Posts Tagged 'PR'

Come on PR, you can do better than this

Somehow, somewhere, one of the email addresses I use at work has got itself onto some kind of PR mailing list. How this happened I’m not exactly sure, but it’s the only explanation I can think of for the sudden influx of assorted press releases landing in the inbox each day.

Given that the address in question is a PR address, I doubt they’ll be getting coverage any time soon.

Interestingly, I’ve had a few colleagues and fellow PRs mention that they’ve been getting assorted press releases as well. There are clearly a few people out there in my chosen industry who haven’t done their homework.

It’s a tad depressing, to be honest, to see such bad PR first hand on a daily basis. I don’t want to indulge in a round of PR bashing – it’s not overly constructive for one thing – because I also see much more good PR than bad PR on a daily basis as well.

Nevertheless, my heart still sinks at the idea that there are PR people and companies who still think a mass mail out to all and sundry is an effective way of working. Sure, you’ll probably get a bit of coverage but, by the same token, if you throw a handful of tennis balls into a crowded street, chances are you’ll hit a couple of people.

Once, in a hurry, I did a mass send-out cobbling together a list from assorted sources. The pick-up was poor. I’ve since gone back to that list, made individual dialogue, established what form of contact and what type of stories they’re looking for, and the response has generally been a lot more receptive towards whatever I’m doing. I know, bad me for taking the lazy way out.

In many respects, I have some sympathy for Charles Arthur and others who’ve been known to lose it on occasions with PR. If you’re on several of these lists and constantly get an endless stream of emails, it can get very irritating. I’d never completely give up on emailed pitches though. During my full-time newsroom days, every now and then, amongst the dross, you’d find a little gem. Sure, it’s not substitute for actually going out there and getting stories, but it always a welcome surprise.

It still doesn’t excuse the arbitrary mail-out lists though. Part of me pities the companies who hire whatever firm it is that sends out these releases. The other part thinks that if they’ve chosen such a bad PR representative they deserve to see their cash go down the drain.

It’s so easy to do lazy, bad PR (then again, it’s also easy to do lazy, bad journalism). You wonder what they must do at work all day. Checking that you’re actually contacting the right person? That surely shouldn’t be too hard, no? I still wonder how this work email got onto the PR list. It’s not exactly easy to mistake for a journalist’s address.

Every now and then I consider emailing them back pointing out, politely, that they’re contacting the wrong person. Then again, I’ve had somebody insist I was the right person and got angry when I pointed out I couldn’t give his release coverage (reminding me somewhat of that woman from the Apprentice last night who insisted on arguing with the customer).

And then you occasionally get the truly impressive PR fails. Like today, when I emailed one of the random releases back, again politely pointing out they were going to the wrong place. I got an out of office. Ten minutes after we’d received the release.

Thankfully I know enough people in the industry who are doing inspiring stuff. My colleagues for one. Or the people I meet at varying networking events. But then it’s always the bad examples that drag down the industry’s reputation (justified or otherwise), and cause journalists to tut and sigh and roll their eyes and declare PR to be useless.

Generally speaking we’re not useless. But when, as a PR, you get pitched with hideously bad PR you wonder how these people managed to land a job in the industry. Or if they’ll still have one in a couple of years.

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From despair to where?

Otherwise known as a quick, likely-to-be-ill-thought-out, ill-informed pondering on the state of the media industry.

Everywhere media-related seems to be making cutbacks. Even places that you would normally have put down as safe are tightening their belts. Friends, colleagues and people I don’t know but have heard of are all getting laid off, and many of these have surprised given, given their jobs.

It’s not just that we’re in a global recession. It’s also that this industry really doesn’t know where the hell it’s going. Journalism. Broadcasting. PR. None of them safe. Or with any real idea of where they meant to be going.

If this were an interview and the media was asked where it would be in five years time, it’d have a hard job in answering. If it were then asked where it saw itself in ten years time, it’d find the question impossible to answer.

You do wonder if the skills you’ve been trained in, and others you’ve picked up along the way, will be completely redundant in the not-too-distant future.

Everywhere seems to be in trouble. We’re constantly told online is the future – and it IS the future – but it just doesn’t seem to be entirely sure how it wants to be the future.

I have an inkling things will pick up. Not in the sense of green shoots of recovery, but more to do with the fact that when this recession, and downturn and general media crisis of identity is over, there will be a need for quality journalism, PR and broadcasting.

