Advice for public relations representatives

The time has come, my dear friends in public relations, for yet another chat. PR can be an incredible tool for promoting projects and initiatives, for connecting with journalists, for much, much more. It can also completely sink whatever it is you’re promoting if you start irritating the people you’re deluging in communications, and if you really annoy them, you may come to regret it. That’s a promise, not a threat.

I have some really great relationships with people in PR. I work with a number of enthusiastic publicity specialists who have taken the time to get to know me, to learn what I cover, to establish a personal relationship with me, and we interact on a regular basis. I meet up with them at conventions and hang out! That’s how much I enjoy their company. (Hi Faye.)

I love working with them because they do exactly what PR people are supposed to do. They either make me aware of something I wouldn’t have known about, or they get me interested in taking a more active role, whether that be talking about an initiative, interviewing authors, or something else. They’re doing what their companies rely on public relations for, carefully placing given campaigns with the right people, and I hope they’re paid what they deserve, because their work isn’t necessarily easy — they have to find target journalists, bloggers, and other professionals and establish relationships with them, which is not always easy when they’re competing with a lot of shouters in crowded inboxes. All of you people whom I love can go off and read something else now, because I’m talking about the bad side of PR.

I mean, you can keep reading if you want. You might spot a few things on here that make you cringe because they remind you of things you did early in your career. You might find these recommendations helpful for mentees in your office who are just starting to learn about public relations in the real world, not what they studied in college. Who knows, maybe you just like to sit back and enjoy journalists expressing deep irritation about the badly behaved members of your profession! (After all, I kind of like watching terrible ‘journalists’ get their comeuppance.)

So, let’s get started. I receive between 20-30 press releases daily, which is absolutely nothing compared to some journalists I know. That is a lot of press releases. I sift through them extremely quickly, often looking at the subject line alone, which, yes, means you need to be able to communicate what you want in one line. But you already know that. I also maintain inbox zero, so I’m already predisposed to be annoyed with you when you disrupt something I’m working on to drop yet another press release in my inbox, which is something you should definitely keep in mind.

There are a few really simple rules to follow when contacting me, or, honestly, most journalists.

  1. Know what I cover. This shouldn’t actually be as challenging as it seems to be, but there you go. I get tons of press releases for random things that are patently not what I cover, and sometimes antithetical to subjects I discuss. There’s a high probability that I don’t want free botox injections to promote your plastic surgery clinic, and I probably don’t want to subscribe to your dirty lingerie of the month box. I don’t have a problem with either of these activities, but they’re not. what. I. cover.
  2. Know who I am. I get it, most press releases are sent out on blast, and therefore you don’t even bother addressing them by individual name, for obvious reasons, unless you’re using customising email clients. If you ARE trying to craft a custom press release, though, please spell and capitalise my name correctly, and be able to namecheck/reference something that is both relevant and…actually something I’ve done. I’ve received press releases referencing things other journalists have done, or discussing ancient stories that were often one-offs or things that went off-beat for me. Just because I covered a muffin mix subscription service once because I thought it was funny (I didn’t, FYI) doesn’t mean I want your cake mix subscription service in my inbox. (I will, however, accept a subscription to a Cake of the Month Club.)
  3. Include an unsubscribe button. You know what irritates me more than almost anything else on Earth? Getting an unwanted press release, or a slew of them from the same person/agency, and not being able to unsubscribe easily. Yes, I will reply to unwanted PR with ‘unscubscribe’ in the text of my email if you won’t provide a means for doing it automatically. Which brings me to:
  4. Don’t talk back to me. If I am forced to tell you that I want to unsubscribe, don’t try to claim that I ‘wasn’t on a blast, this wasn’t a personal email’ or ‘I had no idea you’d be so offended.’ Don’t. Just don’t. I know what you do, you know what you do. You know that I know what you do. Let’s not pretend. Just quietly remove me from your mailing list so we can move on from our lives.
  5. Don’t play the trick of having each rep at your agency use a different client list so I have to unsubscribe from all of you. There’s one agency, which I’m going to start naming and shaming if it keeps happening, which sends at least three press releases a day under different names. I unsubscribe from them all, and inevitably, more keep coming in. Yes, those names represent different people working on different projects, but it’s pretty patently clear that I don’t want to receive any communications from you. Provide me with the option of unsubscribing from a single rep or your entire corporate mailing list.
  6. Don’t call me. Ever. I have no idea how you got my personal and very carefully guarded phone number, but if you call me, you will really regret it. 

Image: mini malist, Flickr