Over the years, I’ve worked with some great public relations professionals. This post is dedicated to them because they got it right.
That’s unlike other PR reps who wittingly or unwittingly make my job harder by their actions or inactions.
Here are my picks for the top 5 most annoying things PR people do:
1. Get the facts wrong. I recently did a feature story for a business publication that involved at least a dozen interviews and researching umpteen other companies and organizations. In the course of fact checking the final draft, I discovered that not one but two PR execs representing companies I’d interviewed had gotten important facts wrong, in one case the spelling of a source’s name, and in another, the spelling of a company’s name. Takeaway for writers: don’t rely on PR people to check facts for you. Thanks to an eagle-eyed copyeditor, neither of these mistakes will make it into print. But next time, I’ll make sure I fact check names myself.
2. Promise what you can’t deliver. Thanks to Facebook, Twitter et al, publicists can go all out drumming up attention for an announcement, event or new product release. But there’s a fine line between bringing attention to a news and bringing so much attention the sources associated with the event–or book launch or whatever it is–are inundated with interview requests to the point where they can’t accommodate all of them. That means some writers will go without, not a great way to win friends and influence media people. I know because it happened to me this week. Worst still is promising access to a newsmaker for an interview and then “forgetting” that they’re not available, or changing your mind about an interview. That happened to me this week too. Takeaway for writers: Don’t rely on promises of access. If they come through, great. But in case they don’t, have a back up plan. If you have to, do an end around a PR gatekeeper: show up at the source’s office, hand write them a letter, email them directly, call after hours when the switchboard is closed and they’re more likely to answer their own phones – you get the picture. Worst case scenario, you do the story without the source’s cooperation.
3. Interrupt during interviews. My preference is always talking to a source directly. Sometimes I just need to confirm a few facts. For that, interviewing a PR person who can act as a company’s or organization’s spokesperson is fine. Otherwise, if you’re a PR person, my goal isn’t to interview you, it’s to interview your boss, whether he or she is the executive director, CEO, author, etc. Unlike some writers I know, I’m not freaked by the fact that a PR person is sitting in – or listening in – on an interview, in business journalism that’s par for the course. But after we all introduce ourselves, be quiet. Let Mr. Big or Ms. President do the talking. If he, she or I need to follow up on something, we’ll ask. And that’s why I don’t mind having PR people in on interviews, because they’re great for that, and the good ones will have that missing statistic or study or contact name and number in my email inbox before the day’s over. But it’s not your job to finish anyone’s sentences, interject an opinion, or explain what I can or cannot write – all things I’ve had happen in interviews before.
4. Be a pest. Don’t send a press release and then follow up to see if I got the press release, then follow up the next week to see if I’ve read the press release. Don’t send me a press release at all if my beat doesn’t cover the organization or company you represent. Most PR people have this figured out. To all the rest of you over-eager newbies – chill. That’s putting it a lot nicer than this Houston Chronicle arts reporter did recently in a public letter to area galleries and arts groups published on Gawker. The flip side of this is just as bad. An agency announces an event you want to cover or offers an interview you want to follow up on and when you try to get more details the PR person’s vanished, gone, nowhere to be found.
5. Ask if I’ll send clips of a story when it’s out. I don’t get a lot of requests like this anymore. But I do get them. Back in the day, PR agencies could use a clipping service to keep track of stories that mentioned their clients. Today there’s a similar tool: it’s called Google. Use it. You’re getting paid to keep track of that stuff, I’m not.
Got your own favorite stories of PR people behaving badly? Please share.
Lest you think I’m blind to how poorly journalists can behave, and they can be pretty bad, I’ll share my top 5 stupid reporter tricks in an upcoming post – stay tuned.