Back in the journalism days I used to get regular calls from PR and marketing bods with stories that really weren’t worth my time of day. Frequently they’d push stories that weren’t anywhere near my patch (including one PR who, upon being informed I covered Devon and not Cornwall, tried to flog a horse carcass well on its way to the glue yard by going down the line of ‘well, they’re near each other. And it’s a great story. You might as well take it, as it’s a quiet news patch’. Cue raised eyebrow on my end of the phone). The other favourite was a story that was nationwide but had no relevance to a more localised patch. It had to be a very slow day for one of those stories to get into the daily meeting.

Then there was the only time I’ve ever lost my temper. Having agreed to do an interview for story that was actually relevant to my patch (local author up for a prize – not great, but a space filler. Or churn, as its now called) I got the call at the arranged time only to find no author and a PR for a national chain on the other end of the phone, and, furthermore, to be told the author was never going to be interviewed. That went way beyond the lines of what was acceptable and, after doing a quick pre-record out of politeness, that message was conveyed in no uncertain terms to the person who set up the interview. It takes a lot to wind me up to that stage.

Now I’ve hopped onto the other side of the fence – hopefully not irritating too many journalists since the move – but despite being on the PR/social media side of things, I have a lot of sympathy for Charles Arthur’s rant against incompetent PRs:

“Later: phone rings. My phone. It’s been passed on by a colleague who works on blogs.
PR: “Hello, do you blog?”
Me: “Er, yes.” (Thinks: among other things.. what an odd way to open the conversation.)
PR: “I’m calling from Panasonic because they’ve got a new camera that’s come out and we thought you’d like to write about it.”
Me: “So what’s different about it? Cameras come out all the time.”
PR: “I don’t know exactly, but you’re a blogger aren’t you? Would you like to write about it?”
Me: (feeling slight stroke coming on): “Why? What’s this blog stuff? What is it about the camera? What’s special, different, newsworthy, if anything, about it?”
PR: “Umm, well, that’s not what I’m doing but I thought that because you blog…”
Me: “I edit the Technology section of the Guardian. Google me. Goodbye.””

The comments below the post are fascinating as well, with some criticising Arthur for complaining about PRs ringing him, while others add or discuss his points. But it still remains that the above is simply bad PR. Knowing who you’re contacting, or at least knowing who you want to be contacting, still remains one of the first rules. Nothing what the hell you’re talking about is pretty high up there. And expecting just because somebody blogs, they’ll be happy to write about any old tat will probably start moving onto the rule list in the near future.

But it does raise a question how Public Relations professionals should pitch to bloggers. The landscape’s changing, and there’s some very influential blogs out there – both group and individual – so it’s no good condescending the writers by expecting they’ll be happy with any old scraps that you throw their way.

While the line between journalism and blogging isn’t exactly clear cut, anybody working in the online medium should be afforded the same courtesy as anybody from traditional media. A bad pitch, like the one above, can not only alienate somebody you might be aiming to build a good working relationship with, it can also alienate your brand or company if they decide to name and shame.

PNeo has some very good tips on how to first approach bloggers. This line is especially relevant:

“Many of the media relationship basics still apply though, a blogger is more likely to be interested if you give them something that is newsworthy and relative to them.”

It’s fairly simple, no?

From my own experience, I’d add a couple of things. Firstly, unless I knew the blogger well and it was really necessary to speak to them direct, as PNeo suggests, I certainly wouldn’t ring them. And neither would I hassle them unduly to follow up on a press release or similar.

Secondly, when I’m pitching something for the first time – be it cold or after exchanging comments or emails – I’ll always include a line somewhere asking them to let me know if they don’t want unsolicited press releases and the like and, if they do, what the best address is to contact them on (with the best will in the world, sometimes it’s not always obvious where the best place to send material to is, even after looking around the blog).

Thirdly, if I’m pitching to a blogger, they get treated with the same respect and professionalism that a journalist would get. If I’ve made the effort to contact a blogger, then the least I can do is be across their subject, my subject and know where to go if they follow up with an enquiry.

I’m not quite so convinced about the idea of making an effort to engage on their blogs before ‘first contact’. Fine, if you have something to say and can add to the conversation, but if I’ve not got anything to say, personally, I’d rather not say anything at all (despite, quite possibly, the vast reams of shite posted on here acting as evidence to the contrary).

Plus, there’s another side to consider. If, like me, you’re active online in a number of communities outside of work, then you need to think what, if any, the effect will be. You definitely need to make it clear what hat you’re wearing, so if I’m commenting on a work-related issue, it’ll be my work email. If it’s personal, there’ll probably be a link back to this blog. The internet has made the whole of the media – journalism and PR – more transparent and anybody who’s engaging online needs to recognise this.

