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Charles on… anything that comes along

Wednesday 6 June 2007

Filed under: — Charles @ 11:59 am

Die, PR, die, or raise your game and learn about asynchronicity

Welcome people coming here via The Crapps! Perhaps you might like to read my brand-new post on this topic, “Live, PR, live in the 21st century“. Or not. OK, on you go.
Scene: the Guardian office. A typical day.

Phone rings (luckily for me, a colleague takes the call).

PR: “Hello, you blog, don’t you? Do you want to write about our new brand?”
Gdn: (confused) “Your new brand?”
PR: “Yes, it’s London 2012, the Olympics, the new brand has been unveiled today.”
Gdn: “Do you mean logo?” (This would be the logo (described by John Gruber - and everyone else including me - as “one of the worst marks I’ve ever seen. It’s just plain ugly”).

When the people touting your stuff don’t know the difference between a logo and a brand (hint: one can be included in your accounts under “intangibles” and have a value reaching into the millions; the other just costs that way), you’ve got a problem.

Later: phone rings. My phone. It’s been passed on by a colleague who works on blogs.
PR: “Hello, do you blog?”
Me: “Er, yes.” (Thinks: among other things.. what an odd way to open the conversation.)
PR: “I’m calling from Panasonic because they’ve got a new camera that’s come out and we thought you’d like to write about it.”
Me: “So what’s different about it? Cameras come out all the time.”
PR: “I don’t know exactly, but you’re a blogger aren’t you? Would you like to write about it?”
Me: (feeling slight stroke coming on): “Why? What’s this blog stuff? What is it about the camera? What’s special, different, newsworthy, if anything, about it?”
PR: “Umm, well, that’s not what I’m doing but I thought that because you blog…”
Me: “I edit the Technology section of the Guardian. Google me. Goodbye.”

End of conversation. Yes, it was Panasonic, and I am naming and shaming here because this was simply shameful. If you’re going to ring up a national newspaper - bearing in mind that there aren’t that many of them - then you’d better have your act together. I don’t ring people up at random when I’m researching stories. And if I wasn’t sure what I was trying to find out, then I’d lay my cards on the table in the hope the person might be able to help. But I’d have searched for the right person first. This person just seemed to think that use the words “blog”, “new” and “camera” in the same sentence would induce some sort of Pavlovian response in me. Uh-uh. Ain’t going to happen.

And the next day.
PR: “We sent you an email last Wednesday…”
Me: “I got it. I’m not doing anything with it. Someone called me about it yesterday. If I spent my time responding to every email from PR people I’d get less than nothing done.”

End of conversation.

And later:
PR: “Hello, I’m calling from Vodafone, it’s about the mobile internet demonstration we’ll be having..”
Me: “Someone called me about this earlier and I told them that I’m not going to be around.”

End of conversation.

And later still:

PR: “Hi, I was calling to say that there’s now a Mac client available for LogMeIn and wondered if you’d like to talk to…”
Me: “I know. I’ve been swapping emails with the PR person there for weeks. Go and have a word with him.”

End of conversation.

Seriously: the beginning of this week was absolutely the worst couple of days I can recall for quite a while in terms of PR folk ringing me up and (a) not having a clue or (b) not being coordinated or (c) thinking that because they sent an email, no matter how crapulous or mis-aimed, that it’s my responsibility to have answered in good time as though they were a debt collector or something.

Here’s the reality, which hasn’t changed in a long time and isn’t going to change in the future unless there’s a dramatic turnaround in what I do: PR, and particularly business-to-business PR, provides only the very tiniest input into my work. Like, a fraction of a percent.

But when it comes to calls like these… PR has to raise its game. It’s just dire. I’m on IM. I’m on email. I’m on all sorts of asynchronous communication systems, whose advantage is that I can dip in and out of using them. (An IM conversation doesn’t have to be linear like a phone conversation.) Want to get in touch? Choose a method. (Though I’ll admit that seasons go by and I don’t log into Skype. Too processor-intensive.)

But if you want to talk to me on the phone then generally you do need a good reason that goes beyond something you can explain in an email, and you need good preparation, because phones demand that you concentrate on them pretty much exclusively, at that moment (they’re synchronous, see, rather than asynchronous like email or IM). There are all sorts of other things that I could be doing while in the office: editing stories, researching stories, fact-checking, looking at potential pictures, discussing layouts, discussing headlines, discussing adverts, discussing budgets, commissioning more work from writers, and that’s before I move from my seat.

And I do get impatient with people who don’t have a clue about the story they’re pitching. Sorry, but I do. PR is about conversation, but if you start the conversation by saying something that indicates you have no idea about the subject in hand then it’s like saying “Ooh, what a nice dog” and pointing to someone’s cat. They will treat you accordingly.

Maybe it’s just me, or maybe it’s the swarm of ever-more-desperate people trying to pitch stories about which they either have no clue, or know are dead in the water but are putting themselves through the pain of pitching in order to bill the client. But in a world where we’re turning out ever more meeja studies students, it would help to have some clue about how the minds in the media work. We feed on information, If you haven’t got it, we’ll bite your heads off just to check there isn’t any lurking down there.

Update: hmm, this has stirred people up over at The World’s Leading, where it seems some (at least) are “sick of my attitude” and wonder “what kind of stories he’d have or access to high-level execs he’d enjoy WITHOUT PR.” Interesting question. Though just to reiterate, I’m pointing here to really bad practice. Trouble is, it’s too common (or not uncommon enough). Good PR is excellent stuff, even excellent, at seeing an opportunity to get the right people together. Bad PR is just - well, it’s bad.

71 Responses to “Die, PR, die, or raise your game and learn about asynchronicity”

  1. Alan Burkitt-Gray Says:

    I completely agree, Charles. My pet hate when PRs call to ask if I got the email is when they excuse themselves by asking if I need more information. Presumably their phone number’s on the bottom (though an intriguing number of PR people haven’t got the hang of putting their contact details into an email sig yet) and my experience as a journalist means I do know you can often phone up for more information.

    Second pet hate is PRs who phone to ask if they can email me a press release. Just send it, please. Oh, and what’s your email address? Sigh. Presumably on the next line down on your sheet, just under my phone number, which you’ve just dialled.

