The E-Mail I Hate Getting the Most From Clients

Just fix it. I hear this statement a few times a year. It usually comes after a message isn’t carried correctly in a news report or the CEO’s name was misspelled. (Yes, that still happens. Even in the age of Google.)

Every once in a while, though, I get this little line e-mailed to me after a client cut us out of the loop on a media interview. We don’t expect to be on the phone with clients for every single interview. But, if you have a PR firm, it would be wise to:

a) let them know someone from the press contacted you

b) talk out some key messaging before the interview, and

c) let us follow up with the reporter or blogger to make sure they have images, your bio, other background, and got the right ideas and messages from you. (You’d be surprised how many will recap the interview with us, giving us a good chance to correct any misperceptions.)

But, unfortunately, too often this doesn’t happen. The head of sales or the engineer or anyone else in the company thinks it’s not big deal to just give an interview. (Sorry to pick on sales and the techies, but this is where it happens the most.) Then the story comes out and someone higher up starts e-mailing like mad to find out “what happened.” (Naturally, we are “cc-ed” because it must be our fault.)

Right about then, we get the “fix it” e-mail. All in a day’s work, or would you rather have your PR dollars spent on getting opportunities rather than sweeping up later?

Is Media Relations Dead?

I interrupt our series of developing a modern communications plan, to bring you the following post. We will resume our communications planning series on Thursday, March 8.

I spent a great deal of my communications career, especially in the early days, pitching reporters story ideas. If I were to be completely honest it was meant to get my clients ink or broadcast. We in the PR field call(ed) this activity “media relations.”

This meant we were attempting to get a dialogue going with a staff reporter/editor, producer or paid freelancer. We would tell them a story idea and we hoped they would “bite,” causing them to want to learn more, write about it and quote (in a positive light) a client. Whole PR agencies dedicated themselves to this activity starting, oh, sometime in the late 1980s through, oh, about 2008 (give or take).

But, then something happened. The media as we knew it started to fade right about the time the Internet was taken over by the people (read: social media).

The demise of traditional media is well documented. Some declare it dead. Others say objective journalism will find a new home and rise again to new heights. Some say it’s making a comeback. But, regardless of the outcome, the question is still begging to be asked: Is media relations – as we know it – dead? 

With the rise of social media giving a platform for anyone and everyone to tell their own story directly to the masses, not to mention the rise of homemade video and infographics, is there room or even a need for that third party credibility that a professionally written story about you (or our clients) provide?

Why spend hours trying to convince a reporter to give you that one quote in a 1,500 word story (down from 3,000 ten years ago) that may or may not be read by anyone you need to see it because there is just so much out there to see, overall? Also, today we hear more reporters asking us to write for them. “Can you deliver 750 words on that by next week?” is heard far more often now than, “great, let me interview your CEO.” We also find it more difficult to know who is a staff reporter and who is a “guest columnist.”

It’s enough to make you question the activity altogether. But, perhaps we are just thinking about it all wrong. Perhaps the activity of spreading a story needs to be broadened and renamed.

Rather than media relations, how about calling it storyteller relations?

After all, the “media” can be almost anyone today. If we see everyone as a potential storyteller of our stories, wouldn’t we see more traction for them across all mediums? Attempting  to interest whoever is influencing our target audiences to help spread the word about us and what we’re up to might be the better path.

What do you think?

Who is that Masked Writer? The Disappearing Professional Journalist

Thank you Internet and social media for turning the world of media relations on its ear in the last five years. It was time for such a communications upheaval. It is creative and exhilarating.

But, this revolution has not been without consequences. And, we have seen something new emerge, which has us a little perplexed and unsure of how we should feel about it.

First, know that we are unafraid of new trends (we’ve seen quite a few come and go). You could say we are “well-seasoned.” Four Leaf is comprised of PR professionals who have all used a typewriter for work (not at a museum just to see what it feels like), can recall when a two day turnaround at a mail house was considered fast, and can tell you what a color separator used to do.

We have watched the world go from a one way street where you could only go 35 miles an hour to an information superhighway (remember that phrase?) where you have to go the speed of light just to be seen or heard.  You could say the world has grown into Audrey, the flesh-eating Venus flytrap from the Little Shop of Horrors, crying out Feed me! Yet while the world’s insatiable appetite for information, entertainment and material has grown, one little wrinkle formed: not enough people to fill the content hole.

In fact, today’s media outlets are so hungry for content that we hear more questions more than answers to our media pitches. We used to  hear, I liked the idea. Let me get back to you after I’ve talked with my editor. Today, we most often hear, Sounds great. Can you produce a 1,000 word article on that topic for us?  

But, that’s not the trend we’re noting today that has us scratching our heads. It’s this: we have seen an increasing number of “journalists” who, well, aren’t. They aren’t even close. These writers, who clearly have good backgrounds in their topic, come from anywhere: from non-media companies, from non-profits boards, from the blogosphere, from twitter (because they were prolific there?), from PR firms.

The surprising part of this is that we didn’t know they weren’t a card-carrying journalist until we did some digging. It wasn’t apparent that these were not “media people.” They were hired to write. There is a difference. Journalists aren’t supposed to have an agenda except to write an unbiased account of what happened. Writers from a non-media source can cross the opinion line.

We’ve run into writers for Forbes, CNN, Psychology Today and more who own PR firms, are book authors, or own software companies and other non-media businesses. Hiring writers from non-media sources is not uncommon. But, the fact it’s not transparent that they aren’t on the media’s payroll is what has us wondering what has happened.

Have you noticed this? What do you think of this trend? Smart and savvy? Or, dishonest and scary?