Moving onto a different part of the fence, I have outside interests, writing-wise, and it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that somebody might want to pitch to me as a writer rather than a PR (although press officers and publicists specifically working in the area of non-league teams who play in front of one man and his dog are, I suspect, few and far between). How would I feel about getting an unsolicited pitch as a blogger by email or phone?

Email, I’m reasonably laid-back about and have always been pretty ruthless with the delete key (partly because I’m an utter anal retentive who likes to keep their inbox clutter-free). If I had time and they were really barking up the wrong tree, or I simply wasn’t interested, I’d probably drop them a line to say so. But, like Charles, I’d be less appreciative of unsolicited phone calls, especially to somebody who is a blogger of little consequence (yes, I know sometimes it pays to be a little bit persistent, phone-wise. But, as always, this depends on what you’re pitching and how important it is for whoever to take it. And if it’s that important, a good PR should be able to convey that within 30 seconds of the phone conversation starting).

Good blogs or websites are no different, in a lot of respects, from traditional media (and traditional media’s incorporated aspects into their own sites). I’ve applied pretty rigorous standards to anything I’ve edited – be it news bulletins or newspapers – and that’s not going to change just because I’ve shifted to an online media, even if it is just a personal blog. There’s no reason to suppose other bloggers and web editors won’t have the same attitude.


4 Responses to “JournablogoPRlism”

  1. 1 Darika June 18, 2008 at 11:36 am

    The Devon/Cornwall thing made me laugh. In my early days I did a similar thing getting North-East/North-West muddled. But I’m foreign so that’s my excuse 😉

  2. 2 Pink Sunshine June 19, 2008 at 8:23 pm

    Back in my newspaper days I once got called by a PR company wanting to promote their search for two young lads who would play a big part in a primetime show. Hmmm, fairly interesting, I thought. But once they revealed they wanted these boys to play the mini Ant and Dec (that’s how long ago this was) head scratching soon gave way to disbelief – they had called Newcastle-under-Lyme in Staffordshire rather than “big Newcastle”… Hopefully I didn’t make them feel too stupid! But then again, the Government did pretty much the same thing – they gave Newcastle-under-Lyme more than £2.5m instead of £600,000 because they got them mixed up. You couldn’t make it up…

  3. 3 mediaczar June 27, 2008 at 6:03 pm

    Thanks for the link to PNeo. We had a lot of discussion about the “should you phone or email?” question; Kerry (who wrote the article) persuaded me that contacting by phone or IM was a mistake; that a well-written email would be preferable. So while we’ve really tried to stay away from recommending phone contact in our guidelines, your comments suggest to me that we should make this clearer.

    I really like your recommendation re: including a “no more unsolicited stories” request; we’ll probably include that in our next iteration. I tend to add a “please tell me to sod off if you want to” line in my cold contacts, so I’m particularly warm to that suggestion.

    It’s not easy (or I suspect, possible) to come up with some one-size-fits-all guidelines for “how to approach a blogger,” any more than it’s easy to come up with guidelines for “how to approach a journalist.” Particularly, I think, when the best means we have of distinguishing between a blogger and a journalist is merely their choice of content management system.

    There isn’t really any kind of algorithm we can apply to human relationships like this; the best thing that we can do is to hire the right kind of people. Historically, this has meant hiring people with experience of journalism; today it means hiring people with experience of blogging – or giving them that experience as part of their jobs.

    I suspect that it’s not the new media that are causing the problems. I suspect that journalists complained about PR people well before the whole self-publishing thing started up.

    What has changed?

    1) Journalists/bloggers now complain about PRs in public, rather than in the pub.

    2) Everyone’s an opinion columnist; and a lack of editorial restrictions coupled with a “gonzo” blurring of author and subject encourages journalists/bloggers to make themselves the news.

    3) PRs have less understanding of (hence perhaps less respect for?) bloggers. They see them as being somehow different; “unaccredited” and “citizen” are the words I hear most often.

    4) More media outlets (more bloggers, for example) means that there are fewer personal relationships; this (obviously) is particularly the case with younger PRs who have yet to build their personal relationships. High job attrition & churn at the lower end of large PR firms make this worse, as does the fact that PR firms have largely outsourced their relationships to media list companies. You’re much more likely to complain about a faceless PR who you think is spamming you than you are about someone you’ve met face to face.

    What do you think? Is the journalist/blogger divide a real thing? Can PRs learn to navigate the new relationships?

  1. 1 “Die, PR, Die…” « Pink Sunshine Trackback on July 2, 2008 at 7:17 pm

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June 2008

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Yes, this is my name. And my email. Use it wisely or you're not getting a biscuit with your tea: garyllewellynandrews [at] gmail [dot] com

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