  2. Andrew Smith Says:

    Perhaps Panasonic should have adopted Nikon’s tactic in the US - more gory detail here:
    http://strumpette.com/archives/407-BLOGOLA-How-to-Get-Away-with-It-A-Case-History.html

  3. pauldwaite Says:

    Word. No mercy. Worst case scenario, these fools stop calling. Best case scenario, they get a job that’s worthwhile.

  4. John Dodds Says:

    Brilliant Charles - I’ve forwaded it to Strumpette amiongst others.

  5. Sally Whittle Says:

    Hi Charles

    Nice post, but isn’t it depressing we’re *still* writing these columns after so many years?

    I’m writing a feature this week for a B2B mag that doesn’t quote suppliers. I send out my features list to 400+ PR types, and clearly state I’m interested in case studies and analysts, but can’t quote suppliers. Cue a dozen or more emails starting “I know you said you can’t quote suppliers, but….” And I know it’s not just me that has this experience, over and over again.

    It’s nice to think you could avoid this nonsense by not answering the phone, but that’s a wee bit incompatible with the whole “talking to people” part of my job - so it’s just a constant, low-level irritation.

  6. Gareth Morgan Says:

    So if the Panasonic rep just wanted you to ‘blog’ about their new camera without so much as a small thing like, say, purpose - does this count as a success for them?

  7. Chris Green Says:

    It deeply concerns me that large chunks of the PR and marketing community have taken blogging, and in particular bloggers to be an outlet that will cover any old turd regardless of what it is, whether it is newsworthy, interesting, different, innovative or have anything about it to warrant a post.

    Yes, there are some blogs with an audience that will write up every call, email and printed press release they receive regardless of what it is and whether anyone will care. Thankfully they are in the minority, and usually don’t extend to blogs written by professional staff and freelance journalists. Otherwise, the concept of a blog as a journalistic outlet would be both pointless and worthless.

    Charles - naming and shaming needs to happen more often, bravo!

  8. Caroline Tarbett Says:

    How utterly depressing. Just picked this up on TWL and it made my heart sink. Many of us working in PR would like to think, perhaps naively, that our craft has improved over the years. My observation and experience gathered over the last ten years tells me that there are some extremely proficient PR people operating in the marketplace but, at the same time, the issue of poorly prepared media pitching keeps cropping up. It seems that the message just isn’t getting through - the fact remains that many teams still put their least experienced members on the phones without the necessary preparation or knowledge. Whilst this still goes on I fear nothing will change but I do hope that the industry reads your post and takes notice.

    It would be nice, for once, to read something glowing about our industry on this site!

  9. Tim Hoang Says:

    Great post Charles. As a newbie in the world of PR it’s always good to get advice from journalists on how to best pitch, not just how to pitch but what to pitch - whether it is relevant to the journalist or not. It helps us and it helps you (no matter what other journalists say). As a fellow (though irregular) blogger, what annoys me is how the PR industry has completely missed the point of blogging. It’s is almost embarrassing, especially those in the tecnology PR industry. Keep up the advice Charles and if i ever need to contact you i will keep it in mind.

  10. Paul Wooding Says:

    Russia aiming nukes at European cities…PROs asking if you “got the press release,” have we gone back to the 1980’s?

    I agree with Caroline that this is really depressing, but there is very little balance in journo/PR coverage. When PROs do well, we’re merely seen as “doing our job” by the media, whereas when we foul up, it’s held up as yet another example of bad PR practice. The only time we get to celebrate great work is within the PR industry. Ask any geneticist, incest isn’t healthy.

    Having said that, in 2007 I find it hard to believe that there are still agencies encouraging (even ordering) their teams to put calls in to see if journalists “got the press release.” What’s made me reach for an even bigger slug of gin is the thought that blogs/Twitters and other 2.0 channels are being seen by my peers as fair game for dull press releases about WidgetZip 4.12 enhancements and CEO visits.

  11. Read this now if you work in Technology PR at middledigit.net Says:

    […] Charles Arthur has let off some steam about PR. He’s had a shocker of a week. Great insight into why PR needs to get a whole lot more “digital”. […]

  12. Ian Betteridge Says:

    Umm… sorry to nitpick a little, but the PR was correct that they were unveiling a brand, not just a logo. A logo is part of a new brand, but not the whole of it. The brand includes the logo, the typefaces, the colour palette, the tone of voice used, and a whole raft of other stuff. So, no, they weren’t just unveiling a logo.

  13. Ian Betteridge Says:

    Paul says: “When PROs do well, we’re merely seen as “doing our job” by the media, whereas when we foul up, it’s held up as yet another example of bad PR practice.”

    Pretty much the same treatment that journalists get from the general public, then :)

  14. Iain Thomson Says:

    Couldn’t agree more with this post, and many of the comments.

    Surely the essence of any pitch is to understand your audience, have the knowledge to persuade that audience and then the skills to match interests with features or benefits. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve got calls from people who either don’t know what they’ve talking about or the type of publication they are talking to.

    As for the “Did you get the release?” calls don’t get me started…

  15. Rambletripe Says:

    While I have sympathy with Charles’ post I find it difficult to feel sorry for him. The problem is Charles doesn’t react (at all) to the advice he gives in how he likes to be approached so he hasn’t developed

    I base this on 12 PR years (bit like dog years but more so) of having worked with virtually :) every national technology journalist on both news and features successfully apart from Charles.

    Could just be the way things have worked out….

  16. Paul Wooding Says:

    “Pretty much the same treatment that journalists get from the general public, then :)”

    Not quite the same Ian. Where’s the Pulitzer prize in PR? Journalism gets “All The President’s Men” PR gets “Erin Brockovitz”

    I take your point that in the public’s eye, journalists get a rough deal but PR does as well. The head of Weber Shandwick (my agency) made this point on his blog about the London 2012 logo (it’s not a brand). The headlines screamed “PR Disaster” when it had nothing to do with PR. if the logo had been OK or even quite good would the headlines have read “PR Triumph”?

  17. Dan Leach Says:

    Wow - that’s some pretty shocking PR practices. On the “you blog don’t you” front, you’ll probably find that the people ringing your aren’t traditional PR folk and are more likely to be product managers who want to have a stab at spreading the word of their latest devices through social media. Not that it’s an excuse.

    Don’t tar all PRs with the same brush though Charles. We’re not ALL bad but it’s up to the better ones to try and instil some kind of best practice across the industry.

    Slapped wrists all round.

