Sorry media, PR can do better

Sorry media, PR can do better


That’s all the email from my editor friend had to say.

And this one was a doozy. A new PR company was hawking their business model.  

“We have a new pricing structure. Its pay per placement. If we don't get publicity... you don't pay.”

“We charge $900 per interview and these are national placements. Please choose 5 or 10 media placements you want.”

In my 14 years in media and PR this was the most disgusting example of how bad it has become. If it has turned into only pay for coverage press release spamming campaign then we should all shut it down and call it a day. Because at this point we’re no better than an anonymous internet commentator notifying you of the tragic loss of your distant relation in Ghana and the fortune that has gone unclaimed.

One would think the PR industry would have learned a lesson by now. After Wired’s Chris Anderson’s public shaming of the PR people that spam his inbox to the establishment of the Bad Pitch Blog, to countless other examples of the media having enough, communicators should have learned their lesson.

Yet here we are with pay per placement models and a tidal wave of useless product upgrade press releases.

We can do better. Here are a few steps PR professionals should take to improve the media-PR partnership.

No more spam email lists. What are we J. Crew? Here’s a tip: the editor-in-chief at Wired does not care about the new product press release you are sending. Go ahead and remove him from your lists. See how easy that was. Now go through every contact on your list and determine why they should receive an email from you. Do they cover the business of your client? Have the previously expressed interest in receiving information from you? If you can’t figure out a reason for them to be on your list, that’s an indicator they should be removed.

While we’re at it, less email. The “R” in PR stands for relations. We should do more to build a relationship with our media partners to better understand how we can assist. Blasting anonymous emails into your inbox doesn’t work. Understand the news cycle. Know that once a story is out, that is not the time to pitch what should have been in the story. As Jon Marino at said at a recent breakfast panel: “I want to be ahead of the news.” As you and the client are seeing trends developing, a phone call into the most appropriate journalists will go a long way toward developing a relationship of trust and mutual respect.

You’re also not a debt collector. The phone is a powerful tool in building a relationship but please don’t try and extract a ransom. If the journalist is busy, hang up and call back another time. Don’t hold them hostage while you read off the script. When they do give you a few minutes of their time, treat it with respect and start a dialogue about how you can be of assistance. Tell them why you are calling, how you can be of help and ask how they prefer to work with you. Build on this conversation to establish a relationship.

Don’t expect a story. PR people provide the media access to information and data. We’re here to help the media. But sometimes the helpers demand a pound of flesh in return. Does Google demand search results appear in every email you send? No, of course not, then why do PR people demand coverage? That’s ridiculous. You want coverage? Work on building the relationship and develop the opportunities that follow. Make sure the information you have to share with the media is new and interesting. In turn, the articles that follow help inform and educate the public; you know, the “P” in PR.

Speak in plain English. My aforementioned editor friend likes to send me the worst offenders of jargon bingo and over the years, he’s sent me some good ones. It seems as though every new innovation in now “disruptive” and is “leveraging” some techno mumbo-jumbo to develop an “ecosystem” of gobbledygook. We’re communicators, so let’s actually try and communicate. Apply the Paul Harvey “Aunty Betty” test. If your aunt—you know the one that doesn’t know what you do—wouldn’t understand the information you’re offering, chances are most of the media won’t either. Simplify the language to better inform your audience. The most effective communicators are those that speak to the widest audience in the fewest words.

As PR professionals, we like to tell our clients “don’t say anything you wouldn’t’ want to see on a billboard.” So for my fellow communicators I offer this: don’t email anything that may show up on a list of shame.

We’re better than that. Let’s work together to provide the media and the public with more useful information.

Eric Hazard is a director at Cognito where he helps financial companies tell interesting stories to the world. When he’s not at the office he enjoys hiking in New York’s Catskill mountains and amusing gifs of panda bears. Follow along on Twitter.

Photo: To-do list memo via Shutterstock

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