There are many dangerous things you can do in PR when dealing with the press. One of the worst is to typecast. Another is to generalise. And another is to assume.
When you talk to journalists – and notice I use this word and not editors since one assumption is that only editors are important – you realise that no two are the same. Surprise, surprise, they are people with idiosyncrasies. They all have their own views about what makes a story, if they’re editors they all have their own ideas about how to run a publication.
None of them are wrong. If you have a wonderful story that one journalist salivates over, don’t be too disappointed if another on a rival publication simply isn’t interested. One journalist might chuckle when you mention press packs, preferring everything to be e-mailed. Another might tell you that e-mail is overrated and hard copies are essential.
Many PR agencies think it’s good practice to follow up invitations or press releases and in some cases it does produce dividends. But while some journalists may not mind being called others can tell you in very clear terms what they think about the practice. So it doesn’t harm to apologise to everyone you call – “Sorry to bother you, it’s [first name last name] from [agency name]. Is it a good time to talk?” is much better than just wading in there with your name and your request.
I have mixed feelings about following up press releases … when I was an editor I didn’t much like it when I’d get call after call with people starting with “We sent you a press release and wondered if you’d had chance to look at it”. Nice polite intro but likely to generate two responses: a friendly “What was it about?” or a not-so-friendly “Do you know how many releases I get a day?!?”.
I say mixed feelings because in the ‘80s when wearing a PR hat I followed up a press release that I thought should have had much more coverage. The number of people who thought the subject was interesting but couldn’t remember the release was amazing. I sent it again to most of them who were then looking out for it and in the end we got 25 per cent pick-up. The client was delighted. And this was before e-mail when you had to make a point of opening the post rather than just ignoring the hundreds of messages in your inbox every morning. I know one journalist who never reads his e-mails – if you want to send him a press release you have to ring him up and tell him to look out for it! On the other hand, I know journalists who live out of their inbox and couldn’t do their jobs without the daily stream of press releases.
In terms of follow-up, success depends on the subject of the release. The calls I used to get were invariably from a secretary who’d been given the job of chasing a new product release. The answer there is simple: “If the product is interesting to our readers we will try to include it but we get lots of these releases and it all depends on time and space”. You wouldn’t believe how many calls I received from people who a) didn’t have a clue what the release was about or b) had not understood that the release they had sent was completely irrelevant to my audience. Just a bit of research can make a difference to success or failure on this front.
But always remember, as in life it is dangerous to pigeon hole journalists or make assumptions about them. Always keep an open mind and while not appearing too sycophantic, try to make it obvious that you respect their profession and understand that their time is valuable.