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A Letter to Clueless PR Reps
Dear Public Relations Reps,
I know it is your job to send press releases. I also know that you might have to bang out a few in a single day and then blast them to hundreds, or even thousands, of bloggers and media outlets by COB. For you, it's a numbers game. Your boss hands you the same massive (and dusty) address book the agency's been using for ages or emails you an extensive Excel spreadsheet some woeful intern spent an entire summer updating. Then you type in addresses or copy and paste and press 'send' until your pointer finger bleeds. I get it: You're just doing what you're told because you're trying to pay the bills. But isn't the real point of these e-blasts to get responses from writers, editors, and producers? What your clients really care about is how many features and interviews you land for them, not how many emails you sent. My advice to you—since I get asked all the time—is to do your research.
Hone in on the outlets that would actually cover your client. That requires getting to know an outlet first. Don't know about Quail Bell Magazine? Read our mission statement and check out some of our past articles before you clutter my inbox. After you've researched the outlet, think about how that particular outlet would cover your client. Not every client and bit of news or hoped-for angle is going to be a perfect fit for an outlet.
Here's an example of a PR rep who didn't do their research. I recently received a press release from someone who represents Pepsi. She wanted me to write about Cardi B starring in Pepi's new "Okurrr" commercial which premieres at the 61st Annual Grammy Awards telecast this Sunday, February 10th. Go ahead and watch it:
In a way that rep is getting what she wanted because I'm writing about the commercial now. However, I'm not writing about it in the sense that she was expecting or would appreciate. She wanted a promotional piece, not cultural commentary or analysis. This rep needed to get her client's name—Pepsi—out there in a positive way. Instead, I'm interested in why Cardi B is appropriating "Okurrr," a term from the drag community, in a national commercial (and in enough other instances that it needed explaining on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon.) I emailed the rep. Radio silence.
In my experience with PR reps, if this person had wanted that kind of coverage, she would've responded ASAP, even if it meant tapping a reply on her iPhone in the middle of SoulCycle. Some PR reps are smart enough to recognize an opportunity to give their clients a voice, even in controversial situations. This one was not. I didn't even need an interview with Cardi B; I could've gotten an emailed statement from a Pepsi exec and that alone would've been something to analyze in a story. That statement could've redeemed, or at least clarified, the commercial for me and, by extension, my readers. And sending me that statement could've resulted in getting the client some positive coverage, anyway.
While you as an overworked PR rep might not have time to research every outlet, you could spend a little more time on crafting a more thoughtful message in the first place. I prefer press releases that focus on facts. I'm not interested in hyperbole, sales pitches, or excessive promotion. Of course give me a narrative (a press release doesn't have to be dry!), but I will analyze and interpret the facts myself. That is one of the reasons I am a writer; I am a critical thinker, or at least I try to be. For me, a newsworthy press release tells a story or shows evidence of a trend. There has to be a hook that connects to something larger than the product, service, or figure mentioned. Maybe that hook is a buzzword prevalent in the news cycle. Maybe that hook is a new study. Again, do your research. Your client is probably not that compelling in isolation.
I don't have to find press releases; they find me. For Quail Bell Magazine alone, I receive dozens every single day. I find myself subscribed to lists I never even signed up for and then there are more tailored pitches directed specifically at me based on articles I've written for other outlets. It appears that many PR reps use social media as a research tool these days and pitch to journalists that way. Or at least they use it as a starting point for gleaning information, such as recent stories and email addresses. Invest the time and effort in finding out who a writer is and what speaks to them. Getting my email address isn't that big of a deal if you don't know how to grab my attention. I am happy to ignore you.
Christine Sloan Stoddard
Quail Bell Magazine
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