.S. to our planet.
Why are much of the media afraid to tell you they don’t like your idea? Why do many journalists prefer to conveniently forget about your email and claim they will pitch it, knowing it will go “splat!” against an invisible brick wall in the editorial meeting?
The answer is no different than why many communicators in business prefer to engage in spin than straight up, keeping-it-real honesty. At some point growing up, most of us are taught being brutally honest in business is too risky. Instead, we B.S. each other and no one is fooled. We grumbled behind closed doors and each other’s backs.
I pitched the media several story ideas the week I wrote this blog. Some people never responded. Some asked follow-up questions but never responded to my answers. Did my email not get through? Did they love my idea and just forget? Should I remind them and save the day? In most cases, I advise don’t fool yourself. This is the game we humans play. Your idea didn’t make the cut. You can’t expect all of them to hit the air or show up in print. The reporters, producers and editors who didn’t get back to you, in most cases, are not jerks or bitches. They are human. Maybe they’re too busy to respond, but that’s an excuse. Not responding is much easier than writing “Thank you for your idea, but I’m not interested” or “With all due respect, your idea sucks.”
Another reason I told PR pros and businesses the truth was because it inspired new conversations. We talked about what the idea lacked. We talked about other ideas. But many in the media don’t invest in this approach. Don’t take it personally.
There’s nothing wrong with one follow-up email or phone call asking if there’s any interest in your magnificent idea that will thrill your client. But don’t dive deep into an arsenal of arguments and try to persuade producers to change their minds considering they left the conversation long ago. Don’t be a public relations stalker. At that point, the journalist is more interested in the free food someone just brought in.
When I scrolled through emails offering story ideas, the number of writers who typed the actual words “press release” on their press releases confused me.
Companies and government agencies might believe adding the words press release makes an email to media more official, separating the information from other informal exchanges. I question even this philosophy considering just about any information relayed to the media is fair game, whether the facts are quickly thumbed out on a Blackberry or reviewed by too many cooks in the marketing kitchen.
But too many businesses and PR pros add press release to their pitches as if a college professor is peering over their shoulders, ensuring they follow protocol. Press release not only seems unnecessary, but the words may actually negatively impact a pitch’s success. When I reported, pitches with press release on top immediately indicated someone was sending me the same information everyone else was receiving. No one was handing me an exclusive or offering me a scoop because I was special. I simply was on somebody’s media list. Someone instead was sending a statement typically filled with jargon and worded too formally. I imagine some classically trained PR pros could impress upon me why the words press release are more necessary than I realize, but I’m pressed to think of too many examples.
It’s 10:52am and a TV producer is asking if one of our clients is available for a shoot. But when?
“Today or tomorrow?” I ask.
“Today” is her one-word answer.
I have essentially one hour to contact our client, confirm he is free, ensure he can meet at the producer’s requested location and check if the location will let a TV camera inside.
This is the Bermuda Triangle where many businesses and PR pros get lost. When I reported on air, I often called a business or public relations representative and explained the station wants to shoot today, within an hour or two, a previously discussed pitch. The business often couldn’t fulfill such a request. PR pros couldn’t quickly connect with their clients. They lost opportunities. They asked if the station could shoot the story the following day. The following day, the station typically moved onto the latest, greatest idea.
Journalists have a need for speed. Businesses who are serious about obtaining media coverage must expect the unexpected and be ridiculously flexible. Public relations firms must explain this to their clients ahead of time. Journalists don’t often care about your schedule and the game of musical chairs you must play to meet their requests.
In my case, I reached the client, I got him to the requested location and the location welcomed the TV camera. Maybe I enjoyed some luck. But I also prepared our client for moments such as this. He understood. You can’t be picky. So get ready for a quicky.
- 7:08 pm, Wednesday: Local TV reporter is interested in airing a client’s story Friday. She expects to air story unless breaking news pulls her in a different direction.
- 3:24 pm, Thursday: Local TV anchor from different station says she can possibly air story that night. This is my moment of truth, at least one of them. How many times did PR pros pitch me stories they neglected to tell me another station previously aired? Some PR pros want to air their client’s story as many times as possible. This goal conflicts with the goal of the journalist, who wants to air a story no other reporter has. When I aired sloppy seconds, my relationship with the PR pro was never the same. Trust was broken. I wouldn’t work with that PR pro again or would only do so with caution. Now I’m at a crossroads. I promised the story to Station A Friday night, but this business comes with no guarantees. Station B is ready to air it now, almost a sure thing. Maybe two stations would air the client’s story. That might make me look mighty good. For a moment, I’m Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader’s dark side is starting to make some sense.
