Top 10 Do’s & Don’ts: A PR Executive’s Crib Sheet

It’s easy to play up the adversarial relationship between “Hacks” and “Flacks,” but the truth of this perennial love/hate relationship is that that we really do need one other. Although the value of PR professionals to journalists is often called into question, as this article points out, “the popularity of services like HARO and ProfNet should be proof enough that journalists have a need for PR professionals.”

That said, as PR professionals, our jobs are two-fold: Not only are we advocates for our clients, but we’re also here to make life easier on our journalist comrades. Between a non-stop news cycle, scary budget cuts and mounting competition for clicks, there’s a good chance they’re working in a pressure cooker environment, so the best thing we can do is to think from their perspective and assist rather than annoy. After all, it comes down to relationships, and there’s nothing worse than trying to work with someone who makes your job harder.

So, without further ado, here are our “Top 10 Yeas and Nays” for better PR practices. Although some may seem pretty obvious, those are often the ones that are first forgotten.

DON’T even think about…

  1. Not doing your research/reading a journalist’s articles before pitching. Know who you’re targeting, and only send something to them that you think would be of interest.
  2. Sending a pitch via email blast. The shotgun-spray approach is not appreciated; rather, think like a sniper.
  3. Asking if you can see and/or edit an article before it’s published. This is a huge no-no!
  4. Making up a response if you don’t know the answer. It’s perfectly acceptable to say, “I’m not sure. Let me check and get back to you.”
  5. Disregarding deadlines. Your journalist friend has theirs, so make sure you meet yours.

If you want to develop good working relationships, DO try…

  1. Respecting the journalist’s preferences. If they’re an email person, and you’re more comfortable on the phone, adapt. Work their way.
  2. Keeping pitches and releases short and to-the-point (and as buzz-free as possible). Repeat after me: Less is more.
  3. Thinking about how to streamline the process. Have assets and answers ready, and be available when the reporter is writing and may have a question. (Package the story beforehand as much as possible: angle, visual content, facts, references, spokespersons, etc.)
  4. Proofread, proofread, proofread. And when in doubt, hit spell check again before sending that pitch – perhaps even send to a colleague to review with fresh eyes before contacting the reporter.
  5. Focusing on relationships. I said it above, and I’ll say it again – it’s all about relationships. They make the job easier and a whole lot more fun! For example, interact with, read, comment on, share and praise a reporter’s work that you find of interest –  not just when it’s a story about your company or client.

And, as always, there’s often no better place to hear it than from the horse’s mouth. So unless you don’t mind finding yourself mocked publicly (yep, we’re quite aware of the conversations going on here, here or here), we also suggest checking out (and heeding!) veteran reporter Rafe Needleman’s Pro PR Tips: http://proprtips.com/

Which tips would you add to the list? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.

It’s All About the Details

Details have been on my mind lately – you know, the nuances in life that make life, well – interesting. I thought this topic would be a personal blog post, because the details that have stood out to me recently have been pretty personal. One of our three dogs passed away recently – a sad first for our family – and while the event itself was huge, it’s the little things that stand out the most in regards to his absence. The way my youngest son still pushes his plate back from the edge of the table because the dog used to steal his food, the empty chair in our bedroom where we’d find him every morning, the fact that I can put bird seed in my bird feeders again and not have to worry that the dog will eat it. These and many other little details are what remind me every day of the bigger loss.

So how does this post end up here, on our agency’s blog? Because it has occurred to me that it’s the details that matter in business, too. The big events are certainly the most memorable – winning new clients, watching the first sale come through, unveiling your new brand or opening a new store. But it’s the little details in between all these larger situations that really matter – and the little details that help you not only to keep your business up and running, but to beat the competition.

Are you thinking about the little details? Once you win a customer or a client, are you welcoming them and thanking them for their business? Does your website make an interaction with your company pleasant and easy, or are you making prospects work too hard to become a customer? Can they easily find what they are looking for? Do you have a waiting room that’s comfortable or stark? Do you think about simple yet “nice touches” that would make a prospect want to do business with you over a similar competitor?

