Change would be good for us too!

September 29th, 2010

Humbled by reader feedback that my previous blog post generated — both positive and some not so positive — I had to write another one to finish what I started. Just to reiterate, I began with how PR executives can best use technology available to establish good media relations and how emails to social media platforms are abused by a large section.Even after reading my post, a few who sent me positive feedback continue to cold call me during peak rush hours (and some even SMSed me Monday meeting reminders on Sunday afternoon), pitch for non-existent news/feature sections over chat, call at least a 100 times in a day (with introductions that last over 2 minutes) to check on emails and press releases (most of which are not even my interest areas). And then I’m branded ‘rude’ by peers in the industry.

Beginning with the general assumption that (bulk of) journalists seem to treat public relations and its practitioners with contempt, I have to admit that I’m guilty too. But listening to 25-odd cold calls from trainee PRs to check if “a particular column was still carried in paper” or “to confirm if I have received the email they sent,” pardon me if I lose my calm.

But really, I (and many many journos) don’t treat all PRs with contempt. It’s not sustainable for us to ignore this category of media personnel. There are at least 100 fabulous PR professionals whom I respect, listen to and even call in case I have not understood a particular section in press releases. The reason: they know their client. They know what press release is saying (and often what press release refrains from saying). They understand if I’m a reporter from a business daily, then what kind of data and deadlines we work for. These will be the signs of a good PR. I have had healthy discussions arguments

I admit that not all PRs and journos can be generalized in good or bad category but if you want to keep a client/brand (who pays you the retainer fees) featured on any newspaper/magazine, then please take the time out to read the daily at least once in your life. Figure out if the magazine/daily/TV channel presents any scope for your client and how it would interest the audience of that news medium. Is it too much to ask? Perhaps yes, but if you want to be a PR professional who is respected for his/her insight about a newspaper/news medium then it’s a small homework to do.

Journalists, I have seen, tend to take the presence of PRs for granted. There are journos who care two cents about media ethics when they interact with PRs — they call up PRs/corporate communications expecting instant gratification or sometimes even threaten with zero publicity if contact details of company executives are not shared. Here’s where we go wrong. While there is a sliver of chance that a PR might disclose his client contacts to a journos (usually a friend/confidante) but really if we expect instant gratification then it’s time to step out of our AC offices and meet all companies (a journo tracks or writes) in person. This way you develop contacts and establish a rapport on your own.

The job of the media is (in theory) is to tell the stories (based on facts & figures) to its audience that PR people sometimes don’t want told. Here’s where the fine line is. There are journos who take “telling stories” literally and then there are journalists who will think and check twice before they add their bylines to a speculative article. It is open to argument what breed of journos you deal with on a day to day basis but as PR professional you are required to have answers and deal with uncomfortable situations, or just have non-answers that work well enough that people forget what they are asking. It is akin to the situation where we are expected to have working knowledge and insights on every subject (even the ones we have no clue about).

Public Relations has to be much more than press releases and pitching. Yes, I have never been on the other side of the fence and I really don’t understand what pressures a PR deals with. But I know that if they have to interface with journos and editors on a daily basis, there are some lessons to be learnt the right way.

Just as any journo sends his/her “questionnaire” with unrealistic deadlines that your client cannot abide by, the behavior is mirrored by PR professionals too. Spam blast emails and broadcasting “messages” at “audiences,” contacting reporters without reading their work only means sacrificing the investment in relationships for the gamble of percentages, hoping to turn big campaigns into measurable pockets of coverage and visibility.

For argument sake, if bylines are sacred to a journalist a PR professional’s career is defined by hits and coverage & whether the published stories were “on message.” So, no one can point fingers at any one.

But the one thing that we can do is adapt so that each tribe thrives in peace.

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Change is good

September 15th, 2010

Seven years back when I started my career as a reporter, journalism was different and so was the  way it was done.

