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Putting the Relations Back in Public Relations

A few years ago, Brian Solis and Deirdre Breakenridge wrote a landmark book about the shift in public relations to a social media world titled Putting the Public Back in Public Relations.”  This book helped many PR professionals cross the chasm to where mainstream PR exists today, and for that, many are thankful for their work, including me.

Though I would never claim this to be a landmark blog, nor do I intend to write a book on the subject, my assertion is that the wide adoption of technology in media practices has left a void when it comes to basic human relations and the value they bring to the table for successful media relations.  Perhaps this void exists in all areas of life, but I contend it definitely exists in the PR world.

In my own practice, I’ve seen where genuine relationships I’ve forged through years of common courtesies and best practices have yielded tremendous results for my clients. In a highly competitive and results driven field, it’s absolutely critical to remember that human relations are still the most valuable commodity in the business.  As a PR professional, it’s our job to care about the press, analyst and bloggers we work with, not because we want something from them, but it’s our job to help them be successful in their quest for good news stories and compelling technology updates.  This shift in attitude alone will kick start better results immediately.  You’ll find you’ll do a better job at bringing innovation and compelling stories to the table because your motivation is right.

If you’re sensing the need for better relationship building in your PR efforts, here are some tips that may help:

  • Show genuine concern.  Every person can sense whether or not someone really cares about them or not.  You may say, how does this apply to public relations, but I say if you care about the people at the end of the telephone line, skype session or video camera, they know it, and it makes a difference.  Take time to learn and remember important facts or personal interests of the media folks you are working with.  Consider their requests, constraints or personal challenges as important as your own.  You may want that interview, but if you ignore common courtesies in lieu of results, you may jeopardize a valuable long term relationship that could eventually will bear great fruit.
  • Do your homework.  We all know that nothing can be more irritating to a journalist than a PR person who fails to do their homework and sends an irrelevant pitch because they don’t know what the journalist’s beat is, or where their true interests lie.  I know we’ve all been guilty of this at one time or another in the throes of a mass PR campaign, but targeted, thoughtful pitches based on genuine research will put you on good footing every time.  You know what they say about first impressions, you get one chance.
  • Use more sugar than vinegar. It’s true that it’s easier to attract bees with sugar than vinegar; and in PR it’s no different: genuine friendliness and kindness can double your results.  A word of caution here: be yourself and don’t add too much sugar; like sweet tea in the south, it can be sickening. The media is being hounded by PR people who want their attention all day and every day so they are well aware of non-genuine attempts at friendliness.  Keep your personal tone and attitude of concern in line with what’s appropriate for the relationship: if you’re being genuine, this will be natural and appreciated.
  • Take time to say “Thank you.”  Again, this probably can be applied to all of life, but nothing can be more irritating than someone who never says thank you. A close tie to this principle is follow-up.  Once you get the interview or article, take time to read what’s been written and get back to the writer who took the time to cover your company.  You’d be absolutely floored at how many articles go without a word of thanks and if you take the time to follow through with the editor, how much they appreciate your thoughtfulness and will remember next time your pitch comes across the desk.
  • Go the extra mile.  This one can’t be overstated; if you get away from the “it’s all about me”, your relationship building efforts with the media will take on a new level of depth and long term success.  For example, take the extra time to track a story that you know is interesting to an editor even if it has no guarantee of producing results for your company. Spend the extra time to find a spokesperson for the media, even if it means you have to re-educate your entire executive and sales team about what it takes to build a customer testimonial program. Leave no stone unturned for providing innovative ideas for your media contacts.

These are a few examples of how to put the relations back into public relations but the list can be endless.  And while social media tools are great and a perfect way to send a quick note or tip, remember that the human voice and communication skills are still irreplaceable, even in a technology driven world.  The greatest relationships in life are built with genuine care, concern and investment of self and time.  This is certainly true in public relations and thoughtful consideration of these principles can organically grow your media relations efforts  and build long term successful results for your PR program.

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.”