Brush your communication skills before mailing that pitch

April 27th, 2011

I often get into Twitter arguments – all of 140 characters – with a few followers who think I am being unreasonable when I talk about the state of Public Relations’ (PR) industry. But after 8 years in journalism, I can safely conclude that I know how a Public Relation firm works, what the clients expect from them month after month and how they struggle to deliver the same.

Now, before I am lynched by an angry mob of PR or communication professionals, I must declare that both journalism and PR industry need to uplift their morals and way of doing things. While there are hundreds of poorly qualified journalists thriving, it definitely does not justify the increasing amount of ‘pile-on’ PR we see nowadays.

My past blogs have generated myriad responses that includes statements like “journalists are hoity-toity breeds who cannot think beyond their bylines” to “journalists are equally deluded about the subjects they cover.” But dear PR, does that mean it’s all right to be a sub-standard, pushy-salesman-like representative of a company that is paying you to get their views to media?

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Everyone who is in PR and media knows that there is no guarantee of how your client’s press release (or news) will appear, or where your message will appear. When a reporter agrees to interview your client, there WILL NEVER be any guarantee of how or when the matter will be used. I believe that there’s a skinny difference in pushing your story and turning into an unbearable pain in the a**. I know that it’s extremely unpleasant to be rejected (there are times, when I have been told that company does not wish to be a part of my story and it really kicks me hard), but that’s a part of media relations.

So, when your story idea is flat-out rejected then opt out of it graciously – better revise your pitch for someone who will write it — before it gets mucky.

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There are dozens of PR agencies, marketing or communication executives who want their executives featured in media. But do you know why they never make it to newspages? There’s this key rule that goes for any journalist – they like to talk to somebody people who have been quoted by other reporters, simply because it reduces the risk of getting any misleading information.

No matter how you draw the line between media and public relations, I believe that both these jobs require a great deal of skill in mass communication. I can only hope that professionals in these positions learn to anticipate what information will be in demand, and know how to access it quickly.

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I like to get as much information about a new product or services as possible in one go without having to jump through hoops to get it. But trust me this happens so rarely that I have almost given up. PRs can do themselves a great favor here by sending out as many resources as possible in the first instance. This includes: press release in plain text (not attached as no one bothers with attachments), at least one low resolution image of product/screenshot, web links to more information, price and availability and direct contact info for someone dealing with the account who understands the subject well beyond the press release. Is that too much to ask? Perhaps.

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The fastest route to failure is calling up a reporter without reading up on what you are pitching for. Just yesterday, I got a call from a PR agency that was pitching a social media story to me. When I asked, “Do you know how many users use social media in India?” I got silence and mumbles for an answer. I added, “How many users use this social media app that you are pitching to me?” Silence. “When did it launch and why is it different from the others?” Silence. You can take a guess if that ever appeared on newspages.

I guess the job is to put a story to the journalist briefly and compellingly that will link your publicity needs with the reporter’s rational self-interest.

Remember, journalist writing — the kind necessary to write a proper news release — can be taught (thanks, AP Stylebook.) But the ability to identify a compelling story and then retell it in a way that compels others is a gift that only the best PR pros possess. Alas, the number of such PRs is on the decline.

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