Just to speak of the basics — internet was a dial-up connection (which took annoyingly long minutes to connect) and filing stories from anywhere but office meant an extra dent to your pocket (if you take in to account the cost to log on from an internet café or home). Most Press Releases were usually faxed or delivered physically (in case the email was not read by the recipient or worse got lost in the world wide web!) Mobile phones were catching on but there weren’t any SMS reminders sent in bulk for press events.

Today, both journalists and the industry have adapted itself around technology. Emails have become a part of life and emails on mobile phones are even more critical. International corporates are just a call or a video-conference away and filing news reports is possible from any corner of the country as long as it has a mobile cell tower or a data signal connectivity.
Yet when I look at corporate Public Relations (PR) executives – an important part of any journalist’s life – sending ‘bulk’ emails that make no sense, doing follow-ups of press releases (usually the junior most PR colleague is assigned this task) on ‘deadline’ hours, and off late pitching for clients on social media sites, it just makes me cringe.
Why can’t PR executives use technology efficiently? And this brings me to the question, how exactly should a PR professional function? Here are a few things that come to my mind:

Use social media responsibly: If you have managed to get on to a journalist’s Facebook friend list or have been following his Twitter updates, then use this carefully. For me, it seems okay to talk about a prospective client/story on these sites, but remember not every journo takes to such invasion spiritedly.

Also, it’s unfair to post good story ideas on an open forum as might attract attention from other journalist colleagues.

After you friend a journalist, engage regularly and most importantly read their stories, post comments, share their stories with your friends and colleagues, and ask people in your company to make comments and share the stories further. To the journalist, that’s a huge win, and he or she will feel like they owe you one back, so to speak.

Use Chat Messengers, even more carefully: My personal rule is not to add any more PR guys to my web chat list (unless I have met them in person), primarily because it can become a nuisance. Some of them of try to behave like my long lost buddies and it is really irksome since most of the time I haven’t even seen their faces in real-time.

But if you are on a journalist’s chat messenger, then don’t try to use it as a tool to follow-up on press releases, or mail pitches. And if you have to, then don’t push it beyond one reminder on chat window as that will surely lead to blocking you on the chat.

And lastly, it is not cool to keep pinging on chat to ask whereabouts or designations or profile checks of colleagues of the journalist. Do that homework on your own.

Vow to never send attachments in Email. Ever: Imagine this – most journalists are on the road for a good part of the day and there’s nothing more frustrating than wasting time waiting for emails to download (on smartphones where data charges matter) because some PR chap attached four MB worth of photos that you never asked for in the first place.

Easier way would be to include a simple link in your email for the Press Release from where the writer can grab, download and get anything additional they want. If the journalist needs any details like photos, white papers, or whatever, they will revert to you (for sure!).

CAPS LOCK IN SUBJECT LINES? WRITING SUBJECT LINES AND HEADLINES IN CAPITALS DOESN’T MAKE THEM ANY EASIER TO READ AND IT SOUNDS AS IF YOU ARE SHOUTING AT THE JOURNO.
See what I mean about readability?

Know your journo: Make sure that you have an updated media list on your mobile phone. If you are calling a journalist for the first time, please do read his/her articles, blogs etc. It will only help in utilising time better.

When you don’t hear back after the press release/SMS blasts: If the writer is interested in your press release/story pitch/client, be assured that they will reach out to you (they need to show their bylines to bosses after all). Even if your email might have been flagged by their spam filter, they will eventually find it and decide if your pitch is worthwhile to them. If they don’t respond to your first attempt, take that as a sign of not being interested.

And please, don’t lurk during meetings: As a PR, when you sit in on conference calls or interviews then please remember who the journalist is trying to interview (clue: it isn’t you). PRs, who try to step in, once too often, not only deviate the course of the interview but also create a lot of irritation.

Wouldn’t it be easier if you briefed your clients beforehand and gave them – and the journalist – the space to have a proper, uninterrupted conversation?

In a nutshell, for me a good PR is the one who makes things easy for journalists. They coordinate things efficiently keeping the deadlines in mind and understand how journalist or publication plays its part in communicating news to wider audience. A bad PR is ill-informed, demanding, haughty, deceptive, intrusive, and sometimes plain idiotic.


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