Telling Tales: PR Flacks and brand reputations

As a business marketing consultant, I work with a lot of public relations professionals. Most who I hire on behalf of my clients are professional executives who understand that every point of contact is a chance to tarnish or enhance the brand reputation of their client, their agency, and themselves.

But then there's the dark underbelly.

As the curator of this blog, I sit on the other side of the table from PR professionals. I receive at least a dozen unsolicited pitches for story ideas on a daily basis.

Sometimes the pitches are relevant to what I write about. Sometimes they are not. Most of the time they are not personalized. Regularly when I ask for more information (a photo, more detail on a topic) emails are not returned.

Obviously, highly unprofessional, and ineffective behavior.

But there's more bad-Flack behavior to be uncovered.

Recently I was attending a conference and was listed as attending as "press." About 50 PR Flacks asked if I'd be interested in scheduling press interviews with their clients. I responded to all of the PR professionals with either a "yes" or a "no," Of the "yes, I'd like to meet with your executive" fewer than 10% responded.

Wait, you ASKED ME if I'd like to interview your client for a story, that you were pitching me.

And this type of behavior goes on at both small boutiques and large agencies.

I was recently pitched by one of the largest PR agencies in the world, to write a story about one of the largest clothing retailers on the planet. He asked if I'd like to meet with an executive of the company. I said yes. We negotiated who would be appropriate for me to meet with (turned out it was a brand strategist with the company). But when it came to scheduling a time to meet, the PR Flack vanished, and I never heard from them again.

Did I write a story about this retailer? No. Will I work with this PR Flack's agency again? Probably not.

You would think that professionals who make their living helping organizations build up their brand reputations would be more careful how they interact with the press they are so desperately trying to woo. While I know I'm not writing for The New York Times, if you're not planning on treating me with respect, you probably shouldn't reach out to me at all.

A few reminders for every PR professional out there:

  • Personalized emails have a far better response rate than "generic" notes
  • Do your homework (even if it is for 5 minutes) on who you are writing to
  • Treat every contact with the same respect you wish to receive
  • Understand that no contact, is better than poor contact
  • Always follow-up politely
  • Remember, bad behavior is noticed more than good behavior (and it lingers in people's minds longer)
  • And finally--remember it is not just your client's reputation on the line. It is also your agency's, and your personal brand that is in danger if you act unprofessionally.
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