From my rare position as both successful blogger (8 years) and card-carrying agency and corporate publicist (10 years), I’ve seen both sides of the media fence engage in some pretty egregious behavior during my career. Most of it truly comes down to being time poor – PR people and writers are always up-to-their-eyeballs busy all the time, on deadlines, jet-setting and whatnot.
Some of the drama can be avoided though, so in the spirit of renewal for the new year, I’ve been reflecting on ways we could all get along better in 2014, starting with some resolutions for the PR crowd. Here we go!
1. Stop sending crappy press releases.
Just today, I’ve received 14 unsolicited press releases. Thirteen of them were from people I’ve never communicated with in my life and most had nothing to do with my interests. (I don’t cover golf. I don’t cover plastic surgery. I don’t cover nail salons in Wyoming. How did I get on these mailing lists?!)
In the three years since I quit my official PR job in NYC, the nice gal/former-account-executive in me tried to respond to every publicity email I received once I made the flip to blogger/journalist. I know I always appreciated a quick note when I was the one on the sending end, even if it was to say ‘no thanks.’ But now I understand the radio silence I used to get from folks on my list – there just isn’t enough time to respond to every email about every new general manager at every airport hotel in the world.
From a writer’s perspective, yes, I do want to read about the latest travel news. Unfortunately most of what comes through my inbox rarely falls into that category. And crap wastes time.
From a publicist’s perspective, I think it’s time to educate our clients to see that 95% of press releases are just e-junk mail. They’re frequently unsolicited, irrelevant and obnoxious, and they don’t do anything to help build relationships between media & PR. That should be our focus – that’s where the magic happens. For the most part, press releases are a lazy tactical effort and a waste of client money.
Wouldn’t it be great if the PR crowd (me included!) could find new, interesting, clever ways to cut through the clutter? Knowing that most press release fodder could easily be communicated in a quick and targeted pitch, a Tweet or a blog post, let’s band together to bury the press release in 2014, shall we?
And I love a brief, personal email from a PR pro asking, “Hey, I represent SUP Lovers of America. I saw you visited Key West once and really seemed to love stand up paddleboarding. Would love to see if we could find a way to work together on a project this year.”
That will get a response from me every time. A press release announcing that SUP exists and I should check it out will likely get trashed.
2. Stop hosting competitions that force professional writers into social media popularity contests for press trip spots.
This is just icky.
Would you host a competition to invite say, house painters, to compete for votes on Facebook to win the opportunity to paint your house? Or a competition for doctors to fight over the chance to treat you? You wouldn’t, because that’s insulting to the professional doctors and house painters who worked for years to perfect their expertise, hone their craft and earn a good reputation. You just don’t host a competition so professionals can fight each other to do their job for free.
For amateurs looking for a break into this business, competitions can be a fun PR tactic (see Best Job in the World, which was for a $100,000 job, not just a spot on a 2-week press trip), but a barely disguised popularity contest capitalizing on bloggers’ social influences is just sneaky.
The secret that PR people know (and their clients may miss) is that while less expensive publicity campaigns like this may blanket the Internet with mentions and hashtags and vote-grubbing Tweets, the value of the mentions won’t be worth all that much.
Spend the money to host qualified writers and you’ll get quality content as a result. Go for the cheap tactics and the free writers and you might just be left with a handful of fluff.
3. Realize that a press trip is not a vacation, a reward or a treat.
Travel is great fun – obviously, that’s what I’m here for! Most of the travel I do is on my own dime and on my own time.
In 2013, I was invited to all sorts of glorious locations by DMOs and brands, and I turned most of them down because it would likely cost me more to get there / fully experience the destination than I could ever expect to make back via freelance writing assignments. (That’s not a sob story – I chose to become a writer knowing it wasn’t a road paved with gold, and I know all too well that the business model is pretty wonky. That’s why I have many pots in the fire.)
Once again, travel is super fun. So is painting, so is acting, so is playing the violin, so is photography. But you wouldn’t invite a photographer to shoot your wedding and then not pay that person for their time because wedding photography is a fun job.
The same concept applies here.
While the invitations I receive to experience one night at a boutique hotel in a hard-to-reach location are appreciated, publicists should know that I (and most writers like me) can’t afford a flight, a rental car, gas, food nor the time it takes away from my other work to get there. No matter how cool it is or how much I’d really love to check it out – I’m never going to make enough profit off a story like that to recover the investment.
(And let me be super clear in case you missed it, I’m certainly not saying travel writers should never have to pay for travel because in the spirit of keeping it real, we should continue to travel on our own dime… often. It’s what keeps us grounded, accountable and relatable.)
I’m running a business. And it’s just common courtesy if another business (destination, hotel, tour operator, etc.) wants me to give them something, i.e. my expertise, my social influence, my opinion and ultimately my time, they must offer some value to me in return.
So, PR people and bloggers, we need to find ways to be mutually beneficial this year. Make trip invitations substantial enough to provide value. Partner with professional bloggers so you both win. And realize that offering up one free night in exchange for a post and social media coverage doesn’t cut it anymore. (Seriously, who can tell a compelling story about your hotel after staying there for 20 hours?)
A Few More Resolutions for PR Folks
- I will not focus on the Top 10 lists of who is who in the blog world. I will form relationships with writers who are interested in my clients and I will find creative and mutually beneficial ways to work together.
- I will be honest with my clients about expectations and outcomes.
- I will not send press releases to massive lists of un-researched contacts. Get an intern to do some research!
- I will take writers off my mailing lists immediately if they request it.
- I will form relationships with a smaller group of targeted media rather than blanketing the whole world with generic news.