07 June 2007

Collective hara-kiri..?

Or shall we do it individually?

When a national journalist and blogger starts a headline to a post with "Die, PR, die..." then it's probably one we should all take a look at.

Indefensible stuff.

41 comments:

Anonymous said...

It's all very well cursing the PR calling the journalist, but you'll probably find that it's the ADs who are to blame. Far too many will instruct AEs to pitch in stories which have no newsworthiness. Likewise, they will tell them to offer vendor comment, even if the journalist has specifically said they dont want it, 'just in case'. The number of times I had to sit on the phone cringing as I pitched in a product upgrade story because my AD had promised the client we would get great coverage from it. But what are you supposed to do? If you don't do it, you wont be seen to have the right attitude and you can kiss your chances of promotion goodbye. ADs need to be more realistic, pick up the phone to the press once in a while and never give an AE a job they wouldn't do themselves. Sadly, most of them spend all their time in meetings and pitches and rarely crack a trade mag.

Fiona Blamey said...

Hm, coincidentally, that provides a very neat context to the question I just posted on our blog, which is: why were there hardly any PR people at the Blogs and Social Media Forum on Tuesday?

Looks like PR has a lot of very rapid catching up to do with this newfangled media world...

Anonymous said...

Maybe because it cost £400 to get in?

As ever, just another opportunity to make some cash. Did they stick a flyer into PR Weak too? That would have made it soooo much more successful (or so I'm assuming based on the amount of crap that falls out of the polythene bag each week - and yes, I'm including the magazine itself)

Caroline said...

Totally agree, anonymous. It's a mixture of putting people who know what they're talking about on the phones and being confident that the story is a good one in the first place. How many times as AEs were we made to pitch a new-widget-that's-not-that-different-to-the-last-one story.

Anonymous said...

Oh - and linking up with the little fracas with Sally per your previous post, I love how she posts a little 'oh, yes Charles - we both do suffer so'.

Yes, he's editing a section of a national newspaper... and you are...?

I'm planning on calling up Tony Blair to tell him that we have so much in common, him being English with dark hair that's going a bit grey and me being English with dark hair going a bit grey. Maybe we can be friends?

Fiona Blamey said...

Indeed, but it's a sad fact of life that sometimes, learning stuff costs money.

And sometimes, not learning stuff costs money - and reputation - too.

Anonymous said...

I think what Mr Arthur seems to be forgetting is the fact that if it wasn’t for PRs working with clients to try and make stories relevant and interesting, the amount of corporate centric crap he would be pitched would go up ten-fold. Yes, there are some shit PRs in this world (shock), but there are some great ones out there who take pride in their work and make the most turgid stories newsworthy.

Quite frankly Charles it comes with the job. If you edit (why did he italicise that by the way, we all know pal, a touch self-righteous) the Technology section of the Guardian, PRs for companies in the technology market are going to call you. Be thankful for PRs Charles, we’re not all shit.

Caroline said...

As self-righteous as he can be the fact is that there is a hell of a lot of bad practice out there and that's what lets the rest down. My view is that things have improved massively - and I agree that it would be a deal worse without the filter that PR offers - but some of what he says, as TWL says, is indefensible. It can't be acceptable for two people from the same company to call up about the same thing...

sally said...

Anonymous said...

Oh - and linking up with the little fracas with Sally per your previous post, I love how she posts a little 'oh, yes Charles - we both do suffer so'.

---

Gosh, wonder if the reason you're anonymous is so you still retain the option to call me one day and pitch one of your clients?

Nah, can't be, you wouldn't bother pitching small fry like me, wouldja?

Rambletripe said...

Well I don't mind pitching small fry often more fun as you get to work a story better. :)

But I've generally found Charles to be very unhelpful (and 'unuseful') journalist who won't work with you or have a conversation to develop a story. I also know he has annoyed plenty of other journos but that is another story.

Though I see his point he makes and empathise. But this is a two way street and these conversations Charles likes are non-existant.

