Don't be a flack: Tips for PR workers from the journalists who hate them
Today a flack from public relations firm SS PR sent me yet another piece of spam following up an e-mail pitch I never asked for, proving that PR folks need some guidance in how to avoid being "that annoying flack" that journalists and business development workers gossip about at the bar. Because by pleasing journalists, you don't just help them — you help yourself.
1. Don't follow up e-mail pitches ("I was wondering if you had the chance to read this material," said the SS PR message. Oh, I had the chance. I also had the chance to watch Ron Popeil infomercials). The journalist you pitched probably gets ten to a hundred of pitches a day and deleted yours. This time you're marked as spam.
2. Life is not LinkedIn. Do not try to "make contact" with every nearby human being. There's a reason that "making contact" sounds like something you do with aliens.
3. There is such a thing as bad PR. Don't try to prove it.
4. Tech writers are cranky. (They're surrounded by geeks and suits who make twice their income right out of college but can't put a sentence together.) Ply them with drink.
5. Before you send an irrelevant press release, count to 10. If you still feel like sending it, count to 20.
Still worried you'll come off as a flack? Below, other PR-plagued writers share their horror stories.
Ex-writer Kourosh Karimkhany ("Identify me as 'burnt-out former wire service reporter'") has some anti-flack anger to work out with his therapist:
From my days at Bloomberg/Reuters/Wired, sure. Got plenty.
1. Don't send postal mail. 2. Don't send a fax. 3. If you call make sure you keep the pitch to 10 seconds. If you don't have me in 10 seconds, you're never gonna get me. 4. Spell and pronounce my name right.
5. Embargoes are satan spawn. Please realize that we as journalists know exactly why there are embargoes: to meet the deadlines and timelines of the marketing department. No self-respecting journalist — even sleazy ones like the ones at [gaming blog] Kotaku — would EVER want to go along with your marketing department's plans.
One writer says, "Don't call around deadline time [4-6 PM Eastern]. Actually, don't call, period. E-mail is just fine, unless we already know you."
Valleywag owner Nick Denton wrote about Silicon Valley for the Financial Times. He adds, "Don't ask for information that you can find on the website, e.g., 'Could you tell me the name of the editor?'" Also, "If you're taking an exec round for a demo, keep them wanting more. Nothing worse than being forced to sit through an hour-long demo that should have taken 10 minutes."
Publicist Paula Gould says she gets along with journalists because she doesn't "tackle them at conferences or stalk them. I hate those kinds of publicists. They expend a tremendous amount of energy on very little return."
At the very least, don't be creepy. "One time," says CNET writer Nicole Lee, "at this big trade show, a PR guy tried to set up an appointment with me. And i figured, last day of show, sure. I figured he had a booth or whatever.
"But no. he just had this hotel room. And it was a small company i hardly heard of. And he wanted me to show up in the hotel. And I'm like, 'Ummmmmm.... can we meet at the trade show?' And he's all 'no... it's too much trouble.'"
She didn't go.