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Editorial: PR People Say The Darndest Things

Public relations is such a tricky profession. Its practitioners must cold call press people, who I'm told can be an extremely cranky bunch. Then they've got to deal with clients who view press clippings as commodities and who don't understand that the cranky bunch in question doesn't always jump when the PR rep calls, no matter how much money the client has paid for the PR reps' services.

But so often, PR pitches die simply because of the way they're delivered.

Check out the closing line from an e-mail pitch last week:

“What's the best way to work with you to open a communications bridge about service and support between you and [Company That Needs to Exercise More Control Over Its Rep's Pitches] senior management?”

A communications bridge? Oh, I get it. You want to build a “communications bridge” and get your client “on my radar.” Ugh.

Or how about this one:

“Byline suggestion: [John Smith, chief technology officer of Really Technical Company That Should Probably be Pitching Elsewhere] on how to use a product that synchronizes the back-end RDBMS and keeps databases updated with recent transaction volume, and also synchronizes data across multiple application servers.”

Uh, OK. I was just thinking to myself, “Boy, we haven't run a byline on how to use a product that synchronizes the back-end RDBMS and keeps databases updated with recent transaction volume, and also synchronizes data across multiple application servers in such a long time,” and voilà, like that, it appears. Be on the lookout for it.

Maybe that line makes sense to some editor with a technical background, but this is a marketing publication. That pitch's author can't possibly have flipped through much that this organization has published.

On the other hand, once when a PR rep realized during a pitch that I was only half paying attention, he said politely: “I know the kind of stuff you write about, and this is right up your alley. Would you listen?”

His pitch paid off.

Then there's reaching for connections that don't exist:

“I just noticed that in your Dec. 3 issue of iMarketing News you will be focusing on the E-mail Marketing. My client, [XYZ] Promotions, is a high-stakes guarantor. We have many examples. For instance, [XYZ] paid out a $1 million cash prize to a hole-in-one winner at a recent charity tournament.”

Exactly what that has to do with e-mail isn't evident. What's more, iMarketing News does have a section coming up on promotions. It is on the same editorial calendar as the one on which this rep “just noticed” we'll be covering e-mail.

Another far more common mistake is the ho-hum lead:

“[Vendor] Services Inc. announced today several enhancements to its data center.”

Just like the cliché, everybody's favorite radio station is WIIFM, or “What's in it for me?” An editor's favorite radio station is WIIFMR, or “What's in it for my readers?”

There may very well be some important news in the capabilities this vendor has to offer, but you wouldn't know it by the lead. And with Microsoft Outlook counting 1,248 items sitting in my inbox, 301 of which remain unread (at the end of the business day, no kidding), guess where that e-mail ended up?

Unless your company is one whose name alone warrants attention, you've got one, maybe two sentences to get an editor's attention.

Don't waste them with a line that contains no attention-grabbing information.

Likewise, avoid getting cute. Just give us the dope.

Though many editors fail to give them their due, PR reps — the good ones — often make our jobs a lot easier.

We never forget the stupid ones, though. And with ad budgets tight, PR takes on more importance.

Besides PR having to make up for less advertising exposure, the trades are a lot pickier these days when it comes to what they'll write about. Fewer ads, less space to fill. Get it?

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