A brief rant about PR types

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09/16/2009
Actually, I like most PR people. They serve a needed function and many PR professionals are great at their jobs - they set up phone calls with busy executives and they issue good press releases that draw my attention to things I think my readers care about. The Net is making their jobs less important in some ways, but in other ways they can serve the important task of helping me cut through the firehose of information out there. That said: People, you need to learn how to take no for an answer, goddammit. This rant is, of course, triggered by the upcoming ASIS show. If you don't know how it works, basically many companies invite journalists like me to swing by their booths, meet with executives, and learn more about the company or learn more about a specific piece of news they've got. Unfortunately, there are something like 750 exhibitors at ASIS, and I've got something like 14 possible meeting slots on each of the three days of the show (which leaves me almost no time to just look at the show and do reporting with my readers, which should, journalistically speaking, be my primary objective). So, say I've got 42 possible meeting slots. What do you think happens when 200 companies request meetings and I've got 42 slots? Well, yeah, I've got to say "no" to about 160 people. Which is really fun. My standard response is this: "Sorry, so and so, I'm totally booked for the show and I just don't have any time left on the schedule. Could you please distribute any materials you'll be releasing at the show? Also, we can set up a phone briefing after the show if you'd like." Or I schedule them for ISC East or something. And it's not totally first-come, first served. If the invitation is vague, I often ask: "Is there something specific that so and so would like to discuss at the show?" If I get no answer, or if it's all just about a new and fairly insignificant product launch ("wow! you're releasing v 1.2.5?!?? That's awesome! I'll clear my schedule!"), I'll politely defer - "doesn't sound like a good fit this year." Also, if I just met with them at a previous show, and there doesn't seem to be anything earth-shattering on the agenda, I'll say I think I've got a handle on the company for now and catch me at the next show. Again, 90 percent of PR professionals understand my situation and accept my answer for what it is. I understand that many of them (the independent, outside firms) get paid on the number of things they set up, or maybe feel the need to justify their retainer by setting things up, so I often take calls, for example, that I really don't care that much about, just because I know these people are just doing their jobs and if I help them out by listening to a phone briefing every once in a while they'll be more likely to get on the stick when I need a source for a story. However, things are starting to get a little out of hand with some of them. Maybe they don't realize how insulting some of these things sound, and maybe I'm a little sensitive. You decide: Tactic 1: Basically calling me a liar - "Are you sure there's no space in your schedule? So and so would really like to meet with you." Yes, I'm sure. Tactic 2: Checking back in to see if their incredible email-based charm will get me to change my mind about me not wanting to talk to someone - "I know you said you weren't interested, but so and so is REALLY smart and I think you'd get a lot out of talking to him." I'm sure he's really smart. I'm sure there are thousands of really smart people at ASIS. I can meet with roughly 42 of them. Why are we still exchanging emails? And this is not to say that my mind cannot be changed. I recently changed my mind about accepting a product briefing on a new software package. I regretted that, because it was exactly what I thought it was going to be - vague and unconvincing - but if you give me more information, I can be swayed. That's what I'm saying. Not charm. Not pretty please. Tactic 3: The check back in - "Just checking back in to see if your schedule has changed and some time has opened up." Yep, that happens all the time. My schedule gets MORE free as the show approaches. Glad you checked in. Turns out I DO have time now. I was going to leave that slot open for nose picking and freebasing, but since you checked in, now I can fill that slot productively. THANKS! Again, I know you're doing your job in a way that you think is productive, but, seriously, you don't see how that's insulting? Whoops. Did I say that rant was going to be brief? Sorry about that. Needed to vent. I know I probably sound like a jerk, but you've got to help me out a little people. I'm getting variations on tactics 1-3 about 10 times a day right now and I'm going to lose my mind trying to email back in a polite and non-aggressive way. Addendum: It absolutely drives me crazy when PR people address me as "L" in sending me an email. Just letting you know, I delete right away - just can't help myself. Please, please, let that be some kind of database problem. There's no way anyone looks at my byline and actually thinks I go by "L," right? Did anybody call F. Scott Fitzgerald "F"? As in, "Hey F, I thought that was a really awesome way to kill off Gatsby in the end! Your rock, F." Or G. Gordon Liddy? Do people come up and say, "Dude, G, that was a sweet critique of Obama today. Keep it up, G!" Although, I admit it's very possible that when J. Edgar Hoover dreamed of sweet nothings being whispered in his ear he dreamed of ... well, never mind.

Comments

I never realized how difficult it was handling meeting requests until after starting a site. The number of companies in the market are incredible.

I think companies could help themselves by putting together detailed material and videos ahead of time. This way I could quickly review them without having to do a meeting or spend hours trying to figure out what they do.

Each week, minimally 5 new companies ask to be listed on my site. Almost no one includes any information on their company.

For any PR or marketing people reading this, please always provide information up front - make it easy for me to do research and I can better provide feedback or analysis.

You need to lose the "polite and non-agressive". Your emails should consist of "Dear PR firm. Your client seems to suck. Please send either a reason to care, or money. Yours, S Pfeifle, Editor".

I say that you should just go with what you think your readers need and say "too bad" to the PR people, and I suppose that means me. It is your readers that pay your salary and they should dictate, not the PR people and the large lobbying dollars. I am kind of sensitive to the power of lobbying dollars lately and look longingly as some good old fashioined subscriber-centric reporting. Damn the torpedoes...

Really interesting post, and as a PR person I can say that it's genuinely helpful to hear a journalist's side of the story. I'm glad to say this hasn't been my experience, but I think you'll find that a lot of the annoying PR people are being seriously leaned on by management to be 'persistent' and produce good results. They're stuck between a rock and a hard place sometimes. It's a shame you have to bear the brunt of it though!