- 3:43 pm, Thursday: I put down the light saber and decide not to kill Darth. I email TV anchor at Station B and explain I promised the story to reporter at Station A. I add that I will double check Station A is still planning to air the story before closing the door completely on Station B. But I’m not out of the galactic woods yet. I email reporter at Station A, asking for some re-assurance. I get no response.
- 4:02 pm, Thursday: I leave a voice mail for the reporter at Station A. She does not call back.
- 4:12 pm, Thursday: I contact one of her co-workers to locate her.
- 5:34 pm, Thursday: TV anchor at Station B emails back. Translation: It’s now or never. Am I about to pass up Station B, the sure thing, for tomorrow’s promise to Station A, whose reporter I can’t locate? The Emperor is pulling me in. The Dark Side is using a tractor beam to pull the journalism right out of me.
- 6:13 pm, Thursday: Station A’s reporter calls. Had I not received her email? She was somewhere without access to her phone. She still expects to air the story. She is grateful I didn’t let the Emperor become my new master.
The story airs Friday. I defeat the Dark Side. I obtain publicity for a client without abandoning one of my journalistic principles. Would you have done the same? Would you have instead taken all the coverage you could? Would you have taken the sure bet Thursday story over the possible Friday one? I stand by my decision.
We shopped in Walmart last week. An older employee tried to help us find an item. After meeting him and checking out, we discussed that despite Walmart’s critics, the company is a place some senior citizens find work. And almost everything we purchased cost less than at our regular grocery stores. At that moment, I recalled a former co-worker, a TV producer, who did not approve of me shopping at Walmart no matter how much money I explained I saved.
The day after our Walmart visit, The New York Times published an article with the headline “Vast Mexico Bribery Case Hushed Up by Wal-Mart After Top-Level Struggle.” A sub-headline read “Confronted with evidence of widespread corruption in Mexico, top Wal-Mart executives focused more on damage control than on rooting out wrongdoing, an examination by The New York Times found.” The article includes interviews and documentation accusing Walmart de Mexico of paying bribes to obtain construction permits.
The Times says it:
- Conducted hours of interviews
- Reviewed thousands of government documents
- Read internal notes, emails and reports
The New York Times attributes more than 20 quotes to a Walmart spokesperson. One is “We are deeply concerned by these allegations and are working aggressively to determine what happened.” Some of the spokesperson’s statements are specific to this case. Other quotes remind me of similar statements I would receive from agencies or companies when I was an investigative reporter.
As of Wednesday morning, more than 900 people left comments under the article. Some comments slammed Walmart. Others pointed out Walmart is creating jobs and selling products for less.
The article inspired Reuters to write separate articles on the future of Walmart executives, bribes in general in Mexico and how hedge-fund managers might react to the allegations. Reuters also reports two congressmen sent letters to Walmart, requesting a meeting. A blog from The Wall Street Journal compared the allegations to past cases.
What we liked about Walmart’s media relations:
- A company spokesperson communicated with The New York Times. You may not give the company credit for this, but some companies, to our amazement, still offer no response whatsoever to journalists.
- In its website’s “Press Room,” the company included a statement responding to The New York Times article. http://www.walmartstores.com/pressroom/news/10879.aspx Some companies never mention controversies in their pressrooms.
- The Press Room included an updated statement three days later, discussing action the company is taking.
- The company allows readers to download the statements in English and Spanish.
- Walmart posted YouTube videos with a spokesperson’s response.
- The videos are a good length. They are not too long to discourage viewers from watching. They are long enough to make the company’s key points.
- As of Wednesday morning, the first YouTube video included more than 8000 views. Tell your subscribers your side of the story. Make them your advocates.
- On Twitter, A Tweet “promoted” by Walmart stated “RE: The NYT Article, we’re deeply concerned by the allegations and are working aggressively to determine what happened.”
What we didn’t like:
- Most of the videos simply repeat the adjoining statements. The videos serve a purpose for people who will not read the statements. But simply reading much of the statement on video can be counterproductive to relaying a heartfelt concern about the allegations.