Once you win a customer or a client, are you communicating with them regularly – but not more than they want? Do you know how your customers prefer to be contacted and how often? Have you asked? When you’re following up with a prospect, do you make them feel personally wanted as a customer? Just this week, a company followed up with me based on an interaction at a trade show (good) but I was turned off by the method (bad) of follow up and it made me not want to do business with them. I understand that companies need to maximize time – that sales leads have to be captured and plopped into databases (we’ve worked with enough sales and marketing software clients – Landslide, Salesnet, RightNow, Genius, etc. – to understand how it works and why). And maybe I’m naive, or expecting too much – but as technology gets better, it seems to me it could also help companies to at least appear to be more personable in sales. When I receive a sales email that’s claiming to understand my business, and want my business, but is clearly a generated “next step” email from a sales automation software solution, I feel insulted – not really wanted as a customer. When they use my login name as the lead – which appears as “christine” because I rarely capitalize when I’m signing up for something online – it’s obvious. It’s a little, tiny detail, right? But to me – it’s a detail that turned me off from doing business with this company. A little detail that turned into a lost sale.

On the flip side, we’ve got a client who – even as they’ve grown from startup to public company – calls each prospect when they trial a product. I remember the first time I tried Constant Contact – the call startled me – it literally happened within minutes of me entering my information online. I didn’t need help but you know what? Knowing that if I did – especially in this day and age of electronic communication – I could get a human on the phone, was a nice touch. It stood out – the call was brief, to the point and not intrusive. I was impressed – and that was before they were a client.

An experience that falls somewhere in between these two is a recent interaction with our bank. They recently upgraded some services for us and assigned a personal Account Manager (great!). He emailed and called me to introduce himself, which was good, but the little details that were missing, some that I felt could have made me a happier customer (and not feeling like a call was wasting my time), were some suggestions or thoughtful interaction. The introduction, in my opinion, could have included something more along the lines of, “We noticed you often do this, and we think this change will make your life easier – do you want to learn more?” It didn’t need to be anything complicated, but just something that showed a personal touch about my business and my banking habits that demonstrate you care about me specifically as a customer.

In PR, one of the biggest complaints reporters have always had is that they receive off-topic, automated emails from PR executives. PR teams do this – using software to automate email blasts – because time is money in our business, literally. Not only can you move faster and thus work on more clients and charge more hours, but the more pitches you get out, the longer a “We Pitched” list you can give to a client, right? Well, I guess that may be true – but the little details, taking the time to pitch a reporter with a custom email or call, mentioning personal details that remind them you know them or you at least know their work and read what they write – are more likely to yield big results. Would a client rather have a long list of “We pitched 100 reporters” – but no coverage results – or a shorter list of “We pitched 10 key publications and here’s the result – 10 quality feature articles”? I’m guessing the latter.

So take time to think about the details today. Whether it’s how you sell, how you service or how you build your business – branding, HR, promotion, etc. – caring about the little details can make a big difference.

How do you incorporate the little details in your daily business?

Persuasive Picks for the week of 01/18/10

topo5social Small Business Leaders Prefer ‘Passive’ Social Media, For Now
This MediaPost.com article by Ben Hanna shares the results of a recent Business.com study that revealed small business owners are still slow to engage in more “active” social media resources.

Why All Media Soon Must Be Social
Kirk Cheyfitz, CEO and Chief Editorial Officer of Story Worldwide, suggests that “social media” is not to far away from being plain “media,” and he provides a few excellent stories to strengthen the idea.

Social Media Development — Three Case Studies, Part 1 of 4
Conrad Hall kicks off a four part blog post series that chronicles three bloggers who have been very successful using social media to build their businesses while having their blogs at the center of their strategies.

Reporters and editors increasingly use social media to source, research stories
Freelance writer Helen Leggatt shares some impressive statistics from a recent Cision/George Washington University survey that shows how journalists are migrating to social media at an incredible rate.

Can Domino’s Turn Around Their Cardboard Reputation?
Rohit Bhargava highlights Domino’s recent campaign that spans both traditional and social media spaces, where they have invited (and publically shared) customer criticism – both good and bad.

