Why Journalists Get Cranky About PR

Why Journalists Get Cranky About PR

I debated whether to write this post and actually decided to take a pass on it.

Then, the same mass blast came to me a second time and prompted the change in heart.

It’s more than sad when a PR company, in this case Media Connect (part of Finn Partners which sits under the Ruder Finn, Inc. umbrella), can’t even keep track of who’s been pitched.

I’m not going the throw the junior account person under the bus. She no doubt was following orders from above.

A little bit of background –

My blog on storytelling has landed in various marketing databases, resulting in my being categorized as an “influencer.”

This puts me on the receiving end of a periodic pitch.

No problem.

But why are PR companies still resorting to mass blasts? Do they really want to be in the email marketing business?

I’ve pasted the mass-blast pitch from the division of Ruder Finn that came my way promoting Peter Guber’s book, “Tell to Win,” at the end of this post.

If the PR person had taken 60 seconds to do a Google search [site:ishmaelscorner.com Guber] she would have known that I’ve already reviewed the book.

If the PR person had taken another 60 seconds for a general search [“lou Hoffman” and “guber], she would have discovered that I wrote and placed a review of the book in VentureBeat.

Yet, the pitch closes with “Let me know if you’d like a review copy of the book …”

Not one nanosecond was put into connecting the client’s agenda with the target’s mission. Pasting a “Hi Lou” into the email does not count.

The irony isn’t lost on me, a pitch for a book that preaches personalized storytelling has none.

What really bothers me is that this type of bad PR reflects on all of us.

For all the great work that comes out of the PR profession, the mass blast disproportionately shapes the perception of journalists.

I recognize one post does not beget a revolution, much less a change in our profession.

But if this can serve as a reminder to a handful of folks – including those in my own firm – to stay clear of the mass blast, I’ll consider that a win.

Note: I corrected a mistake in the original post. Media Connect is not part of Ruder Finn (12/6, 1:50 pm)

Here’s the original pitch (for recreational use only).

Hi Lou,

CEO and legendary Hollywood producer Peter Guber has long relied on purposeful storytelling to motivate, win over, shape, engage and sell.  In TELL TO WIN, Guber recounts how his knack for telling stories as an entertainment industry executive has, through years, evolved into a set of principles that anyone can use to achieve their goals.

To validate the power of telling purposeful stories, Guber includes in this book a remarkably diverse number of “voices”–master tellers with whom he’s shared experiences.  They include YouTube founder Chad Hurley, NBA champion Pat Riley, clothing designer Normal Kamali, “Mission to Mars” scientist Gentry Lee, Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank, former South African president Nelson Mandela, magician David Copperfield, film director Steven Spielberg, novelist Nora Roberts, rock legend Gene Simmons, and physician and author Deepak Chopra.

Peter Guber has served as Studio Chief at Columbia Pictures; Co-Chairman of Casablanca Records and Filmworks; CEO of Polygram Entertainment; Chairman and CEO of Sony Pictures Entertainment; and Chairman and CEO of his current venture, Mandalay Entertainment Group. Films he personally produced have earned over $3 billion worldwide and include the box office hits the Color Purple, Midnight Express, Batman and Flashdance.

Peter was recently selected as one of LinkedIn’s 150 global and industry-leading luminaries, along with President Barack Obama, Mitt Romney, and Richard Branson, among others. Here is a link to his latest blog–”Inciting Innovation as an Organizational Imperative”.

http://www.linkedin.com/today/post/article/20121113183952-101213441-inciting-innovation-as-an-organizational-imperative?published=t

Let me know if you’d like a review copy of the book or any additional information.  I can also offer a pre-written Q&A, chapter excerpts, and book giveaways.

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15 comments

15 Comments so far

  1. Matt December 6th, 2012 2:27 pm

    Of course the mass PR email blast is (supposed to be) taboo. Journalists have rightly adopted the F-bomb (“Flacks” to the non-media reader) for PR practitioners because, let’s be honest, it’s usually a VERY JUNIOR and clueless employee going through the motions of a workflow put in place by a never-was-and-never-will-be mid-level PR account manager. The results are painful. The results are embarassing for both the firm in question and, even worse, the company that employs the firm to precipitate positive exposure.

    On the other hand, journalists need to be put on the spot as well. No matter how good a PR person is, dealing with a large portion of the media is a painful process. You can be extremely polished, to the point, right on the money, engaging in the Influencers subjective medium of choice — essentially teeing a reporter up and almost doing ALL of the groundwork for him/her, and still be ostracized. I, for one, considered myself excellent while I was in PR. I was confident, did my research, and pitched like a champion based on knowing exactly what the reporter/Influencer wanted/needed to hear in order to help catalyze an article that benefitted both the outlet and my client. Thankfully, I’ve moved to in-house marketing strategy, but my heart does bleed for those struggling “Flacks” that are merely order takers — underlings of unaccomplished, uninspired, and downright lazy mid-level management.

  2. hoffman December 6th, 2012 2:59 pm

    Matt,

    You make valid points.

    It is usually junior people on the front lines which never made sense to me.

    If media coverage is one of the most visible variables in the client’s perception of Agency success (if not the number-one variable), it seems logical for agencies to deploy a mix of talent including senior folks in media relations.

    I would add that clients have a role in this as well, needing to recognize media relations is not a commodity. Thoughtful outreach costs more than mass blasts.

    Thanks for weighing in.

