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.

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.”

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.

Some of My Best Friends are PR Weasels

We’ve asked Robert Mullins, a veteran technology journalist who has written for high-profile publications like Silicon Valley Business Journal and Network World to be a guest contributor for the Attain Marketing blog. We think there’s real value for our readers to hear about PR trends and “in the trenches” stories from the media’s perspective. And, really, Lorraine did not ask for the shameless plug – but of course will take it (we are in the PR business). Enjoy!

Robert Mullins, freelance technology writer in Silicon Valley

Robert Mullins, freelance technology writer in Silicon Valley

I was happy to accept Lorraine Kauffman-Hall’s invitation to write for Attain Marketing’s blog about media relations. I’ve been a journalist for over 30 years including the last nine covering the technology industry in Silicon Valley. A lot’s changed, of course, for both PR and marketing firms and the media, but not the basic relationship.

Some journalists regard public relations people as a nuisance they have to suffer. One of my editors at the Silicon Valley/San Jose Business Journal refused to take calls from PR people. “We can do that?” I asked facetiously. But seriously, I understand the symbiotic relationship at work: PR people want media attention for their clients and the reporter needs access to the right people to make a good story. It’s up to the reporter to determine whether the story pitched to him is worthy of coverage or not.

After working with a PR person for a while, I get to know what kind of stories I can expect them to pitch and they understand what kind of stories I’m looking for. Of course, it doesn’t always work out that way. In the late 1980s, I was the news director of the NPR station in my hometown of Milwaukee. A PR person for one of the big hospitals was in my office asking what kind of stories I’d be interested in. I explained to him that being public radio, we specialize in “issue pieces,” in-depth reporting on weighty subjects like health care for the poor, cancer treatments or health care costs. He nodded in agreement and then promptly pitched a story about the hospital’s program to give free Teddy bears to kids injured and in the emergency room! It went in one ear and out the other.

No Teddy bears pitches in Silicon Valley where I worked with Lorraine when she did PR for network security firm Certicom Corp. and I covered the network security beat for the Business Journal. Lorraine was a consummate PR professional, knowledgeable about the company and its products and able to provide access to key executives on stories that were legit.

Some of my best friends are PR people and some of them say some of their best friends are reporters. Some PR buddies will go so far as to pitch a story or pass on a news tip that isn’t even about one of their clients.

Don’t get me wrong. We reporters still have to sort through the spin, tests claims, voice skepticism and ask the tough questions. And we have to be straight with PR people and tell them the Teddy bear giveaway is very thoughtful, but not a story.

I look forward to writing more for Attain Marketing’s blog about media relations in the age of the Internet and social media, dos and don’ts for PR professionals and the changing media landscape.

Robert Mullins is a freelance technology writer in Silicon Valley.