Sadly this need will be because there will probably be huge holes in the market by this stage and, as with any good market, where there’s a hole and a demand, something will inevitably plug it.

So, yes, there will be an upturn. At some point. But when is anybody’s guess. If this were a Hollywood war movie, the sergeant would turn his face away and to the ground and sadly say: “We lost a lot of good men out there.”

At this stage it’s common for a blogger to offer his twopence worth on “hey, but this is how you can get through it.”

If only it were that easy.

All those of us in the industry – be it journalism, PR, broadcasting or a combination of some or all of these – can do is watch, learn, adapt to developments (both online and offline), try innovative stuff, and never ever compromise on quality or belief that nobody else, to quote Carly Simon, nobody does it better, no matter what we do. There, by the grace of God, we will survive. Hopefully.

(Then again, you do wonder if any print papers will survive when you read something like this.)

If anybody has any idea what they think this industry will look like in five to ten years type, please do leave a comment below. I’ll post my own thoughts at some point in the near future.

Who’s a-tweeting

If you’re categorising Twitter users by their professions, chances are PR and journalism would come out quite high in the list (probably after social media or technology people). Chances are, though, that quite a few useful would-be contacts on both sides don’t even know that a useful PR or journalist is lurking on the microblogging site. A bit like the hopeless romantic’s belief that there’s a perfect partner out there for everybody, just not as sickly.

But one of the great things about social media is that solutions can quickly be created and then expanded on, and Stephen Davies of the excellent PRBlogger.com blog has done just that by putting together a list of UK journalists on Twitter.

It’s simple, effective and very useful indeed and he should, in the next couple of days, be producing a similar list but for UK PR People. Hopefully both will soon be expanded into a wiki.

Twitter’s a great tool for enhancing communication, especially because it’s so instantaneous. Send a quick Twitter message to me, and chances are I’ll get back to you reasonably quickly – and it certainly won’t get lost in the email inbox.

Plus, there’s a good chance that the journalist/PR will be Tweeting on what they’re currently working on or looking to work on, making it easier to target more effectively. And if somebody becomes a pain, just unfollow and block them. Simple.

If you’re a UK journalist or PR bod and on Twitter, do read as Steve’s lists could be invaluable.

UPDATE: And, as Steve promised, here’s his (ever growing) list of UK PR people on Twitter.

Hopefully he’ll follow through with his idea to expand these lists into a wiki, as it’d be interesting to know who handles what account for PR people, and which area the journalist works in, especially freelancers. Although, on second thoughts, if you’re a PR person pitching to these journalists you should probably have done your research on them in the first place…

Research, people, research

It’s a brave PR who’d pitch to the Devil’s Kitchen blog. It’s a particularly stupid one who, when emailing said blogger, gets basic information in that email concerning one of the most profanity-filled blogs on the internet so badly wrong:

Here’s a tip for you PR people out there (especially given that I am disinclined to punt your clients’ products simply because you ask**): if you want me to plug your product, may I suggest that you actually get the name of my blog correct?

Under the circumstances, the Devil was surprisingly restrained.

Seeing pitches like this posted on blogs like that annoys me. Not because it’s been posted, but because it makes the rest of us working in similar fields look bad, and suggests the majority of PRs don’t know their blogging arse from their internet elbow.

Cold-pitching to bloggers is a tad unnerving, as you never know how they’re going to react. A lot of PRs I know are still a tad reluctant to engage precisely for the reason, and when they get pulled up online about to, use that as an excuse to ignore social media communities altogether.

Their loss.

At the risk of sounding like a long-playing record, pitching to bloggers isn’t hard. It’s the same as pitching to journalists, just in a different medium and with a slightly different technique.

You wouldn’t email, say, Zoo magazine and address it to Loaded. Or to the Sunday Times Travel Section to suggest a piece for the Guardian. And neither would you send the same pitch for the same product to the Sunday Times as you would to Zoo.

The same goes for bloggers. Each blogger is different, has different likes and dislikes and there’s normally enough information on the blog to give you a good idea of what they’re likely to be interested in, and if they’re likely to take a pitch badly.

So in the case of The Devil’s Kitchen, even a cursory glance will tell you of an interest in politics, libertarianism, alcohol, and Apple products. And while he may come across as an angry young blogger, there’s also a lot of humour and incredibly well-argued pieces on his blog.

