ComPRehension

Professional development and training blog of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA)
August 3, 2012

Five Ways to Become More Than Just a Necessary Evil


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I admit it. I can be a real jerk.

I don’t respond to your emails. I don’t return your voicemails. If your call happens to catch me at my desk, I’ll  know within the first five words that you’re a public relations person — maybe an intern — who is pimping a press release, I immediately I will begin to wonder how fast I can get to goodbye.

But I also have to say that some of you kind of deserve it. And for every editor who’d just as soon hit the delete button on your message than read or listen to the whole thing, there is a public relations professional who could use a few pointers on how to convey her message in such a way it might actually make the news.

Let’s face it: We need each other. I asked one of my editors how much daily news she gets from press releases and other forms of public relations. Two-thirds, she said. Among all our sites, we published 4,177 news items for the first six months of the year. Assuming her percentage holds true for our other editors, that’s 2,785 pieces of public relations we picked up. Was yours one of them?

Here are a few things you can do to make sure you are part of the next 4,177 we publish.

  1. Know what I cover. I’m sure when you’re dealing with consumer media that it’s difficult to keep track of the beat of each publication. Within the B2B space, however, it should be a great deal easier because there likely are fewer germane titles for you to pitch. That said, before you send me a release, take a minute to make sure it relates to our audience. If you’re talking about a new wine, for example, my editor for QSRweb.com isn’t going to be interested.
  2. Follow up with a phone call. Once you know our audience, please DO follow up with a phone call if the release is meaty. We’re busy, too, and inundated with public relations because other senders are so indiscriminate (see No. 1). One of our editors said she would have missed a valuable bit of news last week if the company’s spokesperson hadn’t followed up.
  3. Tell me why I care. If you’re going to get me on the phone, in addition to knowing my audience, be prepared to help me understand a broader context for your story. I know, I know: Editors should always know the broader context on their own. But the reality is, at least for my team, the pace is hectic enough that sometimes myopia can set it; they just don’t have time to do as much in-depth reading and interviewing that their media forbears did. Most of them write three features a week, four or five news items a day, proof the work of colleagues, participate in the production of webinars, manage and edit bloggers, hunt and gather slideshows and videos, and monitor site traffic statistics to make sure they’re meeting targets. If you are prepared to help explain why your story is a good story, you’re more likely to get it placed.
  4. Keep the sales lingo to a minimum. I’ve written some press releases for our company. I know how the process works. So I understand that sometimes against your best arguments, your clients or employers insist on adding just one more sentence or two about how great the company is or how groundbreaking the product is. Argue harder. An excessive amount of puffery obscures the data you want us to read and can even backfire, as the release comes across as unprofessional.  Besides, we cut out all that crap before we run it, anyway. Save everyone some time and get to the point.
  5.  Get to the point. Speaking of getting to the point, I have to share one pet peeve that can’t be mine alone: When you call, you really don’t have to ask how I am or how my day is going. Those questions make you sound like you’re about to pitch me a magazine subscription. Here’s how it should work: I say hello. You ask whether I’m the person you’re trying to reach. I say I am. You get right to it. “The other day I sent a release on topic X. In case you’ve not gotten to it yet, here is what makes it a good story.” Another pointer: Don’t ask me directly whether I’ve read your email. I get a lot of email, and when I don’t remember your release, it puts me in an awkward position, and that’s not a good way for us to start our call.

Don’t get me wrong: Many of you are awesome at working with us, and your clients and our readers are all the better for it. But as is true with any potential relationship or transaction, sometimes just knowing how to get it started makes all the difference, and can be the most difficult move to master.

Joseph Grove is the executive of Networld Media Group, an online-only news and information company that publishes 10 B2B websites for tech, retail and foodservice industries.

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