The Ties That Bind: Achieving Better PR-Media Relationships
Whether we like it or not, PR agencies need editors and vice versa. The former need to promote their client developments, and the latter need new material every month or every week or even every day (depending on the frequency of the medium). It can be a cynical, unpleasant and hypocritical relationship, but I know that it doesn't have to be that way since I've liaised with some real PR pros. As someone who has worked for several years at one end of the spectrum, I'm sad to say that more often than not, work got done under stress and feelings of animosity –yes, animosity- towards an agency that simply could not understand how to help me help them.
Here are some issues that I've personally come across as an editor. If these things were attended to properly, it would strengthen media-agency collaborations, and be an all-around better situation for everyone involved- your clients included.
- Targeting "Dear Sir/Madam." You should know whether I'm a sir or a madam. My name is in the email address. If my name causes gender-confusion, just address me by my name and drop the salutation. The template emails you send are degrading- if we're making an effort to have a relationship with you, then you should address us properly, the same way that we address you. This just shows that you regularly go on an email-sending spree with little to no regard who you're contacting, hoping someone at the other end will pick it up. Under targeting errors, you can add pitching me a story when two months prior I covered that very same thing. If you don't know that I've written an 850-word piece about your client not 60 days ago, then you aren't in the loop. Most often I reply to these emails like this: "Perhaps you missed the coverage of X that I did last month. Here is the link X."
- Relevance "Dear Partner, We'd like to invite you to the launch of [insert fast-food brand] 34th branch grand opening!" That's great for you guys, but I'm a fashion editor and that's not a fashion show. I don't understand why I'm invited or how you'd expect me to write about your new F&B venture. You're not supposed to contact every single editor in your country, regardless of their audience and medium. We write for our readers and generally stick to our outlet's identity and aims, whether you acknowledge that or not. Trying your luck randomly is annoying, and you're wasting your time and ours. When we need information regarding a certain product, we research to find out which agency is handling that particular company's PR. We don't send requests to every single contact that we have, and it makes sense for you to do the same.
- Contacts "I'm sorry, who are you? Which newspaper?" I'm the person you sent nine emails to yesterday, and I'm not with a newspaper. Of course, all of the emails are addressed Sir/Madam, and of course, most of them weren't suitable for my audience, but I do expect you to know (even vaguely) who you've contacted. Your attitude and randomness make me not want to work with you- even when I'm dying to get that interview. Editor instincts are usually right; when we have an immediate inkling that you're unprofessional and that working long-term with you will be painful, it's usually not worth our time and effort.
I've personally seen it thousands of times –literally- and I've heard colleagues complain about it for years. I don't know how many times we're supposed to ask: please, for the love of everything dear to your heart, send us a press release with enough information and relevant visuals. Don't waste our time downloading and reading a file that only contains the name of the product and the company launching it, alongside a few quotes by "famous" people (who are these people?!). We need options of both portrait and landscape visuals in high resolution; we need contact information should we decide to proceed with an interview. Editors receive hundreds of press releases daily, and believe me, we usually choose to deal with the agencies that acknowledge and respect basic rules of information exchange. The other extreme is just as irritating: a dozen update releases are not needed. Overkill can also come in the form of interesting information buried under layers of unnecessary facts and figures- unfortunately it will probably stay buried.
Dereliction Of Duty
When we ask for certain information and you take a week to respond, that slot is going to someone else who delivered quickly and efficiently. What you can do is send an acknowledgement letting us know that you're working on procuring the material. Your schedule is busy and so is ours. When we send a press query and you simply ignore us, and then contact us for something else two months later, there's a good chance we won't follow up either. You're supposed to answer your emails, and you thinking our initial offer wasn't interesting enough doesn't give you the right to not do your job. This is about building a relationship with people in the media- it's a mutually beneficial thing because once I've worked with you successfully for one media outlet, chances are I will contact you when I'm at my next. As an aside, when you send us an email interview, give it the once over. Correct basic grammar and spelling mistakes since we won't bother using something like this: "We r intrested in making z city, a better place"- it's just not acceptable. When we tell you our deadline is on the 20th of the month, do not send us material late and expect it to go live since you flubbed our deadline and it's a trickle-down effect. We will not push our deadline for you and risk our business and let down loyal readers who expect us to be consistent.