Top 10 PR No-nos, Part II

Robert Mullins is a freelance technology writer in Silicon Valley. You can find him online at his Robert Mullins blog.
In my last post, I ticked off five ways PR people can tick off journalists. Now here are the other five, as collected by the Bad Pitch Blog:

5. You’ll be sorry. This hasn’t happened to me but I’ve heard it from other reporters that PR people have implied that they’re missing a great story by ignoring their pitch. Somehow, the theory goes, the reporter will be pulled into their editor’s or news director’s office the next day who’ll ask, “You HEARD about this story and didn’t follow up?” Bad Pitch says, “Good luck with that approach.”

4. One Bad Pitch poster bundled a number of miscellaneous no-nos, including “I told you I’d get the CEO, but…” The advice: never overpromise what you can deliver to the reporter. Another no-no, “I already pitched the Wall Street Journal but they said no.” This would be like Dick asking Jane out for dinner by explaining, “I really wanted to go out with Linda, but she turned me down.”

3. Can I review or edit this before it gets published? I still get this one. Here’s why reporters and editors don’t let sources see the story ahead of time. We don’t want them to see what we’ve attributed to them, have second thoughts about what they said and then try to change it. If the source said it, it stays in the story. There are a few instances in which I’ve shared portions of a story in which highly technical material is included to make sure I am explaining it right, but never the whole story. If the source is paying for words about them in the publication, then they can edit them beforehand. That’s called advertising.

2. We’re a big advertiser. Does that count for anything? Wince! Even if there is no intention to imply that because you’re an advertiser, therefore I should write about your company, the comment colors the whole rest of the conversation. When I worked for a business newspaper a few years ago, I trained myself to not even look at the ads because I didn’t want to know who was an advertiser. Sadly, some editors perk up when someone mentions they’re an advertiser, but none that I’ve ever worked for.

1. The unintended putdown. A variation on “I really wanted to go out with Linda,” this one covers the instance in which the PR person is trying to interest the publication but ends up insulting them. “We’ll give you a local exclusive on this. The Wall Street Journal is doing a piece, but we don’t view you as competitive.” Ouch. Also, “Sorry, we’re only briefing top tier media on this news.” Then why are you calling me?

Hope this helps. Again, most of the PR people I’ve worked with over the years have been far more professional than to commit these foot-in-mouth blunders, but the advice bears repeating. Call me any time with a pitch, but have these tips pinned up on your cubicle wall for reference.

IT Buyers Search for the Truth and Come Up Empty Handed

Sara Gates

We’ve asked Sara Gates, a respected leader in the information security world who is well known for helping companies move from early to mainstream markets, to be a guest contributor for the Attain Marketing blog. Sara’s expertise in strategy and product management – combined with a “get it done” attitude and practical approach to solving ITs most critical and timely challenges – brings a fresh perspective on B2B marketing that we hope will benefit all of our readers.

I have had the chance lately to speak with a number of mid and large size companies’ IT Buyers about their buying process. I found the following: IT buyers do not trust vendors. At all. Not one little bit. I should mention that I have been a vendor for over 10 years so hearing this has been a bitter pill.

These buyers seem to have become accustomed to this lack of trust. One Director of IT at a Fortune 500 company said, “trying to figure out which vendor is lying to you the least is tough” (ironically he is with a technology company). His sentiment is shared across a majority of people surveyed. In fact, over 90% of those surveyed indicated that they no longer trust their technology vendors.

They have a heck of a time getting to the truth on simple questions such as:

  • What does the product actually do and not do?
  • How much is this product going to cost me to deploy?
  • How much is this product going to cost me over the next few years (i.e., not just license cost)?
  • Are there special skills needed to deploy and run this product?

As these questions indicate, the lack of trust stems from a lack of transparency into the vendors’ products and services.

I have to ask: What are we vendors so afraid of? What would it hurt if the answers to these questions were available? What would the cost of transparency be? What would the joy of transparency be? I can’t help but wonder if there is a different, more transparent, way.

Five Big Don’ts for PR People Pitching the Media

Robert Mullins is a freelance writer in Silicon Valley. His work can be found at his Robert Mullins blog.

I’ve often been invited to speak to people at PR firms on how to deal with the media. In preparation for one recent visit I did a little online research and came across a post to the “Bad Pitch Blog.”

It was titled “Top 10 things you should NEVER say to the media.” I intended it as a fun icebreaker for my presentation to the people at this agency, assuming they already knew this stuff. Surprisingly, or dismayingly, many of them expressed appreciation at my sharing with them this eye-opening guidance. This I take to mean that these guidelines bear repeating.

I’m going to discuss my take on the first five this week and the rest next week.

10. Never say “This is off the record.” “If you don’t want to see it published, you shouldn’t say it in the first place. Does your source know this?” Bad Pitch Blog stated. I got a tip that a famous steakhouse was opening an outlet near a busy shopping mall in San Jose. I called an executive of the restaurant chain who confirmed that for me. Later I heard from the real estate agent who was trying to secure a lease for the restaurant told me that my story killed the deal. Again, tell your client that. To this I would add that you cannot apply “This is off the record” retroactively. Many have tried. While I might retroactively place something off the record, it would depend on the news value of the information versus the value of the source for a bigger story.

9. That isn’t a story. I love this one. Nothing increases the resolve of a reporter to continue pursuing a story than to have someone who’d rather you not do the story tell you it’s not a story. The reporter and editor – and ultimately the readers – determine whether it’s a story.

