Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Better Rules of Engagement

My post earlier this week reflected on the current state of media relations and whether or not the pitching system is broken. My unwavering stance is that the current system IS broken, but it does not mean that it is not beyond repair or at least tweaking.

Recent trends (listed in my post called the Pitching System IS Broken) indicate a shift in how PR professionals and members of the media are distributing, receiving and more importantly interacting with each other. I alluded to what we need are better rules of engagement to fix or at least begin to salvage what traditionally has been a symbiotic relationship between good PR professionals and media representatives.

For what it's worth here's what I think needs to happen:

Get back to relationship building: This seems to be a universally accepted concept on both sides. Journalists don't want spam and (good) PR people don't want their reputations trashed. For PR firms and individuals that specialize in specific industries (health care, tourism, fashion, etc.) this may be easier than for others. But at the end of the day, we all represent companies with different goals, focus, and services that make it necessary for us to reach out to a wide array of target media within and outside specific industries to demonstrate different relevant aspects of a client's business.

Realize that not all media has the same needs: The media business (yes, it is a BUSINESS - not an information service) has changed. Newspapers are in trouble, ad revenues for some trade magazines are down and even with shift online and to more integrated approaches, publications, bloggers and even broadcast media appreciate good content that goes beyond the typed press release or media alert. Getting (and yes this does take convincing) clients to provide additional content resources (blogs, webinars, podcasts, twitter feed, bylines, white papers, case studies, interactive video, online games, interactive maps, photos, 3-D diagrams, videos, social media , tele and video press conferences, trade shows, mobile (SMS) updates, etc.) takes some doing. Clients aren't always willing to take the risk, but we owe it to our industry to examine some of these ways to present content and information to a wider audience, including the media.

Members of the media now often are forced to address multimedia platforms for their publication. So a newspaper columnist may now have a blog, a regular radio spot or show (with the convergence of media conglomerates this is more prevalent), as well as Flikr page, Vimeo or YouTube channel in addition to their column. The more relevant and interesting content we can provide a member of the press, the more likely and the better chances we have of helping that reporter, editor, blogger, etc. tell a good story to their audience.

Recognize the news cycle has changed: A few years ago, PR people were "jazzed" about the twenty-four hour news cycle and how that created more opportunity for their clients to be covered. Yes, we still have the perpetual news cycle, but what we have more now is an inclination to report stories more in-depth and with better tools (think CNN's use of Google Earth and touchscreens for election returns). This means that the news cycle isn't as wide open or inclusive as we would like to think. Instead it means that more resources should be devoted to exploring different angles of larger stories with a strong consideration and emphasis on how a client can be strategically positioned.

Warnings need to be given and heeded: As a reporter if you feel you are spammed, issue a very short e-mail saying you do not wish to receive this type of information and you wished to be removed from the list. If you are interested in the company, but not necessarily the current news, issue a short e-mail saying "interested in your company but not recent announcement, please keep me on list. Particularly interested in information regarding (insert relevant topic here)." This is helpful and much appreciated.

PR Peers: let's agree if you receive an e-mail from a reporter saying to take them off your list you DO IT. Even if the reporter/editor is on your client's "must get" or "short list." We may not always get (and we certainly aren't entitled to) an explanation as to why this reporter doesn't want to hear about a company, service, product, financial disclosures, corporate responsibility campaign, etc. (It would be nice, but we're not entitled). This becomes an issue of self-respect in the industry. Media are smart. If a company is purely "trolling for ink," they can tell and probably aren't interested. If we fail to heed reporters or hound them like dejected two-year olds ("But, why?") Then we deserve to be outed on PR spammer wikis and have e-mail domains blocked.

That being said, there also needs to be room for redemption. One bad pitch should not end a PR person's career (unless it meets the criteria mentioned in my previous post). There needs to be a meaningful dialogue between media and our profession to fix this problem. It means it will take work from both sides. It means as PR professionals, we need to discuss alternative types of media relations strategies with our clients, and manage their expectations. It also means that media (within their ability) needs to communicate directly to PR people about what is unwelcome. I am certainly not advocating that media respond to every irrelevant pitch (they don't have time), just respond to those individuals aren't necessarily off-topic but may be a resource (not just a source) for you down the road.

What are your thoughts on ways to reform the pitching system?


Speak Media Blog said...

Right on, Colleen! I am going to link to this from my blog.

PR has always been about personal relationships and tailoring the brand's story to each individual reporter's angle.

This is such an important topic!

Jennifer A. Jones

SCA MarCom said...

Thanks for your insightful post. I think you're right about the relationships -- techonology is cool and fun but really it's simply another tool for building those relationships.

I'd paraphrase some of what your saying as "learn to think like a producer." I've used that with employees for years and it still works. Once upon a time, thinking like a produce just meant that you understood the needs of a particular medium (what can you SHOW tv; what can radio HEAR; etc). The same is true, the mediums are just expanding and blurring.

I'll be cross posting on my blog (for my team) and linking back to yours.

Stephanie Elsea