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PR Agencies’ “Imperfect Pitch”

October 17, 2012

Yesterday, the Australian Financial Review‘s Katarina Kroslakova published an article all about the ‘PR follow-up’:

“It’s mind-boggling how little the PR industry knows about the people they are pitching to.”

While Katarina is the editor of Life & Leisure weekly and Luxury magazine for the paper (so perhaps more prone to frivolous PR content than most journalists) I’ve heard the same frustrations regularly over the past 15 years from journalists in the business and technology field.

So, why can’t PR agencies get it right? For a start, the follow-up is seen as a necessary evil, for these reasons:

  1. Email is a poor communication channel. You can’t rely on sending through a press release via email or through a distribution service, and expect that it will be noticed, let alone read, by the targeted publications or journalists, because: a) they are sent so much poorly-targeted, inappropirate rubbish on a daily basis that you can understand why they didn’t think that your press release would be relevant or newsworthy; b) email is an imperfect communication channel and email headers can disappear from the viewing pane in the blink of an eye as more emails pile in; or c) some journalists have poor email management skills.
  2. Client pressure. Clients put a lot of pressure on PR agencies to do their utmost to generate coverage, despite an announcement’s low news value – so the agency feels compelled to show that they have followed up with all key publications and journalists. Agencies need to be a lot braver in advising their clients, because futile follow-ups only cause reputational damage to that agency and its client in the eyes of the media.
  3. Perceived newsworthiness of content. Worse than feeling compelled by the client to follow-up, some PR agencies feel that they have the right to dictate what they believe is newsworthy, rather than allowing the journalist or publication to make that judgment call on their own.
  4. Opportunity for contact. The follow-up provides practitioners a good opportunity to engage one-on-one with journalists, in an environment where it is increasingly difficult to find opportunities to do so. There are fewer press conferences and events, and the pace of the news cycle today means that most journalists and PR practitioners have very little time free in the day just to have a chat, a coffee or a drink.

So, it looks like we are stuck with the PR follow-up. How can agencies improve the experience for journalists?

  1. Don’t put your most junior people on follow-up duty. I know the temptation is there to do it – a) they are a cheaper resource for what is a time-consuming task; b) nobody likes to do it, and it’s the most junior team members who aren’t in a position to say no; and c) it’s seen as a low-skill task. However, while they might be enthusiastic, junior team members are the least likely to have a deep understanding of the publications they are calling or the client they are representing, and they are also unlikely to know much about the journalists they are speaking to, apart from a couple of paragraphs in a briefing document.
  2. Improve the quality of your written material. Get straight to the point in your cover note, and make sure that you take the time up front to tailor the message, specific to each journalist. Use that tailored message as the starting point if you do get on the phone to follow-up.
  3. Be more targeted. Be very clear about your objectives before distributing a press release. You should already be clear on which publications are most likely to run with the story, and only focus on these publications for follow-up.
  4. Let it go. If you have set realistic expectations with the client before the campaign kicks off, and you are achieving to these goals, just let it go. There are countless times when publications that I would have expected to run a story in a heartbeat never do – but i try not to lose any sleep over it. There are any number of reasons why the story didn’t get a run – but at the end of the day, it’s the journalist and the publication who ultimately decides what’s worth writing about – so just try again next time.
One Comment leave one →
  1. Niamh permalink
    October 18, 2012 8:39 pm

    Reblogged this on Love PR?.

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