A PR pro answers 10 questions reporters were dying to ask
It’s the last month of the year, where everyone tends to be in a merrier, reflective, giving mood. I decided to embrace this mood in a Mailbag-type post for my last post of the year. We asked our media readers and subscribers to submit questions they had about the PR industry. Thanks for all of the posts, emails, and tweets we received.
Here are my answers to the questions that reporters have been dying to ask about PR.
Reader submission: Why do PR pros follow up to pitches?
Good question. There are a number of reasons why, but here are a few of mine:
One of my clients is in town (or has availability) and I’m seeing if you want to meet them that day. It’s likely an executive and the schedule is filling up fast so I want to make sure you have enough time to have a conversation instead of rushing him/her out the door after 10 minutes. I’ve received plenty of confirmations after a follow-up email and also plenty of missed opportunities. I’d like to avoid the latter as much as possible.
A reporter said they’re interested in talking to someone for a story tomorrow but never confirm a time.
If I sent an email or pitch to a reporter during a particularly crazy day (simultaneous breaking news, coworkers are out sick, etc.) they likely won't go through any pitch emails, maybe even for days after. I'd follow up to see if they may have missed the email before but are interested. In the past, I have placed follow-up calls and reporters have said they are interested, but missed the email earlier in the week.
There is also the reason of following up for the sake of following up, and there are ways to avoid that.
Why do you expect me to read all of your emails?
Lots of reasons: because we have a working relationship; because I might send you something worthwhile; because I don’t want to follow up to a first email. In case no one else who works in PR has told you before: we can also get hundreds of emails a day. We’re just doing our jobs. Acknowledgement, feedback, or even a two-way conversation can go a long way.
Reader submission: What's the deal with flowery language in pitches?
Most company announcements are a pretty big deal for the company itself. In a lot of cases, something described as "first-ever" is something that really is the first “whatever” to be developed in an industry---though a reporter might not know that.
However, I do agree that “flowery” language is not appropriate in all cases and PR pros should be expressing the importance of the new development in a different, fact-based way.
Email submission: Is PR incentivized based on how many pitches get picked up by the media?
Part of the job is to pitch reporters and get coverage, but there are no monetary rewards for the number of placements like in the sales industry. Quality is much more important than quantity.
Industry panel question: Why are executives media trained?
Representatives of a company learn through experience that reporters are not friends---sorry. Your job is to write a story, sometimes when there isn't one to tell. An executive's job is to run a company well and talk about it accurately and in the best possible light.
At this particular panel, well-known, reputable reporters also discussed the cringe-worthy interview with Lululemon's Founder Chip Wilson, which should answer this question without further comments. The aftermath was tangible: the company’s stock plummeted, the Founder resigned, and Lululemon’s reputation was never the same.
An executive can make or break a company in one moment, and that's why he or she is media trained.
Uhmm..what do you actually do?
I get this question all the time. Long answer short, we help shape or change perceptions through what people see, hear, read, or experience. I talk about how in one of my recent posts--check it out!
Email submission: What's the future of the traditional press release? Does it still provide value?
Good question. For public companies (especially banks, which are the institutions I work with), press releases aren’t going away any time soon because of regulation around material information. Companies like startups have much more poetic license when it comes to company announcements.
That being said, I’ve seen a progression in companies sharing news through multimedia in addition to a press release. Or, if it isn’t material information, there has been progress to sharing it more creatively. New mediums are becoming increasingly popular and, in my view, they’ll be a creative supplemental to the press release.
Industry panel question: Why can't I just follow an executive around for a day?
This question was asked on a panel featuring financial journalists. For them specifically, there are two ways this could happen:
You sign an NDA where everything is not even on background or not off-the-record--you just wouldn’t be able to use anything. You would be excluded from meetings, conversations, and business operations. This is not beneficial for you, the company, or executive. Or,
It just doesn't happen.
The majority of financial institutions take option #2 because of the rules and regulations, and safe-keeping of competitive and operational intelligence behind closed doors.
Oh, and I was kidding about #1 being an option. :)
Email submission: Why do you set up “meet and greet” meetings between clients and reporters?
For a company’s beat reporters, we know these are important meetings. They’re charged with covering a company’s news and developments, so knowing executives and who to contact for comments or details is beneficial.
For other “meet and greets,” it’s all about building relationships rather than one-time transactions. It gives you the opportunity to sit down with industry experts and pick their brains--whether it’s for tomorrow’s story or on background for future stories. On the other side of the table (literally), it’s an opportunity for our spokespeople to talk about what they’re working on, researching, or just sharing their point-of-view.
For PR pros, it puts a face to the name for everyone, and strengthens relationships all around. Plus, there’s likely coffee in these meetings and both PR pros and reporters drink a lot of it.
Email submission: Why are pitches so long?
It depends on the pitch. Sometimes a PR pro isn’t experienced enough to know that pitches should be short and to-the-point. If a pitch includes a lot of data, those bullet points take up a lot of room. Same with a press release.
Overall, I’ve been asking myself the same question for years. A shorter pitch is easier to write and faster to read and based on the question submitted, it sounds like it’s preferred by reporters.
Have any other questions for PR pros? Leave them in the comments below!
Julia Sahin works in corporate communications for financial services at one of the largest PR firms in New York and is a monthly contributor to Muck Rack. She was the first to publish academic research about regulation, reputation, and banks. She plans on doing big things. All opinions should be seen as her own and do not reflect her employer’s. Connect with her on Twitter.
Photo: Question mark via Shutterstock