Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Re: You stole my subject line

When email subject lines make headlines

A colleague slid a section of a well-respected newspaper under my door this morning. Glaring back at me in boldfaced, all-caps letters is the same subject line of my recent email pitch now posing as an above-the-fold headline! The reporter’s name sparkles in the byline, under said headline. Gasp! What’s more is that this story appears in the very newspaper that stands at the pinnacle of every literary publicist’s daily aspirations! Unfortunate? Yes. Unusual? Not really.

Along the same lines, it’s not an anomaly to see a publicist’s hand-crafted pitch copied and pasted into a query of a ProfNet feed. And since we’re in the business of generating story ideas, I suppose what can be taken from such experience is one part missed opportunity and two parts accomplishment for being right on the money.

In thinking about where I stood on the matter, I polled several publicists in the industry to find out the consensus on “ideas on loan.” The result was a mixed bag: reactions tended to be a little slighted, but a little complimented, too.

One publicist called attention to the fact that the situation, more often than not, tends to backfire with the client. “What’s worse is when my client sees the story and says, ‘Why wasn't I in this one?’” She said, in such case, she wished she could respond to the tune of “well, they liked the idea, just not you in it.”

On flattery, in a sort of round-about way, another publicist said, “Hey, the media is totally using my ideas! It's a sign that my media instincts are on-target and in-line with the reader. But I also feel frustrated - you stole my ideas, media! And worse, you didn't use my fabulous source! ”

What’s a publicist to do about all the idea high-jacking? Well, in a word, nothing. The borrowing of ideas is just part of the biz. There’s an ebb and flow and a give and take with media that seems to balance out over time. One publicist compared her relationship with media to that of a sibling, “someone who steals your socks, the last of your cereal, or even your diary, but ultimately, no one’s to blame - you can’t live without them.”

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