In nearly 12 years of PR I'm trying to think of a single story I have worked on with him. I have worked on stories & features with technology hacks in every national newspaper in the UKand beyond because I will work with a journo to develop a story.

Unless Charles needs something from you it's just not worth the effort. There are plenty of other people (including at the Guardian) who you can do more interesting stuff with.

In short: for all his self righteous indigation, justified or not, it is a two way street.....

Charles said...

>>
Quite frankly Charles it comes with the job. If you edit (why did he italicise that by the way, we all know pal, a touch self-righteous) the Technology section of the Guardian, PRs for companies in the technology market are going to call you. Be thankful for PRs Charles, we’re not all shit.
>>

No, you're not, and I'm very glad of the ones who aren't, and I treasure them. But explain the Panasonic person to me? Explain why I have to have answered every email invite? I could have a full-time diary manager for that one. Or I could spend time searching for interesting technology stories and good writers. Hmm, such a hard choice.

My emphasis on edit was that I guess I was amazed that someone would ring up a national paper and think we're all staring at the wall waiting for something to blog about. When I was a callow youth writing for Computer Weekly, I was really wary of disturbing them - and I was writing features for 'em. As I said, we do bite, given enough provocation. And this was.

It comes with the job? It might - but preparation should too. Know my section; know your subject; ask yourself the questions, because I will. Like I said, raise your game.

weaselboy said...

why cant we all just be friends?

Anonymous said...

To be fair, Charles has a point. Anyone that has been in PR for more than two minutes should know not waste journo time like that. I was at a CIPR 'meet the press' event the other day and was appalled by the amount of time spent by journos griping that people still called up to ask if they got the press release. Are the majority of agencies failing to train people in basic media relations?

Muttley said...

I agree with anonymous, having been on both sides there are some appaulingly trained juniors out there. Pitching should be left to people with experience - you have a brand at stake here!

Having said that, I'm sick to death of Charles Arthur's attitude. I'd like to see what kind of stories he'd have or access to high-level execs he'd enjoy WITHOUT PR. So he has to put up with PR people, so what? There are worse jobs out there with more dangerous occupational hazzards! Someone pamper the poor darling quick...

Anonymous said...

Dear Charles

HAHA WE GET PAID MORE THAN YOU!!!!!

From me

x

Charles said...

@rambletripe:
>>
In nearly 12 years of PR I'm trying to think of a single story I have worked on with him. I have worked on stories & features with technology hacks in every national newspaper in the UKand beyond because I will work with a journo to develop a story.
>>

Go on, then - name some of the stories you've pitched to me. Or some of the stories you've got in with other "technology hacks" in the nationals, because there aren't that many of them these days.

@muttley:
>>
Having said that, I'm sick to death of Charles Arthur's attitude. I'd like to see what kind of stories he'd have or access to high-level execs he'd enjoy WITHOUT PR.
>>

You'd like to see what stories I'd have? Interesting question. The ones where I talk to users and people who are experiencing the joys and hassles of technology, I expect. You'd also have to balance that "threat" of yours by removing the "oh, you must talk to our PR first" obstacle from companies and institutions. Then see what stories I'd get. And what quotes I'd get.

It's not "PR people" I object to, because I don't. Well-informed, quick-thinking, knowing-our-readership PR people are manna from heaven.

However, those who call without knowing the difference between a brand and a logo, who don't know who they're calling or what they do (and so what that person could do or not do), who aren't keeping tabs with the rest of their team, who don't know anything beyond the five-line pitch in front of them.. I think they're web 2.0 roadkill.

Seriously, I get far better information from blogs than folk like those. Which, since you ask, is where a lot of my information does come from - and the insider stuff too. Much of what I do isn't visible because it's about rejecting ideas or researching things to shape what and how to cover things.

Still, muttley, if you want to tell your clients that it's not worth their while talking to me, I'd love to hear their responses....

Anonymous said...

For once I have to agree with Charles. As a journo that's always tried to be pretty fair to PRs -giving up the time to go to their offices to explain how both I and the paper works - I have to say I've been depressed by the number of totally inappropriate pitches recently. Not to mention getting hassled via email and phone because I've not RSVP'd to a press conference invite. The fact that I haven't RSVP'd might give you a clue?