  18. mytwopence Says:

    An interesting and unfortunately all too familiar piece,

    The key problem is that pitching to nationals is a bit like penalty taking. You can practice all you like but without training in pressurised situations you are unlikely to be particularly successful.

    Therefore you are faced with a number of young inexperienced PR’s who unfortunately like many England players are not used to such pressure and miss when it comes to the big moment.

    The PR industry needs to help young professionals and not treat them like cannon fodder sending them into battle with inadequate training and not enough information with which to arm their story.

    However there also needs to be understanding on both sides, that most of the time at the end of the day it’s somebody at the end of the phone just trying to do their job as best as they can.

  19. Charles Says:

    @Ian@12 - I disagree: that thing is a logo. The “brand” is London 2012. The logo is the thing that everyone is going “eww!” about. See http://www.answers.com/brand and http://www.answers.com/logo for the comparison. (Mars is a brand; it has a logo on each bar.) They had the logo, animated, in an advert. But it’s still a logo. “London 2012″, as I say, is the brand.

    @rambletripe: The problem is Charles doesn’t react (at all) to the advice he gives in how he likes to be approached so he hasn’t developed.. I base this on 12 PR years (bit like dog years but more so) of having worked with virtually :) every national technology journalist on both news and features successfully apart from Charles… Could just be the way things have worked out….

    Yes, you’ve said the same thing over at The World’s Leading.. . You’ve been on this game since 1995? I’d be interested to know what stories you’ve been pitching, and who all the tech writers are who’ve been Hoovering them up. Give us just two examples of stories they’ve used which I’ve turned down. Seriously: I’m interested. I don’t mind criticism, but I prefer it backed up with facts.

    Ditto for the “doesn’t react at all to the advice he gives…” How so? Call me when I’m not on a deadline and I’ll have a lot more time - though not much, to be honest, to tell you if the email came.

    Bear in mind that those are examples from just two days, very bad days I thought, which suggested how the PR business keeps on not moving on.

  20. Danny Bradbury Says:

    Chris Green said:
    “It deeply concerns me that large chunks of the PR and marketing community have taken blogging, and in particular bloggers to be an outlet that will cover any old turd regardless of what it is.”

    I don’t think it should concern or surprise you, Chris. Why should blog pitches be any better than pitches to paper publications?

    The poorer PR agencies (and their clients) have done this for years - a lot of press releases were touting irrelevant cack to the trades and nationals 15 years ago, and they’re still doing it. It’s just that the number of channels have expanded. A mate of mine on the west coast who was a freelance hack and then went into PR said that the clients were falling over themselves to get covered by the bloggers, so she had to oblige by pitching them. She found it a total nightmare (she’s a journo again now). The main difference I suspect is that because bloggers appear so accessible, a lot of people with no experience of PR whatsoever think they can do their own PR by pitching directly to the better-known blogs. Boingboing’s ‘how to get a link posted here’ page shows how frustrated they must get.

    I seem to recall Scoble bemoaning the fact that PRs were pitching him product even though he was blogging his mum’s death day by day. Channels change, but incompetence at the far end of the PR spectrum remains depressingly constant. I’m just glad that there’s a collection of good PR bods at the other end of the spectrum who balance things out.

  21. Stephen Pritchard Says:

    I have to agree with Charles. It’s not getting any better - worse in fact. An example yesterday played havoc with my blood pressure. A PR sent an email saying that his client couldn’t do the interview I’d requested, but could do 7pm. Did he include his number? Nope, so the chance was lost. I will now have to work on the story this weekend. Said PR made it worse by pitching another client in the email at length (10 screens on my mobile just to scroll through the pitch in the hope of finding a phone number). PRs: do the simple things well and we’ll all be a lot nicer to you.

  22. Chris Brennan Says:

    Whinge, Whinge, Whine, moan. We’re all so important us journalist types aren’t we? PRs that don’t read our minds and know exactly what we want. Aren’t there more important things to get stressed about? So you get pitched by a PR who doesn’t know what they’re doing? It’s not a hardship is it? Get over yourselves you’re not that important and neither is poorly pitched PR.

    @ Stephen ‘PRs: do the simple things well and we’ll all be a lot nicer to you.’

    Are you serious? How’s about being just being nice to another human being for the hell of it. PRs aren’t objects they’re people. It might be worth bearing that in mind the next time they don’t take into account the fact that you might be reading an email on a mobile phone. Idiots!Ch

  23. Ian Betteridge Says:

    @Charles (19): Yes, “that thing” is a logo - but that wasn’t all they were showing. Maybe you didn’t notice the typeface (although it’s hard to miss it), or see the colour guidelines, or the site which allows you to download and play with the logo… but they were all their. They were launching a brand: the fact that the press concentrated on a logo is to do with what the press chose to concentrate on. Which I’m not blaming them for - maybe some specialised PR/marketing/design press would be interested in the details of the brand, but most nationals certainly wouldn’t. But that doesn’t change what they were launching.

    Answers.com’s dictionary definition of what a brand is is, to be honest, about 100 years out of date. Wikipedia’s is better, as it includes this: “A brand often includes a logo, fonts, color schemes, symbols, and sound, which may be developed to represent implicit values, ideas, and even personality.” Note the *includes*.

  24. Charles Says:

    @Ian - yes, brands include logos. Agreed. Yes, London 2012 was branding itself on Monday. But I think that the person who called was calling about the logo, and if you’d said “you mean the overarching concept of what it means?” she’d have said “No, there’s an image I can send you..”

    @Chris - the point that the journalists are making here is that we don’t make any secret of what works well for us, and what works badly; and we haven’t done for years. So why do the same things come up again and again? Why hasn’t the truly bad practice been rooted out?

    And it’s easy to be nice to the first PR person, the second, the third who’s not quite mastered their brief (though it quickly gets boring to say “OK, so go and ask, and call me back when you know”). But our job is to produce papers and magazines and other will-not-wait things, so there isn’t unlimited time to spend. Maybe if we worked in call centres?

  25. Chris Brennan Says:

    @Charles. Perhaps I’m just too laid back to be bothered by it. Perhaps it’s part of working from home and not in an office anymore but I can’t recall suffering’ from what I could call bad practice in PR. I’ve been called numerous times by PR people who haven’t read the publication or know what it is I’m responbsible for in the magazine I work for but it just doesn’t bother me. To be fair what works for you might not be paramount in the mind of a PR person who’s been given a sheet with 200 names and numbers on it and told to call everyone. As far as I can see it the journalists here are just bitching at an easy target.

