Saturday, May 07, 2005

"PR's Myths About Media" - Fall 1998

“PR’s Myths About the Media”

by Jim Cameron, Cameron Communications Inc. http://www.mediatrainer.tv/

You're not just imagining it
There's always been a certain love-hate relationship between the media and the PR community. They need each other for survival, yet they often express anger and surprise that they don't understand each other better.

For 12 years since I started JFORUM - The Journalism Forum on CompuServe we have explored these "Flack vs. Hack" tensions, most recently in a message thread titled "PR's Media Myths." I invited our 40,000 members (reporters, freelance writers, editors, photographers and non-fiction authors) to share what they think are the PR community's biggest misunderstandings of how journalists operate.

The full message thread runs to 100+ postings and is still growing. I invite you to log onto CompuServe, GO JFORUM and read them all... adding your thoughts as well! What follows are some of the highlights.

Myth #1: Didja Get It?
Nothing irks reporters more than getting phone calls from PR folks asking, "did you get my fax"? One Silicon Valley-based TV reporter said "I get up to 200 faxes per day" and queries like "did you get my fax" provoke him to tell callers he will drop everything he is doing, find "their" fax and rip it to shreds on the phone.
"The US Postal Service and fax machines generally work," noted one industry observer. In other words, they got your fax! If they're not calling you, it's because they're not interested in what you're pitching. Don't make them angrier by reminding them why. "The whole routine about faxes, FedEx and calls to 'make sure you got' something you never wanted in the first place not only is unnecessary but often is counterproductive," put one reporter succinctly.

Myth #2: Misplaced Pitches
A targeted pitch of a story idea will be appreciated. But a shotgun approach generally wounds more parties than it hits head-on. Being ignorant of who you are pitching -- the format of their show, their target audience, etc. -- can really annoy reporters.
An editor for Aviation Daily recalls a pitch that started with the PR "pro" asking, "How often does your publication come out?"
If you can't look at your media guide and put yourself in the reporters' shoes when pitching your client's product/issue/expert, you're wasting your and the reporter's time. Do your homework and target your calls.

Myth #3: "We Bought An Ad"
If you think there's tension between PR and the media, try asking a reporter how he gets along with his station/publication's advertising salespeople. Reporters know that the ads pay the bills, but they ferociously resent a PR person reminding them that their client has an ad running in the same issue/show as the story they're hoping to place with them. And to suggest that an ad somehow entitles their client to better news coverage sends them into a rage.
One reporter said that "anytime a PR person mentions advertising (when pitching me) I put them on hold and switch them to the sales manager's office."
Advertising is bought and paid for and guarantees you placement. Readers know those facts and take your advertising message with a grain of salt. News coverage, on the other hand, is based on the reporter's evaluation of its importance. But being "news" is more credible to the reader/viewer. And it's free. "If flacks don't understand this," wrote one wag, "they should go into advertising."

Myth #4: Calling on Deadline
Even the best-targeted pitch can miss the mark if made at the wrong time. When reporters are under the gun to finish writing or producing just before deadline, there's little chance of getting their attention.
"In all the time I worked on daily (evening news) shows, PR people who had the temerity to call me between four and five p.m. got nowhere," said one TV producer. Or put more positively, a former staffer on PBS's "Nightly Business Report" said he always liked the calls from PR pro's that started with "Is this a good time to talk?" If it not, that pitcher would find a time that was.

Myth #5: Wrong Number
Our TV reporter friend in Silicon Valley tells of the time that some PR person's auto-dialing fax machine kept calling his voice mail rather than his fax machine. "The resulting overload shut down my voice mail overnight," perhaps missing important messages. When the reporter got to work and found what had happened, he plugged his fax into his voice line, got the fax on the umpteenth retry and called the offending sender to read her the riot act.

Myth #6: Rolodex Roulette
This was a new one on us. A high tech trade reporter says a PR firm for a major computer company passed along the name of a person she suggested he interview as a user of her client's product. But when the reporter called, the man refused to talk! Apologetic, the flack thumbed through her Rolodex and offered a second expert. Same reaction... "no comment".
As this reporter (who actually wanted to take the PR pro's pitch!) put it: "the PR agent can't merely parcel out names. I'd rather deal with the PR rep who makes sure the interviewee wants to talk to the press, then gets on the line with them to introduce the two of us and set the stage for the interview."

This is just a small sampling of opinion from the JFORUM thread. I hope you'll take the comments in the same positive spirit most of our journalist members offered them -- an attempt to help the PR and Media communities understand each other a bit better.

© 1998 Cameron Communications Inc.


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