That said, I totally agree that good PR's make our jobs far, far more easier - giving us access to spokespeople that are sometimes impossible to track down, or fear the media. I still like to think there are more good than bad.

I guess the crux of the problem is more about what much of the PR industry has become - a self-perpetuating business focused on winning more clients, over staff training and good media relations. As a result, many agencies seem too scared these days to give clients the honest consultancy they were once hired for.

Iain T said...

It wouldn't be a bad idea is a few journalists volunteered to keep a record of the number of calls of the "Did you get the press release" school and a note of which agencies and clients were doing it.

A few months of such data posted on this or other web sites might make the ADs rethink their strategy.

Anonymous said...

50:50 on this one - shit PRs have no excuses, know your stuff, know who & what you'e pitching. As Charlie says, a lot need to raise their game. But seriosuly, I really think journos could do the world a favour and apply some basic rules to dealing with other human beings (yes, we are human) - i.e. common courtesy. Perhaps if journos were a bit nicer, us PRs could ring up without trembling - far more condusive to having a decent, honest discussion about anything.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, but you can't tell me there is no point calling a journalist either before or after sending a release. The number of times I have got a hit out of a follow-up call! Yes, do try and invent some bollox reason for calling cos they are all clearly taught to hate these follow up calls, but the dozy muppets that pass for some journalists often miss a great story that they then turn out to cover.

Anonymous said...

>>"there are some appaulingly trained juniors out there<""

there are some 'appaulingly' trained writers out there as well....

Helena handcart said...

Don't knock poor old Charles Arthur.

I say old, he might be younger than me.

Poor fucker, he gets journalists like me pitching features ideas at him every ten minutes.

If that wasn't bad enough, he gets a far bolshier and tougher breed, PR pushers, bending his ear every ten seconds.

Ok, he's a bit grouchy, but at least he's even handed. He treats us all the same.

He's hard but fair, I'd say.

Charles said...

Anon said:
>>HAHA WE GET PAID MORE THAN YOU!!!!!

Yeah, quite likely. But us hacks get into work later and often leave earlier. I put the kids to bed 6 nights a week.

But none of us got into this for the money, did we?

Anonymous said...

I'm in full agreement with Charles. As he makes clear, he's not slagging off all PR, just bad ones. I too am sick of the number of calls I get about press releases, most of which have nothing to do with the maagazine that I write for. It's not just a question of knowing about products that are being pitched, it's researching publications as well.

I don't know how a press release can be drunk though - or should I take it that Charles doesn't know what crapulous means?

Anonymous said...

anon said:

"if journos were a bit nicer, us PRs could ring up without trembling".

Totally agree. But don't you think it's a bit chicken and egg? Maybe lots of ill conceived, under researched PR pitches have turned a few journos ferral?

As a usually friendly journo, I've found your help can sometimes be miscontrued as being a pushover. On several occassions now friendliness and advice to a PR has been returned with three other people in the PR agency calling me up in the space of an hour to pitch in dross. Maybe a coincidence, but I don't think so.

On the flip-side, I totally agree with other comments made here that journos aren't perfect and that there's many junior (and senior) reporters out there that could learn a thing or two.

caroline said...

I have an idea, it would be great to get Charles and some of the other respected journalists that read this blog to submit their guidance on the best way to pitch ideas/material to media. Perhaps if a few send in their tips then TWL could publish them. There's room for some best practice, I think, and it would be great for something positive to come out of this discussion. So come on, guys, theworldsleading@yahoo.co.uk

Anonymous said...

@Charles

Sorry Charles: I know it's slightly unfair for me if I tell you which stories you can figure out who I am. Of course whether you care or not is entirely another matter but I do!

Please don't mistake my words; my main point is that I have consitently over a long period of time had more success with nearly every other journalist.

Your hostility to PRs just doesn't cut it for me - from making one one of my AEs cry (I understand we all have bad days but still..)to just having a pleasant working relationship.

