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Not All PR is Good PR

4449585823 c8893f33e8 Not All PR is Good PR
This is a post by PR columnist, Alison Kenney.

Want to know reporters’ pet peeves about working with PR people?


Me neither!

But attend any panel session that includes members of the media and the question ALWAYS comes up.

At first the reporter will get a look on his or her face like, “oh, wow, where do I begin?” Then they’ll start off answering the question in a nice way, “well, it’s helpful if the PR person who is contacting me has a relationship with me, or has maybe even read my work and can reference that in the pitch.” But then they get warmed up and watch out! Soon you’ll all be chuckling over the crazy things PR people do when they are pitching stories.

Why do we do this to ourselves?

Most reporters don’t start out spouting off about how annoying PR people are (notice I said “most”) – it’s the PR people who ask them this question. I suppose we ask it because we have an inner desire to do better, or maybe it’s to ingratiate ourselves to the media. I also suppose it’s a PR rite of passage of sorts in which every junior PR person must be exposed to hearing first-hand the rantings of the “other side” and have their blinders removed, so to speak.

But it seems to me that the answers are always astoundingly basic and are only exposing the mistakes of moronic individuals or of a few bad apples.

The two annoyances that come up most frequently when the media is asked this question have to do with follow up calls (either calling when reporters are on deadline or following up excessively) and receiving pitches that are completely off the mark. So do your homework, folks, and understand who you’re pitching and their position with the media outlet, as well as how they work, including their deadlines.

Are we that masochistic?

Are PR pros using their voyeuristic gene to focus on all the bad examples in the industry? How else to explain the popular and authoritative Bad Pitch Blog? Or the site’s efforts, as well as Gawker’s, to “improve the PR industry through ridicule”?  Or the viral path that PR screw-ups have taken recently, such as when a BrandLink VP failed miserably in pitching the Bloggess?

It’s gotten to the point that the industry has started debating the value of publicly outing bad pitches, like Arik Hanson does in his post, Are We Helping or Hurting by Blogging About PR Flameouts?

This doesn’t happen in other industries

Can you imagine a group of lawyers asking a judge about what courtroom behavior is the most vexing? Or scientists asking the FDA for tips on speeding up drug approvals?

Of course there’s a difference between “peeving” someone and royally mucking up a brand’s reputation. In any industry, the latter could cost you your job. But, in our industry, the consensus seems to be that there’s value in talking about what not to do.

Do you agree? Disagree?

Alison Kenney an independent PR practitioner with more than 15 years of PR consulting experience. She is based on Boston’s North Shore and has worked with organizations in the technology, professional services and consumer industries. She writes a bi-monthly PR column on You can find her at Learn more about Alison Kenney.

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6 Comments - Add yours!

Lou Covey (February 2nd, 2012)

I started out on the journalist side of the equation and entered the PR side because the money was better and I knew I could make a difference with my experience. So I know where the arguments fall regardless of perspective. Now I’m back on the journalist side and I have to say, it has gotten worse, not better.
There was a time that PR folks actually had some journalism experience. 99 percent don’t know and it shows. They don’t know the codified code of ethics journalists follow, they treat the journalists like they are doing them a favor by getting them an audience with their company’s royalty and, what’s worse, their company does everything they can to discourage their reps from acting in a professional manner.
Journalists still suck it up on a regular basis and let the incredibly rude and unprrofessional behaviour slide because very few practitioners that contact them actually have any real training in what journalism is. Those that do took a couple of seminars for the most part.
Now I am talking about the grunts who do most of the initial contact with the press. They don’t do their homework, they just go off of generic lists that can be bought from various services. I’ve used a few of these and found very few to be accurate or helpful (one of the exceptions has been Engage121) but for the most part, nothing takes the place of actually reading and comprehending what the target journalists do. That takes time and most clients aren’t willing to make the investment it takes to do it right.
At the end of the day, I blame penurious corporations who refuse to support a truly effective PR practice and prefer to complain when their cheapskate programs don’t perform as they expect.

Gini Dietrich (February 2nd, 2012)

“Can you imagine a group of lawyers asking a judge about what courtroom behavior is the most vexing? Or scientists asking the FDA for tips on speeding up drug approvals?”

That made me LOL!

The thing that is bothersome is, you’re right, EVERY session with journalists we hear the same thing, yet we don’t do it. And add fuel to the fire that now some of us are bloggers pitched by these PR people who still don’t listen.

Lou is right. It’s gotten worse.

M Haviland (February 2nd, 2012)

With career work as a reporter and PR professional, I feel the problem has two primary root causes: (1) most of today’s young PR account staff, while brilliant with social media, have grown up in a culture that no longer values the media. Still needs the media, but trashes them often! The professional approach that good journalists deserve has never formed. (2) The mentor relationship, and the solid training in media relations (!) that experienced PR people used to offer, is no longer a priority in many PR operations. Which is sad, really.

Alison (February 4th, 2012)

After reading Gini’s comment, I thought a follow-up blog on why we still have bad PR practices would be worthwhile. The funny thing is that none of the reasons that immediately came to my mind where the same ones that M Haviland points out. Hmmm….

Maybe talking about these bad practices *is* worthwhile…

Trace Cohen (February 6th, 2012)

I agree with you that getting covered is harder than ever because of the shrinking newsrooms and the fact that PR professionals outnumber journalists 4:1 now. This makes creating a “relationship” with them almost impossible because you and a thousand other PR professionals are trying to do the same thing, not including the countless small businesses and entrepreneurs. Let me make it clear though that this isn’t the fault of the journalist but the large media companies they work for with their broken business models that force them to write write write.

For your example of this in other industries, I couldn’t disagree more. If I was a new lawyer and had the opportunity to ask a judge about etiquette and how to improve myself, I would love that opportunity. And I would be amazed if scientists didn’t work with the FDA to speed up or expedite the approval process. The same could be said for sales or anyone making a presentation, they generally ask for feedback on how to improve.

Either way, at the end of the day I see the PR industry starting to own content creation as more journalists lose their jobs and join the ranks. We will soon rely less on the media’s coverage as social media has allowed us to directly engage with our customers.

Alison (February 6th, 2012)

Trace – I think you’re right that lawyers and judges or scientists and FDA officials benefit from working together. My point was that they probably respect each other more than the media respects PR professionals. As @iJoeldon said on Twitter “Is there a Bad Surgery Blog? Bad Rocket Science Blog?”

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