Brush your communication skills before mailing that pitch

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April 27th, 2011 Priyanka Joshi

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?

***

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.

***

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.

***

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.

***

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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6 Responses to “Brush your communication skills before mailing that pitch”

  1. kunal.red Says:

    here we go again… more pearls of wisdom from the mighty Ms. Joshi, the high priestess of all thats right with the divine profession of journalism and everything thats wrong with lesser mortals who work in PR agencies.

    priyanka, i have had the misfortune of going through one of your previous articles on similar lines and i had also replied, hoping to get a sensible reply from you, but alas, it dint happen. i guess, running down people while sitting in front of a computer is much easier.

    while i agree that many pr guys dont know their product or company as well as they should, maybe u shud do an article about how many buffoons go posing around as journos, that too in so called prominent publications. no manners, no etiquette..nothing. just a divine sense of supremacy cos ur a journo.

    just as u get used to pr guys calling you for inane things, we are also tired of journos calling us for stupid info all the time.many of them want spoon fed features without doing an ounce of research, no respect for deadlines or other’s times jst cos ur chasing a deadline. n lets not even talk abt all those times that we have been asked to given your lot free alcohol, free cosmetics, free diapers, mobiles, settling bills at press club etc etc etc. in fact, journos redefine the concept of free-loaders…

    do all of us a favor. get off your high horse and accept this as a part and parcel of the profession. u dont see us writing blogs about journos all the time, now do u? we are all in this together, so love it or leave it

  2. Tutoon Says:

    After seeing a series of PR bashing articles.. It is clear that the writer has a personal agenda against PR fraternity, and trying to portray the media folks as saints! Let me tell you there a bunch of journalists who does not know how to respect one’s privacy, they do not hesitate to call a PR guy at 09:30 pm or a Saturday evening.. or on any other holiday. When they need something, they expect the executive to unlock his office at an odd hour/ day.. or access internet even if he is in road… but the same person would bark back at him in case he happens to call him when he is filing story…

    what about those shameless journos who openly ask for goodies from PR folks to publish a story? what about those who ask for a car from a motor compnany or the agency handling it PR, and keep for weeks for his and his families leisure in the name of test drive/ review? What about those who ask for discounts/ free vouchers… even get in to obnoxious fights to grab the gifts that are offered in press conferences???

    Can anyone please put all these forward as well???

  3. Gadget freak Says:

    Hey priyanka,

    Your writing has grammatical errors!! anyway was actually hoping to read some good tech related article/blog… but it seems like you have been busy taking out your frustration on PR folks!! I’m also in media and would just like to clarify one thing… nobody can set ground rules of work procedures in this industry… what works for you… might not be the best for another journo! the key is to customize the approach…

    and if you already know all this…then is this blog to inform the PR fraternity on what you expect out of them as an individual journalist?

  4. Nabanita Says:

    Hi Priyanka,

    We have worked together on F-Secure, i hope you choose to remember :)

    I think to an extent i do agree with you and as you rightly mentioned it is both ways. There are a set of journalists as well who we get very embarrassed to take forward to the client.

    But, what is really unfortunate is that these things are not thought in the PG schools and are learnt best on the job. Experience is what counts and the willingness to listen and take feedback in the right light.

    Anyways, i think you have shared some really valuable tips and i will surely try and practice them. Please keep writing.

    Cheers,

    Nabanita Biswas

  5. Aman Abbas Says:

    Hi Priyanka - Loving your blogs. You may like to see what I wrote about media people’s comments on PR folks.

    here’s a link too:

    http://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=180241725324003

    Dear Media people - We PR people are not that bad

    by Aman Abbas on Tuesday, November 30, 2010 at 12:21pm
    Media people love to crib about PR guys and social media has given them a completely new platform :) . We can see one of our learned friends using Twitter effectively to blast PR guys in general while other writing a complete blog on us. Some of them use the traditional way of telling you on your face.

    Some of the most popular ( :) ) cribs are:

    They can’t even write two proper sentences in English
    They don’t know what they are talking (they are not well read)
    Why a business journalist getting news on entertainment? and do they know what is news?
    They are worse than a telecaller…don’t know what is the need for follow-ups??
    After one meeting, they would behave as if we were together in our past ‘janam’ also.

    and the list is endless.

    On a closer look, I realize that these cribs can’t be dismissed as big ego of the media. Sure enough some of our friends give an argument that media should also look at themselves before preaching others. My personal opinion is that it doesn’t solve our problem - and we do have a problem. I take it as feedback.

    Today, PR industry has several thousand PR agencies as entry barriers are pretty low. We have mixed bag of people and several people still think that PR = Media relations. For some of us, the motto is to ‘befriend’ journos to call them for the most idiotic ‘news’ and expect them not only to be polite but also to carry the so called news. I don’t see any reason why we should waste someone’s time when we can’t manage our client’s expectations. After all, a journalist is working for an organization and will do his / her best to suit the interest of his / her organization exactly the way we do.

    While I agree that a lot of our colleagues do all of that is listed above, I think one must also see the new, emerging face of PR, that is at par with the best in the world. The strategies are often glocal and there is a strong orientation towards planning. Indian agencies are servicing some of the biggest global brands and the campaigns are being recognized globally.

    I know some of the good agencies do have editors who check the language before it goes to the external audience. The universal sten-gun approach of targeting has changed to more focused media targeting to optimize effectiveness.

    And I don’t agree with some of the comments such as PR people should not talk during the interview process. It’s a job of a PR person (whether in agency or in corporate communication) to monitor and control messaging and provide necessary guidance to the spokesperson whenever necessary.

    So my request to our dear media friends is to bear with us till the time we improve, the way we bear with some of you who come totally unprepared, cancel interviews at the last minute and show no respect for time.

    I can say one thing for sure — PR industry in India is coming of age with the best of the companies setting base in India following best practices and servicing some of the most challenging clients.

  6. PR Says:

    I agree with the author — time to overhaul the PR business and its way of doing business with media.

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