Just as you can choose not to work with me, I choose to take my stories elsewhere.

The depressing thing is I heartily agree with how you want to be approached and use it.

Ramble

Anonymous said...

Why is it indefensible TWL?

I totally agree with the first anonymous correspondent - the number of directors who make promises to the client about coverage and then force the AE to go through the embarrassment of such conversations with journalists who do, frankly, have lots of better things to do, is ridiculous.

We're employed as counsellors which means we're supposed to provide counsel. If a story is shite then we should be telling the clients, not knowingly wasting someone's time telling them about something pointless. Time and money could be better spent building a story that's actually of interest to both sides.

And name-calling is rude. I don't know Charles particularly well at all and he wouldn't know who the hell I am, but just because someone isn't sweetness and light all the time when they're at work (and usually on a one to one level) doesn't really give you the need to have a pop at them in a public forum.

....the world's leading.... said...

I think the behaviour Charles described in his original post is indefensible...whether you can point the finger at the AD, the client or the poor AE who had to pick up the phone, nobody should've ended up making those calls to Charles.

Whether journalists should be nicer to PRs (probably) and flacks better prepared when they call hacks (definitely) is an argument of fine degrees, chickens and eggs.

It's been an interesting discussion though...and we've certainly got some bang for our buck in terms of the comments generated from a 37 word post.

I'm not sure we've resolved anything, but then I'm not sure we ever will. Caroline's idea is an interesting one though...

Anonymous said...

Best practice is all very well, but as someone on this rather long thread pointed out, following up a release or an invite does sometimes get hits. We understand you get hundreds of emails a day, and we also know that a call from us to follow up can put our story to the top of the pile.

How about laying down the best practice for saying 'no' to a story in a pleasant manner and the PR to take no for an answer first time? At least the calls would be shorter.

Anonymous said...

Anon said:

"Best practice is all very well, but as someone on this rather long thread pointed out, following up a release or an invite does sometimes get hits. We understand you get hundreds of emails a day, and we also know that a call from us to follow up can put our story to the top of the pile."

Hmmm, so basically, you're pretty much saying PR can be akin to putting two-dozen chimps in a room with typewriters in the hope that "sometimes" they might churn out the complete works of shakespeare?

Maybe if the press releases were better written in the first place, alongside the email pitch, the journo might pick out the story among the five pages of nonsense US sales speak clients make you stick-in?

Or, maybe, if I didn't have to spend ages sifting through such press releases to try and ensure I'm not missing a great story that could be buried away in it - instead, I could go out and do what journos like doing best, finding their own off-diary scoops.

If it's a case of someone just picking up the phone and saying "did you get my press release?", then surely the whole job can be offshored abroad, and your clients can make a killing on agency fees? Fortunately I still have faith that good PR's know there's a bit more to it than that.

I don't think any journo is saying don't call us. We're saying how about a bit of forethought before picking up the phone?

Anonymous said...

Better still - reply with a quick and simple "no thanks" to releases and invites you don't want - then you wont get any unwanted calls, or if you still do, you are well within your rights to bit their heads off.

Helena said...

I've got a fail proof method of pitching feature ideas.
Guaranteed 100 success*
or your money back.










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Charles said...

Anon said:
"And name-calling is rude. I don't know Charles particularly well at all and he wouldn't know who the hell I am, but just because someone isn't sweetness and light all the time when they're at work (and usually on a one to one level) doesn't really give you the need to have a pop at them in a public forum."

Oh, I'm a grownup, I can bear people pointing out my faults. We've all got a lot of time, yes?

My point, reiterated endlessly, is that if it's important for you to get into the Guardian, Times, Telegraph, FT, etc then you need to know who the people are there. You need to know what they're like - that I'm very demanding of the story, that you know the background, can stand it up a bit; that other people would be happier to take something but might then let it go. When I'm enthusiastic about a story, I'll push it again and again: there was one about broadband making property prices rise which I pushed at the Indie newsdesk for two solid months. They didn't use it, so eventually I wrote it into a column in The Guardian *18* months later. From a PR company. Why? Because it was a really good story with the right amount of detail.