8. You should do this because your competition did this story in their last issue. When I was a reporter at the Milwaukee Business Journal, a weekly, I received more than a few press kits with clippings of articles from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the local daily, as proof that the client company is worth writing about. Knowing that our readers also likely read the local daily, evidence that the daily already did the story would mitigate against our doing it.

7. Did you get my e-mail, voice mail, etc.? Unless your e-mail to me bounced back to you, I got it. To be sure, there are times when your message gets buried in 100 messages just that morning to the reporter and there have been times when a call prompts me to dig for it and I may be interested. But Bad Pitch Blog suggests you call with something new added to the pitch, like “The CEO is available on Thursday” that freshens it.

6. You don’t cover this beat? Can you forward my pitch to the person who does? Bad Pitch considers it bad form and says the PR person needs to do their homework. It does relate to what I consider the most important thing a PR person should do: Know the publication you’re pitching to. These days, many publications have pages on their Web sites that reveal which beats reporters cover. Check that page to guide your pitch.

Next week: “Top five things you should never tell the media.”

Interview with Gene Kathol: Thought Leader and Financial Services Veteran

As a follow-on post to our Thought Leadership 101 blog, we’ve asked Gene Kathol, a respected financial services veteran, to discuss how companies can utilize participation in industry standards activities to increase their visibility and overall market stature. During his 33 year career at First Data, Gene Kathol became one of its most tenured and knowledgeable leaders – and was the company’s representative to industry standards groups both within the United States and internationally, most recently having served as Chairman of both ISO/TC68 and ASC X9, Financial Services.

Gene offers an in the trenches perspective on thought leadership in action with valuable insights on how companies can leverage participation in standard bodies to elevate their company’s profile.

Attain Marketing: From your perspective, why does a company like First Data believe standards participation is important?

Kathol: Using a hockey term, standards participation allows a company to “skate to where the puck will be”. While industry secrets are not divulged during standards development; industry trends, industry-wide developments, foreign developments, and related or adjacent industry developments are often discussed during the development of standards. Knowing where the market or industry will be in the future allows your company to stay viable and reinvent yourself, rather than having your competition reinvent the products you used to provide.

Attain Marketing: What are some of the primary benefits that companies gain by participating in standards groups?

Kathol: First, it is important that your clients’ needs and requirements are included within the industry standards that define your industry. Exceptions and variances to most any product increase production or marketing costs. Second, participation allows you to represent the needs and requirements of your company’s products. In addition to the negative impacts of increases in production or marketing costs by being “out of standard”, there are positive market advantages to be leveraged in the areas of purchasing, development, production, employment, marketing, and sales. The videotape industry comes to mind…Beta was a higher quality and more reliable product, but VHS became the industry standard…and Beta tapes were relegated to the Smithsonian.

Attain Marketing: In your opinion how does participation in the standards bodies demonstrate “thought leadership”?

Kathol: If you’re declaring your company to be an industry leader, you need to act like it. Participation in standards is the right thing to do AND your customers will recognize you for it.

Attain Marketing: What is one of the most unexpected benefits companies can gain through participation in standards work?

Kathol: Companies that get involved in standards work have the opportunity to rub shoulders with some of the best people in the industry and their most influential peers. You never know what opportunity will present itself at the next meeting…maybe you will meet that talented employee you’ve been searching for, forge a productive partnership or earn a new customer.

With all of the buzz today about social networking, everyone is re-thinking the value of their connections. While the verdict is still out for many on how Internet networking may or may not help companies successfully connect with influencers, participation in offline industry forums like standards bodies offers a tried and true form of networking. Whether you are a start up company or the industry guerilla these forums provide a level playing field that can help reinforce your position as a thought leader and industry influencer.

Traditional PR is Not Dead

The fat lady has yet to sing.

In the PR industry we’ve been hearing rumblings of the great shift from the reign of mainstream media to the rule of citizen journalists and social media channels. While we happen to believe that social media has forever changed the landscape of media relations (BTW, a great read is “Putting the Public back in Public Relations” by Brian Solis and Dierdre Breckenridge), we think the death knell may be more hype than reality.

Through a market research project, Attain Marketing has been in the trenches with senior IT buyers from a wide range of companies, including BofA, Phillips and First Data talking turkey about the IT buying process.

When asked how they first become aware of products and services, 95% of IT buyers interviewed said that trade publications were their number #1 resource. Although many did say they turn to IT peers to hear more about new products on the market, none acknowledged the use of social networking tools or communities as part of this process – right now. Analyst reports also topped the list of influencers, but mainly as part of the validation process.

So, here are some “old school” PR tips that never die:

  • Leverage key relationships with influential analysts and media. Schedule press and analyst “tours” in a 3-6 month cadence around company milestones.
  • Position your company/products around hot current events and submit articles to trade pubs for placement. Here are some good examples: PC World and Wireless Week contributed editorial
  • Always let your customers tell the story: editors are much more willing to write about a customer deployment than your product. Example: SC Magazine
  • Content is king. Journalists are looking for good stories. Period. See previous blog posts: Content is King and Some of My Best Friends are PR Weasels
  • PR campaigns should be integrated with marketing and lead generation efforts for maximum impact

Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Every company should evaluate the unique landscape in the market it serves, but usually a blend of the old and new PR strategies is the best recipe for success.