PR’s self-perpetuating cycle of bad practice
|23/01/2013||Posted by Chris Lee under Blog, Public relations|
I was inspired to write this post by a Twitter conversation I had with Econsultancy’s senior reporter David Moth. The crux of his issue – poor targeting by PR people – is the same root of all evil as those other myriad anti-flack rants from journalists we’ve seen for years and years: junior PRs under pressure.
This is the reality at a lot of PR agencies: those conducting the media relations are usually junior PRs – the standard nomenclature is “account executives” – people who are often in their first PR role and fresh out of college. The people who are “coaching” (or more often than not, not coaching) them on how to pitch stories (again, more often than not these are non-stories) to media are account managers, themselves only two or three years removed from the coal face of pitching to media. They may still pitch, in fact, often in the same vein but tend to have more joy due to experience, accrued confidence and connections.
The people putting pressure on those account managers and therefore the account executives are the account directors. These ADs in turn are answerable to the client and their own agency’s directors. It’s a self-perpetuating cycle of fear pressure: the client wants coverage as it’s under pressure to demonstrate value and improve sales, therefore a lot of unnecessary press releases surface from the client with often unrealistic expectations on the results. The agency is sustained by those client fees, thus the senior team is also invested in making the crap releases “work”; the account managers feel the heat if they don’t work and the poor old exec is the one that has to pick up the phone and make it happen. And so it goes on…
The best lesson in PR? Be a journalist
I recently posted on what skills a journalist needs to succeed in PR, but an equally valid truth is that the best lesson one can have in how to “do” PR is to spend some time as a journalist or blogger. I was a journalist many moons ago (Computing, the defunct IT Week and founder member of what became V3.co.uk) and I currently contribute to New Media Knowledge, so am still pitched to by PRs. I am also a blogger, having set up The Guest Ale (beer and pub reviews) in 2011, so receive pitches from PRs as a blogger – and, as all good PRs will know, bloggers and journalists are not the same.
Journalists complain about the massive amount of rubbish they receive on a daily basis and they’re right. This is why I really enjoyed my four years at Rainier PR (now Speed Communications) – founded by former journalists Steve Earl and Stephen Waddington – and partnering with ex-Rainier PR people in my freelance career that left with the same ethos, such as Uday Radia (CloudNine PR), Chris Measures (Measures Consulting), Paul Allen (Rise PR), Emily McDaid (Hatch PR) and Stu Campbell, founder of Fire PR. Think like a journalist and you’ll have greater success with your media outreach.
I always cite Confucius in my digital media training courses: “When you speak, be sure your words are better than silence”. There’s so much noise out there, it’s key to keep your powder dry until you’ve got a genuinely strong story then hit your target media with it. And most importantly, understand that publication, its audience and your target writer. That way they’ll respect you as a PR practitioner – and trust is the key issue here – and you won’t get your email address sent straight to the spam filter. In other words, you’ll be a better PR and better results for your clients.
PRs need to be stronger and push back on clients demanding they scattergun out crap release after crap release. It’s not about the brand. It’s never about the brand. It’s all about the audience – the reader/user/customer – and the sooner those in the PR industry guilty of the above comms crime grow a pair and push back on clients – they are consultants, after all – the better it will be for everyone.
Is anybody listening?