When PR Disasters Happen to Bad Publicists
In Sunday’s Washington Post, humor columnist Gene Weingarten wrote a scathing article railing against PR professionals who inundate his voicemail with product pitches he cares nothing about. He continues:
“The reason I get these calls is that, many years ago, someone apparently furnished my name to several companies that publish media contact lists for PR people. And, for some reason, I was identified as a ‘lifestyles reporter.’ So far as I know, ‘lifestyles reporter’ is a newsroom designation that doesn't actually exist except in the wishful thinking of PR professionals who need to believe there are people whose job compels them to be interested in "news" releases about upholstered lawn tractors, hip-hop accordion music and lemon-scented dental floss for dogs.”
Though Weingarten’s diatribe against the PR industry fails to make the distinction between good PR and lazy PR, he is right to lament having to deal with bad pitches. In late October, Wired Editor-in-Chief Chris Anderson went public with his battle against lazy publicists when he posted the email addresses of those who he considered to be “spamming” him with product pitches. The list was comprised of PR people that he called,
"Lazy flacks [that] send press releases to the Editor in Chief of Wired because they can't be bothered to find out who on my staff, if anyone, might actually be interested in what they're pitching."
Once the list was posted, marketing assistants, publicists and others in the industry scoured the list with one eye open—praying they had not included Anderson's name in a blast pitch. If you read through the comments below his post you will see an interesting combination of journalists cheering Anderson's zeal and PR firms lamenting their presence on the list.
Where is the love big media? Why the name calling?
The last question is rhetorical, as I know exactly why many members of the media get fed up with unprofessional or lazy PR people. We’ve all received those pestering calls during dinner time from solicitors who are just trying to sell us something. That’s the way the media feels when they get a call from a marketer pitching a product that they have no interest in.
Though Chris Anderson makes a point of recognizing a difference between quality PR contacts and lazy flacks, Weingarten does not. So, what's the difference?
Professional publicists are those who know how to pitch to a media contact. How do they like to receive information (email, phone call, fax, mail)? When is the reporter’s deadline? What have they written about recently and what is their usual beat? A publicist that has been working with a reporter for years knows how they like to receive information, when they have some free time to talk about new story ideas and most basic of all, what stories they are interested in.
Here are the differences in a nutshell:
Lazy PR Professionals:
- Blast general pitches out to thousands of media members
- Do not do their homework on a reporter or news outlet before pitching
- Leave the same message 14 times instead of honing their pitch and trying again
- Push products, books, slogans
Good PR Professionals
- Spend time preparing targeted pitches that will interest specific media contacts
- Stay tuned in on what’s in the news, looking for ways their client can contribute to the topic at hand
- Build mutually beneficial relationships with the media members they work with
- Know exactly how their media contact wants to receive information
- Pitch story ideas and expert sources, not books or products
Some might read Weingarten’s and Anderson’s articles and get the false impression that the media has no need for public relations professionals. However, a majority of media professionals rely on and appreciate quality PR assistance. They like to receive original story ideas and hear about experts they can add to their source file for stories within their beat. They don’t want to hear about a product, but how that product/message/author is making an impact. An added bonus: publicists supply logistical support for reporters in setting up interviews and providing the contact information in an organized fashion.
The American media is a powerful force, and good PR professionals know that journalists deserve to be treated with respect. As literary publicists, we have the privilege of working with members of the media every day, and thus have the ability to help place powerful, positive messages that can change the social landscape of this country.