What I thought we needed to get into was methods of asking, and that's what everyone has avoided, preferring to focus on my Alan Sugar-y telephone manner. But have you ever tried my AIM manner? Quite different. You could ask me if I'd received an email there and I'd possibly tell you.

I recently noted that a host of PR people had added my ID to their IM address lists, so maybe something's happening there. But technology moves on. Is the phone really the only tool that sorts it out?

Anonymous said...

>>fiona blamey said...
Hm, coincidentally, that provides a very neat context to the question I just posted on our blog, which is: why were there hardly any PR people at the Blogs and Social Media Forum on Tuesday?

Looks like PR has a lot of very rapid catching up to do with this newfangled media world...<<

You've hit the nail on the head there. It's shocking how much the vast majority of PR consultants have their heads in the sand with blogger outreach and the like. From what I've seen, the vast majority - and I mean over 90 per cent - haven't got a clue about how to approach the new media side of things. I guess that's to be expected given some of the feedback on this thread.

Anonymous said...

As a junior in PR this is something that I find really frustrating!

I go on as many training schemes as I possibly can, chat to journalists at networking events and they all tell me the same thing - don't send rubbish stories and then hassle the journalist about it.

But then I get given a rubbish story to sell in to a top journo, get told to email the press release first then phone up, and if I get a no from the journalist I'll often be told to call back and push more ideas on the same story at them.

Or if a polite journo says hmm sounds interesting I'll let you know, I get told to call back every half hour until I have a definite answer. It is very hard to push back against a manager, but at the same time I don't really want to be pissing off lots of journalists!

Any tips from more experienced Prs would be much appreciated!

....the world's leading.... said...

It's true, it's true...crap management is at the bottom of all this. But I know what you're saying...it's hard to push back, even on a rubbish manager, as you're likely to be labelled unhelpful.

Here's a little trick that I had used on me as a manager a few times, and it's great.

When you're given what you think is a bit of a rubbish story, why don't you ask your manager how they'd sell it in...in fact, why don't you ask them if they'll just make the first call to a journo so you can listen in and see how they do it. If it gets a positive result then great, you've learnt something - if it doesn't then your manager's got some perspective on why it mightn't be the story they think it is...

A golden rule for any manager should be if you're not prepared to do it yourself, don't ask anyone else to.

Anonymous said...

Guys. Its takes two to tango. PR's need to write good press releases and provide correct and informative information quickly and effeciently - you are bascially trying to make journalists jobs easier. If you are not making their lives easier - ie if you are hounding them with phonecalls - the wonderous symbiotic relationship that is media relations falls out of balance and you get grumpy journalists.

Journalists - if you are emailled a press release - have the manners to reply as quickly and effeciently as the helpful PR has been to you. Email them back - thanks- recieved release and pics - will hopefully use it on thursday - or similar. That cuts out all the crap and saves everyone time and hassle and keeps the balance in this stressed out world.

Common sense is a wonderful thing but it is very very uncommon.

Alice said...

True public relations require people skills even when pitching a good story. If Editor of a certain section appear disinterested, then take the pitch elsewhere. It is important for ADs to sit with the AEs to come up with a pitch based on whether it is a current hot topic or newsworthy. And yes, ADs must pick up the phones every now and then and get the AEs to listen and learn.

Daniel Young said...

Its all very well for AEs to blame their Managers and Directors for making them pitch crappy stories but the example that Charles points to is of someone that has no idea about the product and has obviously spent zero time on preparation. People progress in PR by finding the angles, not just doing what they are told (badly).

Anonymous said...

There are things that makes me really DESPAIR at our crappy little jumped up industry. There are a number of people responding to Charles' post saying, 'oh what a shame this still happens, it ruins the reputation of us honest and brilliant PRs' whom I know for a FACT have instructed others to partake in pointless and misguided random pitching.

I could go on to give a long discourse about how bloated our industry is with ineffectual PRs who add insult to injury by misselling what we can do for tech companies - hence the shite stories and the shite pitching - but I just can't be bothered.