You’ll have to pardon me if I go off on a few tangents here. This whole thing was sparked by some lovely chats I had with some other PR folk last night.
Here I sit, perched high above the streets of San Francisco in a swank Japanese theme hotel that I couldn’t possibly afford were it not for the miracle of Hotwire.com. In an hour or so I’ll set off to wax professional and hand out business cards to people who’d probably rather go start a tongue-wrestling war with the colorful street folk in the area than listen to yet another pitch from yet another PR guy.
But I like to think I’m different–nay, better–than those other, surely sleazy (at least in my head) PR folks. They’re out there hawking their services with a big fancy suit and a big fancy package of big fancy sales collateral. I forgot my suit, probably wouldn’t wear it anyway, and printed up some last-minute business cards with an overnight business-card printing place. I’m not like them, right? That should count for something, right?
Deep inside, of course, the inevitable truth weighs on my mind: the people I’m trying to get business from likely expect that sort of uber-professional who’s recited his sales pitch a million times. Sure, they’ll say, “oh, I’m so tired of that same old crap” (maybe they wouldn’t use those exact words, but you get the idea)… but at the end of the day, big agencies still win out over the little guy. The global presence of offices in San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles, Copenhagen and Sao Paolo will surely win a contract over that freelance rep in rural Wisconsin — not to say that ability, character or any of those other important factors necessarily play into those decisions. This doesn’t just apply to the business-development side, though, where I have to muster up all the charm of a used-car salesman to provide a life for myself and my family, but also with media.
I’ve read all sorts of articles complaining about PR, suggesting how we should be better doing our jobs, how we’re pretty much all buffoons who can’t be bothered to actually do some research. I understand there are some awful PR people out there. They hop on Vocus, generate some massive list of journalists they couldn’t possibly know much about–much less research and have time to follow up with–and blast out their press releases like a farmer unloading the buckshot at a flock of helpless ducks. They’ll send a dozen emails on the same subject, leave 20 voicemails, send five faxes, hire a Renaissance Faire court jester to deliver a song-and-dance pitch directly to the writer’s door… and they won’t take no for an answer. I understand these people exist, and I understand they’ve fucked it up for the rest of us.
But now I go into pleading mode (and this isn’t the first or last time I’ll have to do this): please give those of us who do our research and try to do our jobs ethically and effectively a bit of credit. I understand that I need to build a relationship before you’ll read everything I send you; that’s fine. But hey, if I’ve sent you three emails (absolutely my limit) and you can’t be bothered to hit the reply button and say, “no thanks,” what sort of message does that send to me? When I see you write a story that is completely relevant to what I’m pitching you, or worse, I see a story that is completely irrelevant to anyone–but is solely news because it involves some mega corporation or someone you went to lunch with last week–then what am I to gain from doing things “the right way”? It seems like it would be so much more effective for us–the PR people who want to do a good job–to start spamming you, harassing you endlessly and to not stop until we’ve secured the coverage.
I suppose this is, again, a moment of pleading. Journalists, PR execs… or really, anyone who ever has to hire any sort of external help or work with PR reps… hell, I suppose this could apply to anyone at all: if you’re going to say that you want things to change, or that you wish everyone wasn’t doing the same crappy, half-assed job in trying to reach out to you, then the least you can do is try to reward the people who do things differently. If you don’t want to hear from us, say so. If you’re not interested in whatever we’re pitching, tell us. That’s totally fine. But if we spend all this time and effort trying to cater to your needs, giving you exactly what you want, and then we’re simply ignored… we have to wonder if any of it is really worth it.