- I’d prefer the videos showcase a different Walmart executive than its spokesperson. That would have added more credibility to the videos.
- In the YouTube videos, I would not leave the spokesperson on camera the entire time. I would cover some of the video with images of Walmart and its employees. These images would help re-enforce some of the positive messages the company is trying to relay about its efforts and point-of-view.
- On Walmart’s Facebook page, a New Jersey man posted a link to the article. The man’s comment began “Stay awesome, Walmart” and went on to call The New York Times copy editor stubborn for including a hyphen in “Wal-mart.” Under a post about healthy-looking skin, Walmart addressed someone’s comment by writing: “We are deeply concerned by these allegations and are working aggressively to determine what happened. We have shared a video and our statement here:” However, we’d like to see Walmart address the situation more prominently on Facebook. Most of Walmart’s Facebook Fans likely support their stores. The followers might be the company’s best brand ambassadors.
- Walmart’s spokesperson points out the allegations are more than six years old. I don’t find this technique very effective. To me, people still seem interested in allegations decades old if those allegations strike a chord. Any company could argue its culture and executives have changed, but these details and nuances don’t seem to impact impressions.
- Here is one of the spokesperson’s comments: “The investigation is ongoing and we don’t have a full explanation of what happened. It would be inappropriate for us to comment further on the specific allegations until we have finished the investigation.” As a broadcast journalist, I heard a variation of this statement as often as any other. While the statement may be true to some extent, my impression is this is typically a PR pro’s favorite line to prevent giving out more details if any at all. You can always deliver this statement to a specific question, but my opinion is delivering these words in a generic sense simply generates cynicism among the journalists and customers following the story.
- Pick up the phone: My phone rang. I didn’t recognize the number and considered ignoring it. Was another financial expert calling to persuade me to allow him to manage my money after talking to him for only three minutes? I picked up the phone. A reporter was calling. He wanted to talk to people who were inspired to start their own businesses by the economy.
- Make time: The journalist called as I was walking out the door. I could have explained I was busy. I didn’t. Cell phones have a cool feature: They allow you to continue calls without a wire staying connected to the wall. Cell phones have speakerphones. You can drive somewhere, with caution, while continuing a conversation. My phone’s battery was running low. I could have told the journalist to call back. I didn’t. I gave him a new number to call. His battery was low, too, and he needed to call back in about 20 minutes. When I called people for interviews when I reported on TV, individuals and big companies gave me countless excuses on why they couldn’t talk to me. (My favorite excuse was how bringing a camera in their store would disrupt customers.) Make yourself available. If people told me they didn’t have time to talk to me for a news story, I moved on to the next business to interview. I was on a deadline. I didn’t have time to wait and make myself convenient for someone’s schedule. If you want media attention, re-arrange your schedule. Do some quick thinking. Don’t miss an opportunity.
- Leave the shampoo in your hair: When the reporter called back later, I was in the shower, my hair full of shampoo. I turned off the water, left the shampoo in my hair and wiped the suds away from my forehead so they didn’t drip into my eyes or onto the cell phone while I tried to put together coherent sentences. I didn’t tell the reporter to call back. He was on a deadline.
- Be open: I didn’t fully enjoy my last two years as a TV reporter. The environment and the job were no longer for me. I didn’t sugarcoat this. Anyone can draw a pretty picture. PR pros and CEOs shoveled a lot of BS my way when I asked questions. Be transparent on why you made the decisions you made. Being honest makes you real. Being real makes you more interesting.
- Be personable: Some people are very guarded when talking to bloggers or journalists. They sound more like robots than humans. Be personable. I talked to this journalist about his family. We discussed issues important to us. We talked about journalism. I learned he once lived in the same city as Loren. I found out he once lived near where I grew up. Again, be real.
- Don’t ignore small media: The journalist may have interviewed me for a story so small, readers may need a magnifying glass. I don’t care. When I was a TV journalist, I sometimes covered great stories I found in smaller publications. You may see a story yourself the first time on the network news or written by the Associated Press, but sometimes those reports were first covered by journalists in smaller markets. And small blogs, publications or media outlets all have loyal readers, viewers and listeners. You’re not too big for small media … even if your hair is full of shampoo.