Another Reason to Hire a Social Media-Savvy PR Firm

Earlier today, Cision and Don Bates of The George Washington University’s Master’s Degree Program in Strategic Public Relations released results of a national survey on how journalists rely on and use both social media and public relations resources for story research. While the headline, which reads “Majority of Journalists Now Depend on Social Media for Story Research” may have “social media experts” jumping to all sorts of conclusions and claims, reading further offers more validation that hiring a social-media savvy PR firm (or internal manager) is the best bet for your business.

Why? The study says that journalists “still turn to public relations professionals for assistance in their primary research” and that “most journalists turn to public relations professionals for assistance in their primary research.”

The bottom line is that PR experts who understand effective messaging and savvy story telling to the right audience will continue to be important – but more effective if they know how to reach key audiences where they already are – “fishing where the fish are,” as Coca Cola recently stated (slide 6). And for now, it looks like at least one of those audiences – source-seeking reporters - are on social media networks and using them strategically.

That leaves one question for you: Is your PR firm?

You can read the full news release and download the study’s results, here.

PR: Needed, If Not Loved – and Sorely in Need of Industry Change

I had the pleasure of receiving a complimentary copy of Rafe Needleman’s book, “PRO PR TIPS: Public Relations Advice from a Jaded Journalist” recently. (Thank you to its sponsor, ITDATABASE). This book is a brief and humorous – although sadly accurate – compilation of 100 tips that Rafe started originally as an occasional exasperated Twitter rant, which then became a blog, which now he published as this book. (He’s continuing to add to the blog, however.)

Most of the tips seem obvious. They attempt to help PR pros keep it simple with items such as “Tip #33: So lonely – When I say, ‘I really can’t take a call right now, I’m on deadline, can you e-mail me?’ please do not respond with, ‘But I really want to talk to you.’” or “Tip #11: Ruthless – Don’t take clients you don’t believe in.” Others might be a surprise to certain types of PR executives… such as “Tip #23: Lip Service – Please don’t kiss me. 95% of the time, it’s just awkward.” (Sidenote…kissing journalists? Maybe in Hollywood but not in the real world!)

My personal favorite tip was more of an assessment, really: “Tip #4: Needed, if not loved – No matter what people say, some companies really could use good PR counsel.”

It was good to read this acknowledgment, of course, but it brought me back to the question of why are PR executives so often the subjects of rants and raves? Why is such a seemingly docile profession so often the catalyst for a journalist’s wrath or a bad marketer’s scapegoat? Then I remembered several other items I’ve recently read that showcased exactly why, at least from a journalist’s perspective, PR is “not loved.” Just today, Jennifer Leggio, Social Business Blogger at ZDNet (and in communications herself for Fortinet, where she is the Strategic Communications Director), wrote this post, titled, “Public relations fail: A lesson and a rant.”And last week, Gina Trapani revived her “PR Spammers” wiki, calling out the domain names of agencies who have frustrated her.

So what is the lesson here? The lessons go far beyond the irritations with PR executive’s who kiss hello, spam-like pitches and overzealous jargon. The problem is industry-wide and won’t change until the PR agencies and industry leaders stop and take a serious look at what they’re teaching and doing each day. We’ve got to figure out how to change the archaic business model – how to make a profit without turning PR into a dumbed-down version of email spam because executives are under pressure to “hit” so many media targets (as opposed to working with a few for quality). It all seems so obvious – but the truth is, PR agencies don’t want to invest the time it takes to do the media-relations portion of PR well (the kind that doesn’t have the business world using PR as a dirty word every day.) And until we stop breathing down the necks of account executives about billable hours (and cramming in as much pitching as possible), this won’t change. We need an industry-wide call to action – it’s going to take a village to fix these problems and it’s only going to come in the form of a revised business model for agencies.

With the advent of social media and such public displays of humiliation, PR executives will be forced to choose between keeping the C-suite happy or keeping the journalists happy. Let’s not forget the clients need to be happy, too (although I suspect clients will need to learn to appreciate quality, solid strategy, long term ROI and good reputations over “quick-hit” quantity as well… but that’s another blog post).

We need a change so that the next book Rafe writes has tips like “Tip #4: PR – Needed and Improved. Hooray”