  26. Andrew Smith Says:

    Charles = perhaps you need to remind PRs to print off this post of yours from 2004…
    http://www.charlesarthur.com/blog/index.php?p=258

  27. Strive Notes » Friday’s five…8 June 2007 Says:

    […] 3.  Charles Arthur, technology editor at The Guardian, has a swipe at crap PRs on his blog.  He repeats the usual complaints…untargeted, unresearched pitches from unprepared and underskilled agency folks.  His complaints are all familar…we’ve heard them thousands of times before.  I could write a full dissertation on why these problems continue year in, year out. One thing he doesn’t mention though…ringing after sending and email pitch does improve the hit rate significantly. If it didn’t work, people wouldn’t keep doing it.  The problems begin with who is doing the calling, and how. […]

  28. Joe Beaulaurier Says:

    @Strive Notes’ post: “If it didn’t work, [PR] people wouldn’t keep doing it.”

    That’s what I kept thinking while reading the post and the comments. The hookers don’t leave as long as there are willing customers nearby.

  29. Alexander Says:

    I agree about the hookers point, although you also have the choice of what kind of hooker you want to be: whether you’re clicking along the streets turning Ł25 tricks or having tea at the Savoy before a pleasant evening out ultimately depends on your aspirations and how you position yourself.

    It’s a two-way street. We also have problems with journalists who expect to be spoon-fed and given access to scant resources and opportunities regardless of the obvious difficulties in delivering them, who then blame the ‘inadequate’ PRs for ‘not doing their jobs’ and making everything easy and available for them on demand.

    A little bit of respect on both sides of the equation would, I suspect, go a long way. It’s a funny thing, respect. If you give it, you get it…

  30. Linda Says:

    I respect people who do their job properly.

    I’m always well-mannered, sometimes too well-mannered, I’m a journalist who ended up in PR and am now going back the other way.

    The part I don’t understand is when people say: “Oh but my nasty boss made me pitch it.” Eh? Run that past me again? The nasty boss is not only doing a crap job but conning their clients, you shouldn’t spray your sh*t everywhere you can, why not try targeting stuff properly?

    I hate the thought of these people sitting in front of their clients saying: “Oh those nasty bloggers just wouldn’t get behind the story, we sent it out to 500 but none bit.” That’ll be ŁX please. Er, so…1. Why should they get “behind” it? and 2) Perhaps the fact that you sent it out to 500 is WHY no-one would take it.

    I read recently that people were “born” with news sense - if that’s true it’s a shame most PR people were behind the door when it was handed out. Too many have never heard of the “so what?” test.

  31. Nigel Says:

    I run a PR business and I’ve forwarded Charles’ comments to my staff to underline my ban on making “did you get my email/release/smokesignal?” type calls. I’ve recently employed a journalist of some 10 years’ experience who is struggling a little with the transition to working in a world of long term client/media relationships - in his words ‘I’m used to simply raping and pillaging to get the story’. I think he is using the terms in a lightearted way….
    Faced with rapers and pillagers, do you try to accomodate them in the hope that enlightenment will follow or do you drop your shoulder and charge at them?

  32. Pete Shield Says:

    Another pet hate added and abetted by Microsoft technology.

    PR e-mails that have enabled response tracking so that the sender can see whether the e-mail has been opened.

    I always click don’t send a response but you can’t win- you just have to wait for the follow up e-mail or phone call, “I see you haven’t had time to read our release on x, can I tell you about it? … “No”

    For an experiment I sent an opened response only to receive a call, “ I see you are interested in our latest release can I provide you with any more info” I was timing the response time- 45 seconds- what do these people do if they are so quick off the block to respond to a small website like mine?

  33. The Count Says:

    On the one hand, it’s depressing to read that illiterate, disorganised clones that masquerade as PR continue to antagonise journalists by unprofessional, aimless and ignorant approaches as outlined above.

    But in another way, I’m rather glad, because it makes my agency, and the values that my staff apply, significantly more effective than some of our more lacking counterparts.

  34. Penny Haywood Says:

    Having been both a freelance writer and a PR person, I have every sympathy with Charles’ situation on a deadline, faced with a stream of intrusive calls from PR people who don’t trust their own email systems to deliver. But post no 27 is dead right: a follow-up phone call produces results. Once the news hook at the top of the story is re-iterated, I find it almost inevitably produces a request for a re-send of the emailed (and presumably binned) release.
    But - and it’s a huge, gi-normous, stonkingly massive B U T, only if the story is really strong and has a great topical news hook. I won’t ring round otherwise.
    For example, a not-for-profit advisory body I recently launched had research showing 90% of CCTV cameras they’d looked at were not complying with the laws and regulations governing CCTV usage. CCTV is reasonably hot news at the moment, from the talking cameras to the ones being piloted on policemen’s helmets, almost every week sees a new CCTV application in the media. The CCTV footage is apparently the first thing a senior investigating police officer asks to see when he arrives at a crime scene. It’s important that the CCTV system is capable of delivering good quality images captured and stored in a properly managed environment so that this evidence is not open to challenge.
    There was hardly any reaction to my initial press release, but a phone round produced 5 radio pieces, both UK & Scottish, including that holy PR grail: R4’s Today programme. Plus two TV news items (including a TV crew at the launch), four national daily papers, and a plethora of online media and trade press.
    It helped that we had a key ingredient that is vital to the media: an articulate expert who could talk convincingly about the subject and illustrate his points with good examples. And we hadn’t wrecked him with the worst sort of media training that tries to get the organisation’s name dropped into every sentence: a bit like really bad search engine optimised web copy. All that does is give broadcast media a nightmare editing scenario: hardly the best way to get invited back. I find that by reliably delivering experts capable of expressing good insightful comment, your experts get invited to comment the next time the journalist or broadcaster is covering the topic. That way, you generate press coverage without having to put a finger near the send email button in the first place. Being constructively lazy by nature, that’s the way i like it!
    I’m not surprised press releases get ignored sometimes. One personal finance writer told a CIPR (Chartered Institute of Public Relation) training session I attended a few years ago that she was getting over 2,000 emails a day. With the huge increase in spam during the intervening period, I hate to think how many emails she gets now.
    I wonder how much email Charles wades through in a day? It must be done fast, or he’d get nothing written. I know from using Mailwasher, I occasionally consign a client accidentally into the blacklist if I don’t go really slowly. I expect a few good stories go the same way.
    At least Charles answers the phone if you ring at a good time.
    One of the Scottish daily papers seems to be impossible to get through to, trapping you in an unending automated holding loop. They’ve missed two stories I’ve had extensively taken up elsewhere - even when I’ve left a succession of answerphone messages: the last one pointing out somewhat desperately that I’m getting major media interest. One of those instances they missed was CameraWatch, the CCTV advisory body mentioned above. Despite their UK launch being run on this particular newspaper’s home patch…. Short of door-stepping them covered in placards, I give up!