This could all be worked out in half an hour, although if I’m pitching to bloggers, I like to spend at least a week reading around their writings to get a good feel for the site – it helps if you know who you’re pitching to. And the better you know your blogger, the better – and, more importantly – and more relevant it’ll be.

It’s not rocket science. It’s simply modifying dealings with journalists and bringing them into a more Web 2.0 way of working. And if you’re scared of having your pitch torn to pieces on a blog, I’d suggest you lack confidence in said pitch. If it’s well-written, well-researched and you’ve taken time to read and appreciate the blog, life should be a lot smoother.

Bloggers are usually as good as journalists at spotting bad PR. The difference is bloggers have an instant medium to detail the worst examples of PR. Journalists tend not to (although there are a few instances in my journalism career where the PR was so bad that blogging about it would have been very cathartic).

Some may be scared by this. Personally, I think it’s a great reason for all PR professionals to use the web as an excuse to up their game, assuming they haven’t already.

More on PR and blogging

Following on from my rather lengthy thoughts on best PR / blogging practice, here’s a couple of excellent posts on the subject that should be a must read for any PR bod who’s remotely thinking of getting in touch with bloggers.

First up, Vero has an open letter to all PRs from a blogger’s perspective. And it’s a bit humbling to read, because I’m sure I’ve done a few of the don’ts in my time. But, again, a lot of this stuff isn’t rocket science – it’s just good PR that doesn’t differ wildly from how you’d work with journalists, other than a bit of tweaking and knowing the blogger or blog you’re pitching to.

I’m strongly tempted to print out the post and pin it to the water cooler at work.

Secondly, Catwalk Queen’s Gemma Cartwright follows up Vero’s post with a few of her own experiences and a very thoughtful tone. Again, it’s the kind of thing PR-folk should read and take note, and this paragraph is pins much of the debate spot on:

“By nature, bloggers write opinions, they’re honest and they don’t hold back. The freedom of blogging vs print media is what appealed to me in the first place. I know we’re a bit scary because we won’t pander to people quite so easily. We’re also a bit contradictory. We want to be treated with the same respect as press, but at the same time, we don’t want to be treated like press. We want to be recognised for what we are. A new breed of writers who bring together old skills and new ideas in order to deliver content in a new way.”

And any company that, in the words of Gemma, ‘doesn’t do online’ is on a hiding to nothing. If ignoring a huge swathe of people who are interested in your product is part of your PR strategy, fine. But don’t start complaining when you realise nobody is talking about your product.

Ok, so perhaps that’s a little harsh, but with consumers and audiences increasingly fragmenting and traditional media in the midst of a huge upheaval in working and communicating methods, then traditional companies need to be looking at experimenting (although, in all honesty, this is hardly experimenting) by contacting bloggers or engaging with people who want to talk about their brand.

It’s not scary, it’s not hard, and most people will realise – again, to quote Gemma – that you’re just doing your job. And if you do it well, they’ll respond accordingly.

Pitching to bloggers

Closing your eyes and diving into the unknown is a somewhat frightening prospect. It’s a little like how I feel pitching to bloggers.

The lines of communication between traditional media and PR are well established and any combustion is usually smoothed over. With bloggers it’s a bit different. Often there’s no existing relationship, and you have no idea how the blogger will react. Not everybody who blogs will appreciate PR bods butting in on the conversation and they’re under no obligation to write anything about whatever it is you’re pitching. Frankly, most of the time they don’t actually need whatever it is you’re pushing, and can happily carry on their conversation without you.

Worse still, get it wrong and the blogger’s got an immediate platform to (justifiably) complain about your cackhanded methods, which will do nothing for your Google juice. And, if you’re really bad, you could end up on a blacklist.

(And given that there appear to be some people out there who aren’t able to pitch to journalists properly, that’s not an unrealistic scenario.)

It’s understandable than some people in all areas of the media are somewhat cautious, even reluctant at reaching out to bloggers. But it would be a mistake to avoid attempting to make contact with bloggers for fear of getting it wrong. If your content, and pitch, is good enough then hopefully you can work into the start of a good working relationship that can be beneficial to both sides.

