Recently I had a salesman contact me to set up a meeting to discuss how his company could be a resource to me. His email looked automated to me, so I didn’t bother responding. However, a week or so later, he followed up with me, including his first email below and asking if we could set up a phone conversation. I was familiar with his company and didn’t see how he could possibly help me, but I decided to give him a chance, as I’m always open to learning about resources that can help me do my job better.
Fast forward to this morning. He called and we spoke. He wanted to know what my department does; a simple Google search of the term “media relations” could have easily told him that, but I explained it anyway. After a bit more awkward questioning, he admitted that he actually couldn’t help me, and we ended the call.
While this exchange was a waste of my time, I only lost seven minutes. I idly wondered how much time he’s lost as a result of his poor up-front research.
It also made me think about the often-antagonistic relationship between journalists and media relations professionals.
When I majored in journalism at UNLV, I often heard PR called “the dark side.” While it’s somewhat of an industry joke, I could tell there was something there. Nonetheless, I joined Imagine as a part-timer my senior year and went full-time upon graduation. Many of my journalism friends joined the local media scene. We all kept in touch.
I used my experiences as a managing editor, reporter, copy editor and photographer at The Rebel Yell, as well as my more limited experience as a post-college freelance reporter, to guide my actions as a media relations pro. I treated journalists, editors and producers as I had wanted to be treated when I was “in the industry.” Only pitch newsworthy information, write in AP Style using the inverted pyramid format, respond to media requests immediately to ensure you get them what they need way before their deadlines, provide periodic updates if things are taking longer than anticipated, assist where needed without getting in the reporter’s way, keep everyone on time, deliver what was promised (or more), find a replacement (even a non-client) if your client cancels and leaves the reporter in a tight spot. Pitch on target!
In the years since I graduated, I’ve heard time and time again from my reporter/editor/producer friends about how bad so many PR people are. And one of the biggest complaints is that they don’t pitch on target. (Another big one is that they don’t respond quickly to media requests.) Sports reporters receive education pitches. Business writers receive health care pitches. Everyone wastes time sifting through all the off-target pitches looking for the info that can actually be of use to them. Many just delete everything that’s not from a trusted source. Likely, good stuff has been deleted in the process; but who has the time to sift through all that junk?
Which brings me to my point. So often, people do what’s easiest for them instead of what’s easiest for others; in these cases, pitch anyone and everyone and see who responds. But not only does this tactic not work, it wastes a lot of time and brings about general ill will for entire industries. And that doesn’t benefit anyone.
Even if you’re not in a sales-type industry (although in the business world, who isn’t?), I encourage you to look at some of your own processes with this question in mind, “Am I doing this because it’s the best way to do it, or am I doing it this way because it’s easiest for me?” If it’s the latter, think about this: “What are the possible consequences of approaching things this way?” If you don’t like your answers, consider ways to approach things differently. You might like the results!
Melissa Biernacinski serves as Director of Media Relations for Imagine Communications.
Contact Melissa at firstname.lastname@example.org.