  35. Alexander Says:

    That’s the enormous frustration. When you’ve got a great story, when you’ve got ‘news sense’ enough to know it’s a great story and when you’re given the ‘oh no, it’s another flak flogging the same old tawdry dross’ treatment. Because, of course, 97% of calls ARE flaks flogging dross. That’s where you have to have the respect of the media you’re dealing with - or earn it fast. By being different, bang on the money or, sometimes, just by getting through and making your point intelligently. Journalists do recognise PRs who ‘get it’. But it appears to be a universal problem that there are so many PRs who patently don’t.

  36. Steph Says:

    In the world of B2B PR personal contact and development of relationships with relevant journalists is essential as, by its nature, you’re dealing in specialist subjects which you’re hoping will reach a specific, interested target audience. Surely journalists working in these specialist areas, even on national papers, understand the value of building up relationships with PR professionals who are sector-specific - there is definitely a mutual benefit in being willing to listen when you get ‘that call’ following up on a press release. I don’t believe there is a substitute for the personal approach but totally agree that you shouldn’t bother making that call if you aren’t fully informed and prepared to answer the ensuing questions. I was always told that we should ‘think like a journalist’ but like to believe that there are journalists out there with an element of humanity who may give you that 2 minutes to justify the contact.

  37. Charles Says:

    @Steph and all the rest: yes, we journalists, especially but not exclusively on nationals, understand completely how important good relationships with contacts - which includes PRs who know stuff - are.

    But nobody seems to be listening to the point I’m making. It’s this.

    YOU CAN GET IN TOUCH DIRECTLY BY OTHER MEANS THAN A PHONE.

    Yes? Instant messenger? Text message? If all you think is that it’s easier to trog through a list of 50 people for your followup call, maybe you need to consider why you’ve got a list that’s so long. And whether there’s a better way to do it. Did you know you can send a text to multiple people at once? And carry on multiple IM conversations?

    Though Penny’s tale (@34) does put us all to shame. Journalists for not seeing it - but quite possibly all the PR organisations bombarding them with pointless stuff which means stories get lost amidst the dross.

  38. The Youngest Professional on the Planet Says:

    As a PR Professional who is just getting her feet wet, its really sad to see that there is so much tension between PR Pros and Journalists. I’m lucky to have made friends, who happen to be aspiring journalists, who tell me that PR Pros have often helped them gain advances on/break news stories or gain access to business figures who they otherwise would not have been able to gain access to. I think it boils down to passion. Good PR Professionals (as well as Journalists) are passionate about the industry they are working in — you can hear it their pitches // see it in their writing — whether it be Non-Sexy Tech or Entertainment. It may seem idealistic to think that “passion” should be the cornerstone of a PR PRO/Journalist’s work, but I can honestly say that when I begin to lose passion for the sector that I’m working in, I’m either going to change fields or totally change profession; spare all you Journalists the agony of trying to make you care about something I don’t really care about.

  39. Esther Says:

    With all the greatest respect, I am getting a little tired of journalists telling me how to do my job. PR is a very different discipline than journalism and most PRs will have a wider experience of journalists tastes than the individuals like Charles could ever possibly imagine. I know journalists who hate being phoned, and I won’t phone them. Others like that personal touch and respond very well to a quick phone call. Some may respond to texts and other technologies, while others will not. Whatever everyone else says the fact remains I have placed stories that otherwise would have been overlooked if I hadn’t made that taboo phone call. I’m glad I did it and I’ll do it again.

    And as for supposed ‘did you get my email?’ faux pas - I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve sent emails and had no response and then it goes on the wires and then they’re all beating a path to my door. When I politely point out that it has already been sent, Mr Journalist does a frantic search through the inbox before asking for me to send it again.

    At the end of the day there are some good PRs and some bad PR, just as there are some good journos and bad journos. I could write a blog as long as my arm, and give it a much more offensive title about the journos who call me not having researched my organisation properly nor the topic they’re supposed to be writing about. However I always remain polite and professional, as a good journalist should also do when dealing with tiresome PRs.

  40. Charles Says:

    With the greatest respect
    My father, I think, told me that when someone prefaces a remark with that phrase they’re about to be really quite rude.

    I am getting a little tired of journalists telling me how to do my job.
    Hey, I’m getting tired of PRs who don’t know what their story is or how I might be interested in it calling me. Shall we form a Facebook group?

    most PRs will have a wider experience of journalists tastes than the individuals like Charles could ever possibly imagine.
    With the greatest respect, I’ve been in this game a long time and I know a lot of journalists in a lot of disciplines and I’ve worked on trade mags, consumer mags, weekly mags, national papers, websites and those publications which are commissioned by companies. So I’d be careful, were I you, of making such sweeping statements. You have looked at my CV, right?

    Your point about emails and the wires only serves to prove that email isn’t working - the good stories are being drowned in the lousy, stupid ones. I’ve had a number today; all rubbish, apart perhaps from one.

    You don’t say what your organisation is, which makes it a bit hard to judge. (I’ll help the viewers: It’s about drinking awareness, and it’s funded by the alcohol industry, while being independent of its funders.)

    But the difference, ultimately, is this: you can be pretty sure that journalists’ output will reach some number of readers. With blogs or websites, it’s much harder - and you’re often preaching to the converted.

    So your contribution here is welcome (even if it was prefaced with great respect). My point, though, remains: you may be one of the good ones. But there’s a lot who don’t know whether the best way to contact me is by phone, text or IM; nor when.

  41. Esther Says:

    Charles I wasn’t questioning your experience or CV, I was just trying to point out that we’re sitting on different sides of the fence and our experiences are very different. When I go to seminars with journalist speakers, what they say is often very different to my experience at ground level. For example I once sent an email to Granada Tonight about a really good story happening on their patch. They ignored it. I called up and they said they didn’t think it was of interest to them. I was amazed, so I called back again later and spoke to someone else. She immediately jumped on it and ran with two seperate items on it the next evening. Now apparently I broke all the rules in the book there, but I got my story out.

