Why PR people ring up to ask if you got the release they emailed you; and why it’s still wrong

Went to talk to a group at a PR company today, to talk to a group of them about how life is inside a newspaper/magazine/online site given the time pressures you’re under (and when those pressures are most intense). After all, most PR folk haven’t worked in a media outlet, and don’t know what the important elements of a story – those things that pique our interest – are.

I made the point that one of the least useful phone calls they make is the one where they say “Did you get that press release I emailed you?” If I’m getting 200 emails a day, I can’t be calling people up to tell them; nor dealing with the phone calls arising from those emails. I need to do some work some time, not just acknowledge receiving the raw information.

“But,” said one, “we get required to make those calls by our clients. They want to get feedback on whether the release was useful to you.” It’s part of ‘measuring’ PR’s effectiveness.

Ohhh, I said. Right. But it still doesn’t make sense. Here’s why. Most emails, I’m not going to act on. They’re just content in the wrong context; they don’t make a story. (On average, 1 in 500 emails generates a story directly.) So if you send it and then ask if it was useful, I’m probably going to say no.

But who knows how useful it might be in a few days, or weeks, or months? I archive my email, and search it on subjects; or read it and note the subject. That can come in useful later. So should I then ring the PR company and say “Mark that one down as useful!”

The problem is that the clients demanding a metric for a dollop of information cast out like bread on the waters are doing it wrong. The initial report is: the bread got soggy and sank. Damn, say the clients, and decide this bread-throwing exercise is a bad idea. But in the end the bread feeds ducks that come along. Or it nourishes things in the water. It has a value – even though you can’t measure it at once.

The problem, of course, is to persuade the clients that’s how it works for the journalists. Well, you could print out this post and show it to them…

1 Comment

  1. What they’re actually measuring is how polite the journalist is on the phone, modulo deadline pressures.

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