Archive for February 9th, 2008

In another blog entry, I criticized public relation managers for not doing their job well. Doing so expressed a pet peeve – and one that I feel perfectly justified in holding, since I’ve done public relations work myself. However, in the interests of fairness, let me describe two PR types that do know their jobs.

One manages communication for a non-profit organization whose activities I often cover in my articles. On my request, he sends me each of the organization’s news releases directly – but didn’t do so until I specifically asked him to. Once the release is sent, he knows that I can be trusted to follow up on it if I have permission from my editors to develop a story based on it.

When I ask for an interview with one of the people he represents, he gets back to me in a few hours, knowing that, as an online journalist, I am on Internet time, and that a response in two or three days is frequently too slow for my needs; sometimes, his response is only to let me know that he has been unable to find someone who is travelling or otherwise busy, but he lets me know so I can work around the situation.

When I phone for an interview, he ensures that all participants is there, then leaves the call, rather than hanging around worrying whether any of those he represents will say something rash (which would be a waste of his time as well as a discourtesy, since his co-workers are formidably eloquent and experienced dealing with the media).

While I can’t say he is is an unmet friend, he is always professional and courteous, and stops to exchange a few pleasantries whenever we talk. But, most of all, he is dependable. I know that when something is in his hands, it will be efficiently and politely handled, and, in return, I try to conduct myself by the same standards.

The second example is a woman who is just as professional. However, while I don’t know whether the man in the first example has the least interest in the activities of the organization for which he works, this second example has just discovered the free software community, and is exploring it with enthusiasm. She gives the lie to those who claim that, to do PR, you don’t need to know what your clients do, because, the more she learns, the more useful she becomes to her clients and to the journalists who cover them.

In fact, the last story I wrote about one of her clients, she even went so far as to gather source material to help me make the deadline – not because I asked her, but because she was interested in the subject. The result was that I got the story out faster, to the satisfaction of both her client and me.

What both these examples have in common is that they understand that communications is about enabling everybody to meet their needs. Their employers or customers have stories that they want covered, and I have deadlines that I have to meet. By cultivating good relations with journalists like me, they ensure that those stories get told. and everyone wins.

By contrast, other PR agents have ensured that their employers’ stories have gone untold for reasons as trivial as their refusal to tell me what the story was they wanted me to cover; given my workload, I simply can’t afford to devote time to a story unless I know that it’s worthwhile and have some details to pitch to my editors.

Probably, too, the people I’m praising are also laying the groundwork for how their clients are regarded by the media in the future. Naturally, journalists try to be fair, and not to hold back on criticism when they think it’s deserved, but we wouldn’t be human if we didn’t respond well to people who make our lives easier.

My only concern is that the kind of PR epitomized by these people may be on the way out. One similar communications manager told me recently that, because she targets her media inquiries, only sending out a dozen or so a day when others send out hundreds, her employer sometimes gets testy with her. Apparently, those to whom she would report would rather have hundreds of emails sent out that are treated as spam than a smaller number that all get results. But in expressing such a preference for quantity, companies are only hurting their own publicity efforts. It’s the PR people who build long-term relations through efficiency and helpfulness that represent businesses the best, not those who copy the techniques of spammers.

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