  42. Paul Wooding Says:

    Shoot me for besmirching my fellow PROs, but isn’t the argument “I’m glad I made that follow-up call because it got me X result” the same as saying “I’m glad I sent out 200 emails about that pyramid selling scandal because one person just paid me ten grand”? One swallow a Summer doth not make. It doesn’t even make a decent sized pie.

    If a story is that great but a journalist hasn’t got in touch then one of two things has happened. A) the press release was badly written and didn’t pull out the key messages that made the announcement so newsworthy or B) the journo was contacted using an unsuitable method of communication.

    I don’t think anyone is saying “don’t call the media,” just when you do, make sure it’s for a reason more valid than questioning someone’s memory/ability to do their job properly.

    And it’s in our interest to be better at our jobs. I called certain pink national a while ago with the offer of an interview with the CEO of a global electronics company on the back of a major product announcement. I started the call the usual way “Hi [name] do you have a minute? I have a story you might be interested in.” Spot my mistake? I said “story” not “interview”, when I offered the interview I got a 2min rant about how bad the PR industry is and how many calls like this that journo received in a day. I pointed out to him that slightly misuing one word (surely an interview would lead to a story?) is hardly a major crime and that his reaction was OTT…I got an aplology. We’re all human, and we all make mistakes, but would that journo have blown up over such a daft issue had they not been worn down by poor PR contact? Probably not.

  43. Charles Says:

    @Esther @41: your point about the Granada story is a perfect illustration of why PR needs to be about knowing people. If you’d known just the right person there to send the release to, rather than a generic email (I’m guessing), don’t you think you’d have got a different result, first time?

    It wasn’t that you broke the rules; I think that you were playing slightly the wrong game there to begin with. For a journalist, their contacts book is the most valuable thing they have. Surely the same should apply for a PR.

    Good point by Paul - though of course it depends what time you make the call…

  44. Rob Artisan Says:

    Charles,

    PR is such a competitive profession to get a start in, you would expect the level of skill and common sense to be higher.

    Rob

  45. Charles Says:

    @44: I always thought that the thing about common sense is that it isn’t.

    Brrm-tish! Thank you, here all week.
    Also I’m not sure what level of skill is required to work through a list of names and numbers and ask them if they’ve received your email. As I’ve said on a number of occasions, it seems to me like a hazing ritual where you give the newbies the worst possible experience so that everything else will seem good by comparison, not because it’s smart or the best way to do things.

    But there is also clearly a sizeable faction out there which insists that mindlessly ringing people up does bring some ROI, so therefore it must be used. Not, in my view, a very good metric, because it ignores the negative effect that it has on the people who don’t spring to snaffle up your idea you phone about but instead slam the phone down and curse people who phone you during deadlines. Stopping everyone in the street is not the way to catch thieves. You have to choose your targets more carefully. Else you annoy the vast majority who you stop for no reason.

  46. Media-training-anyone? Says:

    I really can’t beleive how pompous you guys are at times. So you get a bit annoyed sometimes by someone who is just trying to do their jobs? Well hey, welcome to the real world! It is part of your job, put up or shut up. And if you really want to dive into exsamples of inept professionalism you would do well to look amongst your own ranks first. Drunken journalists verbally (and sometimes physically) abusing clients, NDA’s broken, ‘interesting’ expense claims……. Stones and glass houses spring to mind.

    I just love how certain journalists bemoan the demise in quality of PR but then as soon as there is a whiff of media training money they are all over the PR guy. Let me be clear here - I am in no way inferring you are one of those guys Charles but it certainly applies to at least one of the contributors to this trail.

    I have used this individual a couple of times now and will NEVER do so again. He turned up late, blamed everyone but himself, didn’t even apologise and then spent the next two hours insulting my client. It wasn’t even as if he seemed to know what he was talking about. Just kept rambling about how ‘I contribute to the FT you know’ and then just talked about what a tough life it is to be a journalist. He then had the cheek to quibble his invoice and tried to bump up his (pre-agreed and extortionate) fee! He won’t stick to the agenda, he doesn’t do the homework and then he just spends the whole time telling your client how sneaky journalists are and not to trust them! Oh the irony……….

    And before anyone asks, I have remained anonymous as I still have to pitch to him and it would not be fair on my clients to have their coverage impacted by my opinions. It’s a shame that I feel the need to do this but as I said, welcome to the real world!

  47. Charles Says:

    @46 - ah yes, let him who is without sin first cast the beam in his brother’s eye or be excommunicated to the glass outhouse..

    Where are these drunken journalists? Are these contemporary tales? Sounds fascinating. (And surely you’ve given enough info for the journalist, whoever it is, to identify themselves.. haven’t you?)

    As to the “only doing their jobs” - my point, reiterated endlessly, is that phoning people up in this way is *doing the job badly*. It is not defensible as a method. It is stop-and-search translated to email-and-phone. It does not work, or if it does work then only at a huge cost to your own reputation - look at the reaction here.

    Your points may be valid, but it’s possible for mine to be *at the same time*.

  48. Michael Tangeman @ Media Mindshare Says:

    Jayzuz, I just couldn’t read through 47 comments, but … I think I get the gist of it.

    Having worked both sides of the fence now, lemme say that the problem Charles describes has always been there, at least in my years of journalism from 1982-2000. I cut off more PR pitchers and used the reverse sides of more press releases for telephone message scratch pads than I could ever care to admit (actually, I’m quite happy to admit it, as it gives me a slightly better grip on reality than most PR practitioners I know).

    But, I do think the problem Charles describes is getting worse and it may be due to growing panic in the PR world (my professional home for the last few years) over the shrinking number of traditional media outlets. PR seems now to have gone over the edge of neurosis and bosses who rose through the ranks to what they thought were going to be secure positions creaming off the surplus value of cadres of newbies working beneath them are increasingly pressuring their subordinates to get that placement, no matter what. Call you friggin’ mother, for God’s sake, just call somebody and get a placement! (”placement” being a term which, as a former journalist, I loathe — what, like … the PR guy or gal ‘placed’ the story in the pages of the Guardian?)

    All that said, there’s no real excuse for PR folk who are ignorant of their media — whether traditional or digital.

