Want to do PR right? Here’s what not to do

Want to do PR right? Here’s what not to do

In recent years, the pressure for page views has transformed online journalism. No longer can writers spend a day, half a day, or even much more than an hour (if that) to get a story researched and posted.

In that environment, journalists depend to a disproportionate degree on contacts in the industry — generally PR people who either work directly for a vendor’s in-house operation or outside agencies that work closely with a vendor — and sometimes both.

This struggle for page views also puts pressure on PR operations and their clients because what good is a product if no one knows it exists and no one’s interested in it? Recent experience however has revealed new, higher pressure communication techniques to get reporters’ attention and stand out among an army of competitors. But some efforts are starting to backfire.

In a spirit of good will, I’m sharing some of my least favorite things that PR agencies and product vendors tend to do that make me trash your email on contact (yes, I do remember you).

Getting in touch

  • Do not ‘circle back’ six times to make sure I received your email. (And do not use the lame excuse that you’re having email server issues.)
  • Do not repeatedly call me on my cell phone (or my home phone that I was gracious enough to give you the number for your convenience, once) to pitch the same story you emailed me about.
  • Do not start a message with the words, “Did you receive the email I sent you?”
  • If I ask you to send me information, do not write back asking if I really want to see it under the guise of “not bothering” me. Please just send what you offered and I’ve asked for.

Giving out information

  • Tell me immediately what the product is, what it does, who it’s targeted to and how much it costs. That covers 90 percent of what I need to know to decide whether or not to follow up.
  • If you say you’re attaching a document, please do it. Don’t make me write back to ask you for it.
  • Do not send attachments accompanied by cryptic messages. If you want to send text, paste it right into the email where I can see it immediately.
  • Steer free of jargon and jargon-like language: Do not use words like leverage or vertical or influencer (in the same sentence, like I just did :)
  • Always include images of your product.
  • Know what you’re talking about. If you pitch a product, have some basic knowledge and be able to converse about it off the top of your head. We do not expect you to know the underlying science. But we do expect you to have a general idea of features and launch timelines.

What to say

  • Do not address journalists as “sir” as we are not all male. It’s OK if you don’t know me personally: Just be polite and introduce yourself, and I’ll get the picture.
  • Do not tell me that something is new when it merely a new version of an old thing. A new version is not the same as a new product.
  • Do not tell me something has been launched if it is still in beta — if it is a beta launch make sure that is clear. Something that’s in beta is different than something that’s officially released (except Google perpetual betas).
  • Do not let me discover things to ask you that you should have already told me.

After the pitch

  • If a journalist writes you back with a query about a pitch you sent, answer questions promptly and completely. Do not wait hours to answer a query quoting the same language that the journalist has asked you to clarify.
  • Do not send an out-of-office message after you’ve sent a pitch.
  • Assume that if a writer has asked you a question about your product that they are at least considering the topic for a story. Please stand by and be helpful.
  • Do not just offer a conversation with the CEO in lieu of answering simple questions.
  • Stick around: Our work day doesn’t end at 5 pm and neither should yours — especially if you’re overseeing a launch or major release.

Vendor advice

  • Please summon up enough creativity to pick a unique and meaningful name for your product. Do not name it something that already exists, or that is close to something that does. Because then I will be confused and will have to take the time to unravel a mystery. Worse, I will have to set aside time to explain the distinction to our readers (no, not that Widget but that Widget). That is boring and detracts from the focus on your product.
  • Do not send time-limited sample apps. If you send us an app, make it available in perpetuity. You are not giving away something for free when you give out a press copy. It’s the gift that keeps giving (for future roundups and how tos and other unforeseen references).
  • Do not try to build up suspense. Just come out with the pitch and dispense with non-informational teasers. Repeated teasers over several weeks or months do not pique my curiosity — they piss me off.

I hope these humble points will assist PR operations and vendors in their efforts to showcase their products and services to the world. Thanks for your help!

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