PR Tips from the Other Side of the Fence

Taking a week off, and returning to work to sift through a deluge of email messages, has got me thinking. As a journalist, most of the missives I receive are from well-intentioned public relations professionals, pitching one company or another under consideration for the virtual pages of ChannelSeven.com or Internet Advertising Report. However well-meaning folks are, though, a mountain of email reveals some serious problems in the communications between PR agencies and journalists.

Lack of Targeting
One of the messages I received informed me that: “Expanding its market-leading position, law.com today announced its move into the $5.5 billion legal transcript industry by acquiring Denver-based realLegal.com, the legal profession’s leading Application Service Provider (ASP) for the creation, dissemination and management of trial and deposition transcripts.”

Interesting news. But it has nothing to do with advertising and marketing, which are basically the only things I cover. Maybe it’s easier to just send out these email press releases indiscriminately to a big list of journalists, but it hurts the PR industry. Because it’s my job to sift through these press releases, every minute I spend examining unrelated press releases (searching for any significance for the world of marketing) is a minute that I won’t be spending looking at your on-target release.

It goes without saying that you should know the publication to which you are pitching stories. But it’s amazing to me how many PR people fail to follow this basic principle. When I was associate editor of AtNewYork.com, a publication that covered Internet business in New York’s Silicon Alley, we would get emails and calls from firms pitching stories about companies located in faraway places like Minnesota. Hello! The publication is called “AtNewYork.”

Get With the Program
We’re a Web-based publication. We write about Internet companies and Internet news. So, why is it that people persist in sending press releases via fax or snail mail (or even worse, emailing faxes in that .tif format)? I don’t know about other Internet news organizations, but I can say that we rarely check the fax machine around here. A hot story can grow cold and moldy before we become aware of it, if it comes in through rarely-checked communications channels. E-mail is the way to go, at least when it comes to reaching plugged-in folks like myself.

Avoid Overkill
I don’t know how many times I’ve heard about a leading, global best-of-breed company with a robust technology solution announcing that it has forged a strategic alliance with a leading, top-tier, pioneering, premier provider of next-generation e-commerce applications. But, you know what? All of those superlatives simply made it more difficult for me to understand what of significance was really happening.

It’s embarrassing to have to call a PR person about a press release and confess that you don’t really understand what the press release was saying. It should be even more embarrassing for the writer of the press release, who tied up several people’s valuable time (and, possibly, their voicemail boxes) with queries that should have been answered by the text. Here’s an example, in which we’ve removed the names:

[Online advertising network] announced today that it has entered into a strategic alliance with [E-tailer serving small businesses], the eCommerce business of [Bricks-and-Mortar retailer].

According to terms of the agreement, [Online advertising network] will become the preferred advertising provider for [E-tailer serving small businesses].

“[E-tailer serving small businesses] chose [Online advertising network] because they are the premier online advertising network,” said the head of e-commerce at E-tailer serving small businesses. “[Online advertising network] will allow [e-tailer serving small businesses] to offer our target customers a wide variety of new and valuable services that can help them grow their businesses.”

After reading this, I couldn’t tell whether the online advertising network would be serving ads for the e-tailer’s site, or whether the online advertising network would be offering its services to the e-tailer’s small business customers through the e-tailer’s Web site. Why? Because “preferred advertising provider” isn’t very precise, and nothing else in the release made it any clearer.

Another pet peeve of mine is when I receive multiple copies of the same email message. At least 11 press releases in one week were duplicates or triplicates. Can you say unnecessary and annoying? More importantly, they numb the senses and keep me on the job of deleting emails, rather than on the job of writing stories about your client. It shouldn’t be too hard to check to make sure an email address isn’t on your list twice.

Now all this griping may lead you to believe that I cringe when I receive emails and follow-up phone calls from public relations folks. That’s absolutely not the case. But from my perspective, on the receiving end of this deluge of email, I believe that there are a lot of ways we could make the process more efficient and effective for all involved.

FYI
Here is a press release from a hypothetical company that we have deconstructed for you. I hope this makes things clear.

The company:
Usually describes what the company does with a maximum of puffery.
Raison d’Être:
The occasion for this announcement is…
Result:
How this affects Generic and therefore changes the world.
Press Release Generic, Inc., the global leader in masterminding corporate success for institutions large and small,

announced today their distribution of several key clients to associated firms.

This will allow Generic to strengthen its focus on implementing its proprietary ‘Client Positioner’ service to players in the high-tech arena.
Really means PR company without a niche specialty. Lost clients to competitors. Allows them to focus on clients they’ve had for years. Notice the term ‘Client Positioner’? That’s a Generic-ese term that attempts to make unique a service that every PR firm offers.
How we’ll interpret it Generic, Inc., a PR firm, lost several clients today. They hope to be able to keep the lights on.

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