    Which brings me to point number two … way back in Comment #7, Chris Green refers to those bloggers (apparently in the minority, though I’m not sure what metric has been devised yet to ascertain this) who “will write up every call, email and printed press release they receive regardless of what it is and whether anyone will care.” Most bloggers, particularly those written by professional staff and freelance journalists from traditional media, he seems to be saying, don’t fall prey to this temptation.

    Well, let me assure you that as a journalist for nearly two decades and in PR the last few years, I’ve seen many a professional journalist who would from sheer laziness or under deadline and staff-cut pressures grab just about anything thrown at them and slap it onto a page, cutting and pasting from a press release (and even other reporters’ work) to make sure they filled the newshole with something grey, not white. So, Chris, don’t for a minute think the same kind of unprofessionalism that exists in the PR world does’t exist in traditional and digital/social media.

    The thing that has saved traditional media from those who would be unprofessional is a hard-fought code of standards and ethics, which although not always adhered to nevertheless does exist and serves as a measurement for the heights and depths of the profession. Unfortunately, similar codes of behavior have yet to emerge in the world of blogging and social media (recent efforts following the Kathy Sierra episode, notwithstanding).

    And, as for PR, well … I have little hope that anybody in the profession will ever hold anybody else accountable to real ethics and standards. Too much money involved to ever give anything other than lip service to ethics. It’s just up to those who are honest to do the best they can and realize that we’re always going to be tarnished by the unprofessionalism of others in the biz, like it or not. We know who we are and there’s some small satisfaction in that!

  49. Murphy’s Law » Media Relations for the masses… Says:

    […] anyone thought about the implications for our business when we migrate our shoddier media relations practices to the wider general public in the interest of the “art of […]

  50. thegoodthebadthespin.com | This is embarrassing Says:

    […] in raising the bar—and telling it like it is. Courtesy of Murphy’s law, here’s a telling example of why public relations will likely continue to suffer its ongoing identity crisis. […]

  51. Verbal diatribe Says:

    Ah, yes! Hmmmmm. Which side of the fence to perch? Poacher turned gamekeeper. Several years on two regional dailies and a couple of decades in ‘PR’ and my allegiances are torn. OK. I am that prostitute. That upper class call-girl.

    Surely the essence of this thread is that journalists are in search of the truth? Or an ‘exclusive’. Or, at the very least, to cut through the PR ’spin’, the majority of which should never be committed to a keyboard, let alone submitted to a journalist. Sadly.

    I’d be hacked off (geddit?) if I was pestered all day by simpering PR-drink-dispensing-bimbos who had never set foot in a newsroom, who had no clue about storylines or, worse, deadlines. Try copy-tasting, dah-links!

    Equally, I am frustrated by ignorant, arrogant, supercilious and condescending hacks.

    Whether either party likes it or not, the journalist-PR relationship is - and should be - symbiotic. It’s a relationship thang. For that, I have every sympathy - and empathy - with Charles harping on about deficiencies of PRDDBs.

    And that is where this new-fangled “social” media comes in. Come on, you’re having a laugh. There’s is nothing ‘new’ about social media. I’d like to think that people have been having conversations for, oooooo, let me think, eons. Possibly. The only thing that has changed is that people no longer talk, they converse…. digitally.

    That is ~exactly~ the point. Blogging is a social medium. It should be a conversation between “people like me”. PR stunts can help to catalyse conversations but, in my view, they should never try to manipulate them, for better or worse.

    PRs: stop being so precious and if you really want to create, build and maintain a corporate reputation through the media, understand the rules of engagement.

    Journalists: A little love goes a long way and, by and large, you know who you want to be your hooker.

    Supercilious ~and~ condescending? Maybe. Arrogant and rude? Never.

  52. goodthreadthis Says:

    Laughed at this comment: “PR is such a competitive profession to get a start in, you would expect the level of skill and common sense to be higher.”
    Compared to getting a start on a newspaper, getting a job in PR is a piece of piss. Sorry, but I’ve done and seen both. There are lots of people in PR who wouldn’t last five seconds on a newspaper.

  53. Crawford Says:

    Are we going for the G4 record here?

  54. KD Says:

    Interesting debate. I’m sorry to bring some shades of grey here but isn’t this simply a case of there being good and bad journalists in their industry and good and bad PR people in ours.

    Charles stikes me (and I’ve had no dealings with him not being in tech PR) as a good journalist dealing with bad PR people regularly - hence his frustration. Surely no-one can honestly say that people on both sides are completely poor at their job - that would be utterly facile.

    PS - Charles, do you blog?

  55. Charles Says:

    @Crawford - nah, G4 is streets ahead so far. Must find some other no-hoper group to insult. (And what *has* happened to that girl who won the last X Factor? I saw Ben thingy’s CD reduced to Ł5 in Woolies. No sign of hers, though.)

    @KD - at the Gdn, I do post stuff to the Technology and Games blogs from time to time. I might have done about the camera, had it been interesting - I did something about Kodak printers a way back.

  56. Crawford Says:

    Anything for the traffic eh? Lee Mead gets my vote as next target. If I see one more “Any dreamboat will do” titled piece, I am going to do someone a mischief…oh and on the whole topic thing, this stems a great deal not from inexperienced newbies (who learn at an incredible rate…) butfrom the fact many people in PR and client-land still think you have to talk on the phone or face-to-face to ‘build a relationship’. Not true. Every one of my top ten or so journo contacts is done via email and is frequent, adds value with each exchange and most importantly, productive .

  57. JonnyC Says:

    New reporters on the weekly paper where I started out all had to take a turn in reception with local nutter, John Knight, who had been peddling the same alien abduction conspiracy story for - what? - 20 years. The point is, if your chosen vocation is journalism, then the nub of your job is to keep your eyes and ears open, as you never know where a story may lie. So yes, there may be inept “pitches” from PR people (please, not “PRs” - that’s not even propa inglish, right?) but as a journalist isn’t your job to find the gold in there somewhere? You just have to keep listening and breathing deeply.

