As a journalist and an editor it amazes me how poorly some PR agencies represent their clients. Forget about getting their messages heard and developing a good image – I find clients often miss out on exposure or even gain bad publicity because of, rather than despite, their PR. And trust me, there is such a thing as bad publicity. I’m not letting marketing managers and companies that do their own PR off the hook either – they often make the same mistakes as PR agencies.
Every day editors and journalists receive a barrage of pitches and press releases, the overwhelming majority of which are promptly dismissed or deleted. Sometimes it’s because they’re poorly constructed – it’s common, for example, for the most interesting angle to be buried or not even acknowledged. Often it’s due to not understanding how editors work and what kind of stories we’re looking for. And sometimes, quite frankly, it’s due to sheer incompetency – even when editors and journos take notice of a release it’s amazing how often we then drop it because none of the people mentioned in the release, including the PR reps, can even be reached before deadline.
The relationship between the media and PR is often sugar coated and portrayed to be more amicable than it is. Yes, journalists rely more on PR-generated material than ever before because of shrinking staff numbers and yes, whether editors like it or not, dealing with PR has become a necessity to some degree. Yet that doesn’t mean we see eye to eye. After all, aside from anything else journalists are taught early in their careers that news is what others DON’T want published. This isn’t a joke told over beer, by the way, nor is it an extremist view held by a minority – it’s one of the key definitions of what news is. Our loyalty is to the reader (contrary to popular belief) and so we’re trained to write stories that are free of any agenda and to not promote companies in any way (contrary to popular belief).
I realise that many (perhaps most) people won’t believe this and are cynical about how biased the media is – and unfortunately they’re sometimes right. But in my experience most journalists and editors, myself included, believe the media can and ought to pursue the truth and not agendas.
So why on earth have I written a book to help PR and companies that want to promote themselves?
Well, it’s because I am the grumpy and irate editor that companies have to deal with – and I have seen, day in and day out, week after week, year after year, what does and does not work when it comes to PR pitches. From editing magazines to newspaper sections at The Sydney Morning Herald, across subject areas ranging from travel to health, I’ve seen the good and the bad when it comes to PR. I’ve dealt with smart, savvy, experienced PR professionals who knew how to obtain great coverage for their clients and gave me interesting leads and ideas, and I’ve dealt with PR hacks who should have paid their clients for the damage they inflicted on their reputation. And on a personal level, it’s this frustration that led to my writing this.
So who is this book targeted at?
It’s for anyone, whether you’re a company, association, government body or individual, who has to deal with the media (regardless of whether you already hire a PR firm or not) in addition to being for PR practitioners. You don’t need a degree in media strategy to read this and you won’t need to decipher marketing lingo. After all, this is a common sense guide that attempts to be as succinct, down to earth and honest as possible – because it’s the discrepancy between people’s expectations of how the media works, and the reality, that often causes press releases and pitches to fail.
Oh yes: because I’m going to be as honest and blunt as possible, this book will probably offend a lot of PR people … and companies … and bloggers … and journos.
That’s not my purpose.
I realise there are some great press releases out there. I know there are great PR people out there. I’ve met many horrible journos. Quite frankly, life’s too short for petty grievances one way or the other. So if you detect some negativity or attitude in this book – well, it’s not because I’m petty or have a chip on my shoulder (and I realise PRs often cop flack from journos like this) – I’m simply writing this book from an editor’s perspective so you can hear it from the horse’s mouth without any of the bullshit.
That’s the way journos are trained to write.