  3. Matt December 6th, 2012 3:09 pm

    Harkens back to M. Arrington putting the limelight on such a well intentioned PR Account Associate/Executive: http://techcrunch.com/2010/03/24/great-moments-in-pr-part-349/

    I honestly think being on the front line is invaluable. It sure trained me up! Though it warrants at least a modicum amount of training and preparation; otherwise, they’re merely lambs for the slaughter — perpetuating the stigma and fanning the flames.

  4. hoffman December 6th, 2012 3:13 pm

    Exactly.

  5. Dan McCarthy December 15th, 2012 7:34 am

    Well put, Lou. I’d add that the spamming technique is not always misguided. It represents a polar POV that values scale over targeting, lower cost over premium. In paid media, this school of thought is embodied in the ad tech/programattic buying practices. In communications, it’s embodied in the scale approach of press release distribution engines, link building programs and email blasts.

    Measurements like total reach, links and even conversion into specific actions, like web site visits, often favor the mass approach. The ROI benefits from low cost and large reach. What these measurements don’t capture is the dilution of the message, the fragmentation of the story without controls, and the inevitable bad brand impression generated by the kind of experience you had.

  6. hoffman December 15th, 2012 3:07 pm

    Dan,

    Great input.

    Your clinical explanation makes sense.

    It’s interesting that a PR agency would conclude there’s better ROI with a mass blast to publicize a book than a more hand-crafted approach.

    I can’t imagine the approach working with quality targets. Taking it a step further, if it’s a choice between 5 quality pieces of coverage versus 50 in inferior targets, I bet the quality coverage actually delivers more traffic back to the site.

    Then again, I know there are clients out there that still measure success by the pound.

  7. Dan McCarthy December 15th, 2012 3:37 pm

    You don’t have to be on the traffic impact of quality interactions. I’m sure you see it with your posts. I’ve got some posts from three years ago that continue to drive dozens of visits a day. And we’ve executed programs for clients that have been highly targeted — a wholly digital blogger press conference, for instance — that had more impact that broadly distributed releases.

    Goes without saying that it’s all about goals and measurement. And I’m not going to get started on measuring, because it’s the one thing that is missing from the equation more frequently than not.

    Enjoy your writing and I’m glad to have found you.

    Dan

  8. hoffman December 15th, 2012 3:54 pm

    Fair points. Thanks for taking the time to weigh in.

  9. Jason Gerdon February 10th, 2013 2:14 pm

    You make some great points Lou, namely that in PR, we’re in the relationship business. But it is hard to have a two-way relationship when the other party (the media) seem disinterested in being party to it. I get the media landscape has changed, but I feel in many ways the media is just as responsible as PR is for the laziness of the mass email. Granted, there are many exceptions to that blanket statement – both on the PR and media side – but in general, I feel as though many members of the media have become elitist and arrogant. They see this relationship of storytelling as being all about them alone, and us as PR folks as just servants to their grandeur.

    In order for all this to change the entire storytelling apparatus needs to have a heart-to-heart. The media need to realize they’re not as important as they think they are, while PR folks need to have the same revelation. Members of the media need to take the time to get to know PR folks just as much as we need to get to know the media we pitch. The relationship model in storytelling can no longer be one based on immediate fulfillment of self-interest. As a whole, the relationship between PR and media needs to be about the collective good and what tells the best story for the intended audience.

    Probably a bit altruistic, but my two-cents. Both PR and media exist in a world demanding instant results where the mantra is constantly, “yeah, but what have you done for me lately.” We (PR and media) need to work more closely together as a collective, rather than individual pieces of the same apparatus.

  10. hoffman February 10th, 2013 2:46 pm

    Great take Jason.

    Could have been guest post.

    I agree with many of your points. But part of the PR function does serve as sa upporting mechanism to journalists and other influencers. If you buy into this premise, then it stands to reason that PR needs to understand what defines success for a given journalist and act accordingly.

    No journalist earns an “attaboy” from rehashing a story that’s appeared or is going to appear in a zillion other places. Which brings us back to the concept of one-off storytelling, the antithesis of the mass blast.

    You’re right. There are arrogant journalists – I’ll call them “unpleasant” to be kind – who will miss a story because of that very arrogance. I know from my own experiences how frustrating it can be when you can’t even get a listen.

    I’m not sure there’s a solution to this although I will say there’s a certain pleasure in seeing the story run in a competing media property.

  11. Jason Gerdon February 10th, 2013 3:05 pm

    You’re certainly right Lou. The ideal in this relationship is having smart PR folks keeping objective journalists well informed. Understanding each others needs and metrics for success is essential for both PR and media to better work together.

  12. hoffman February 10th, 2013 3:09 pm

    Amen

    P.S. + Smart clients who allow us to do our jobs this way!

  13. Gini Dietrich (@ginidietrich) April 3rd, 2013 4:50 am

    I have had this in Evernote FOREVER to get over here and comment. I’m so sorry!

    I’m surprised by who this pitch came from. Typically the people at Media Connect are very experienced and know exactly what they’re doing. I hope they’re not going the way of most PR firms and hiring really junior people to manage their media relations. That’s what sets them apart so this makes me sad to see.

  14. hoffman April 3rd, 2013 10:14 am

    It’s interesting you say this.

    I got a call from the Ruder Finn immediately after publishing this post wanting to distance itself from Media Connect (had mistakenly called out RF in the original post).

    We never know what goes on behind the curtain. Unfortunately, it’s been my experience that when an agency goes down this path, it’s not an anomaly.

  15. [...] think the blog would be a good fit for a client’s story. Like our CEO Lou Hoffman mentioned in this post, bad pitches can can hit a [...]

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