  58. Dragos Dehelean - Relatii Publice si comunicare online » Blog Archive » Interviu Campaign “PR-ul si blogurile” Says:

    […] “Die, PR, die, or raise your game and learn about asynchronicity” […]

  59. ShinyRed » Blog Archive » The lifespan of blog outreach “specialists” Says:

    […] term. As outreaching to bloggers becomes a standard competency for PR professionals and things like this stop happening so often, they are likely to become more open to being pitched simply because […]

  60. Steve Ellis Says:

    More lessons for PRs…

    Michael Arrington of TechCrunch vents here - a little over the top perhaps, doubtless it was a bad……

  61. Antony Mayfield's Blog Says:

    “Die PR, die…” says editor…

    The asynchronicity he's talking about it in communications, about using email and IM and blogs to…

  62. Ben Ayers » links for 2008-06-17 Says:

    […] Charles on… anything that comes along » Die, PR, die, or raise your game and learn about asynchronicity […]

  63. Can PR behave itself on social media? » pr-media-blog.co.uk Says:

    […] But more surprising is the journalists’ response to Davies’ question. A fearsome critic of poor PR tactics, The Guardian’s Charles Arthur, comes out almost cuddly, saying: “I’m all for it” (on the proviso it’s in lieu of a phone call. The penalty for getting that wrong is inconceivable). And then @RobinBrown78 kicks back with “Relaxed about it - as long as it’s relevant.” […]

  64. Why Journalists and PRs Will Never See Eye to Eye | Annette Rubery Says:

    […] There’s a fine tradition of journalists taking the piss out of PRs, but in the spirit of fairness, 10 Yetis PR Agency (in association with Daryl Willcox Publishing) have come up with a brand new set of awards. They’re catchily called The Crapps (Communicative Relations Awards from PR Professionals). Not only is it a kick in the teeth for the likes of Charles Arthur, The CRAPPS are also ‘an opportunity for public relations practitioners and the media to cosy up in the build-up to Christmas’. […]

  65. Crapps awards celebrate love-hate relationship between hacks and PRs | UmeedainTimes.com Says:

    […] There are no actual prizes though, so the good news is no one will be getting a Crapp in the post. That would be even worse than a pointless and poorly written press release, or an irritating call from a clueless PR. […]

  66. Crapps awards celebrate love-hate relationship between hacks and PRs | Blogs News Says:

    […] There are no actual prizes though, so the good news is no one will be getting a Crapp in the post. That would be even worse than a pointless and poorly written press release, or an irritating call from a clueless PR. […]

  67. Deblar457 Says:

    As a PRO, I think it’s vital PROs and journalists see each other’s viewpoint and to have a little mutual respect and understanding. Both roles bring their own challenges!

    It is shameful for a PRO to call a journalist without having thought through what is newsworthy or of note about the matter they are about to speak about and how they can relate it to the journalist’s audience. PROs should ALWAYS understand what they are promoting and how it fits with the particular media outlet they are speaking with before they pick up the phone or press send on an e mail. Anything less deserves short-shrift!

    I do have a point to make about follow-up calls and I think they do sometimes have a place in professional PR. I have found that sometimes (especially with regional media) if you send information to their newsdesk, as requested, it can get ‘lost’. I have, on many occasions, e mailed a press release that’s not been picked up initially, but has been used by a news team after a follow-up call to check they received it. If I considered an item truly of interest, I would most definitely follow up the press release to check a) it had been received , and b) if there was anything else I could provide.

    I stress again this is most relevant when dealing with ‘general’ newsdesks and e mail addresses.

    I guess it’s all about how people prefer to receive information, which, if you know the journalist you are dealing with, you can tailor what you do to meet their preferences. If you are dealing with an unknown publication or general newsdesk, that is not quite so straightforward and sometimes you have to persist until you get to the right person.

    We’re not all numptys, honest!

  68. Crapps awards celebrate love-hate relationship between hacks and PRs | Tracepk – Latest News From All Over the world Says:

    […] There are no actual prizes though, so the good news is no one will be getting a Crapp in the post. That would be even worse than a pointless and poorly written press release, or an irritating call from a clueless PR. […]

  69. Martin Says:

    I am a journalist and I like PR professionals. No, really, I do. Though it does tend to unnerve them when as soon as they say, nervously, “I have something from ….. and I think you might be interested in it…” and I say: “Great! Please send it over to me!”

    I had one once who said: “Really? But I haven’t told you what it is, yet!”

    My response was: “Look, ….. make great products. And I am certain if they want you to send me a press release, then it will be relevant to the publication I work on!”

    I was having a conversation with a journalist on a publication by a rival publisher and he began to rant about PR people and how he hated them. I looked him up and down, rolled my eyes and said: “Look, you are only a journalist. Get over yourself!” He looked dumstruck. I walked away. I hadn’t got any antihistamines and I have an allergy to that kind of BS!

    There are some people who are a bit useless as PR people. One of them I know was crap as a journalist. Oh, hang on! He was always very dismissive of PR people, too!

    [Odd how Martin says he is a journalist but then includes a link to thatschristmas.co.uk in the URL space on the comment.. a domain registered by someone whose first name is Martin. - CA]

  70. Sue Thomason Says:

    I like PR professionals too. I’m a bit tired of the unprofessionals, though. My magazine is very obviously and publicly for women over a size 12 so when PRs send me samples that are a size 8 and then expect me to pay to return them, I get a bit peeved.

    This happens a lot. I send this email to the PR:
    “We’re planning a fashion shoot next week and are looking for clothes, accessories and shoes to feature. Our model is Tonia Brundell and her size details can be found here” (I provide a link to the model’s details).

    Then I get a box of clothes that are size 8. Then when I contact the PR and say our model is a size 18 and these samples can’t be used in our shoot, please can you arrange pick up or send postage costs, the PR says: “Unfortunately due to company policy sample returns must be paid for by the company we sent them to. As I am sure you understand we are happy to send at our client’s expense but their budgets are also tight. All publications pay for the return.”

    The return costs come to Ł20 on this occasion.

    Then she rings me and asks me when she can expect the return of her samples.

    What would you do?

    And I’m going to name and shame the latest in a succession of PR companies who have done this to me: Goodley PR.

  71. Which journalists would you give The CRAPPs to? | The Wall Blog Says:

    […] As well as all the fun of the journalist/PR categories – nominate your favourites here – we have a Twitter-only competition running every week of the four week-long scheme, featuring everybody’s favourite tech journalist, The Guardian’s Charles Arthur – winner of 2010′s ‘most likely to tell you to sling your hook’ award, part-inspiration for The CRAPPs and author of this blog: Die, PR, die, or raise your game and learn about asynchronicity. […]

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