Strangely, as I started doing some ‘cold’ pitching to bloggers last week I also got an excellent and unexpected example of a ‘cold’ pitch in my own inbox. An email that contains the phrase “And unfortunately I come with no offers of pies, nor biscuits,” in the opening paragraph will get my attention as it’s clearly that

1. It’s been written by a human.

2. They’ve actually made an effort to read a bit about me.

The pitch, from Hyperlaunch, was concise, explained why I’d been contacted, and was detailed on the product I was being pitched. If I’d received it as a journalist and not a blogger [1] I’d have mentally been sketching out a story or a feature in my head by the final paragraph. That’s a sign of excellent PR, even more so when you consider the product being pitched – music site Muzu – wasn’t something I’d normally have paid much attention to. It was professional, personal and an textbook example, if such a thing is possible, on how to make cold contact.

I’ll come to Muzu in another blog post, mainly because I don’t want to head off on a tangent (chance would be a fine thing).

Now contrast this with the only other two pitches I’ve had directed to me-as-blogger. One was a generic press release which was half interesting but I didn’t have time to write about it and there was no sign anybody had made any effort to engage with me. Frankly, if you’re emailing a blogger who runs a one-man site and blogs under his own name, I don’t think it’s asking too much to at least add a hello.

But it was the second pitch that was a classic example in how not to pitch to a blogger. Not only was it something I wasn’t overly interested in, the pitch (now-deleted) went something along the lines of (and I’m condensing and paraphrasing here): “Hello. You’re a blogger. Here’s something we want you to write about. Because you should be grateful we’re bothering with you, please blog this before next week and let us know when you’ve done this.”

This was followed up 18 hours later with a second email along the lines of: “Hello. You’ve not responded to our email. Please indicate if you’re going to blog about it and if you’re lucky we may send you other stuff that we want you to blog about.”

Ok, so I’m being a bit facetious here. But you get the idea. Needless to say, they got a curt ‘no thank you’.

Based on my own experiences, both as a pitcher and a pitchee, it doesn’t seem rocket science to find the correct way to engage with bloggers. To be honest, it’s no different from cold pitching a journalist, and if you can do that, you’re probably not going to hack off the person you want to engage with.

So, for what it’s worth – and these aren’t exhaustive or necessarily to be applied in every situation – a few tips:

  1. Do your research. If you know a bit about the person or blog you’re pitching to it helps. No different from any publication, in that regard.
  2. Don’t assume that because they’re bloggers, they’ll gratefully hoover up any old shite. Group blogs especially will probably exercise a fair bit of editorial control. Much like any newsroom.
  3. Don’t assume that because they’re bloggers, they’re amateurs. Many bloggers are also journalists, or have some experience in these field. Others blog because they know the topic inside out. Or at least better than you do.
  4. Make it relevant. Even if it’s perhaps a bit tenuous, you’ve got to give the blogger a reason why they should be interested in what you’re promoting. Like you would to a journalist.
  5. Be prepared for an open and honest response. A lot of blogs will be happy to build links with PRs, but that doesn’t mean to say if they don’t like what you’re offering, they won’t criticise it. Like journalists should do.
  6. Don’t get offended by an open and honest response. Because since when has screaming down the phone (or email) at anybody ever achieved anything than making you feel better?
  7. Don’t abandon the blogger after they’ve blogged about whatever it is you’re publicising. If they’re favourable to your initial approach, it’s a good opportunity for a long relationship that could be mutually beneficial to both sides. Disappearing after getting what you want leaves the blogger feeling like they’ve just had a less-than-fun one-night stand.
  8. Include a note at the end to say that if the pitch isn’t welcome, then you’re sorry and won’t contact the blogger again. It’s just a nice bit of courtesy at the end of an unsolicited pitch.
For what it’s worth, as a blogger I don’t think it’s worth leaping online and letting rip if you don’t like the approach unless the approach happens to be really bad.
I’ve not blogged about the poor pitch highlighted above because, frankly, up until now it wasn’t worth my time. I’m only mentioning it now because it nicely highlights the point and even then I’d rather not give the company any publicity. If the company repeatedly hassled me, I might consider it. But I’m also willing to accept that it may be a one-off and I’m not going to burn bridges before they’ve been built. Although, writing from a public relations perspective, I’m always likely to say that.
There’s always been the temptation to see bloggers – and other social media tools and sites – in the same light a technophobe may have approached programming the video player for the first time. In fact, programming a video player is a hell of a lot more complicated.
Bloggers don’t usually bite unless you give them a good reason to. And if you treat them as you would any other contact, be it journalist or client, then chances are you’ll get the same respect and courtesy back, even if it’s nothing more than a polite ‘thanks but no thanks’. 

[1] And there’s no reason why these can’t be one and the same.


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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