I’ve come to the conclusion that all journalists are idiots.
It must be true. Why else would a PR agency think that the following is an acceptable way to pitch a story?
“Hi, it’s Clondeekee from Honest PR. We’ve got a great story for your breakfast show.” (none of them have credible names)
“Is it sponsored? Only we don’t do sponsored interviews.”
“No it’s not sponsored. It’s a GREAT story about people cluttering up their homes – and we have a DIY expert to talk about it.”
“Is it a survey? Who did the survey?”
“No it’s not. It’s a poll conducted by Big Bank Home Insurance BUT our expert DOESN’T work for Big Bank”
Now at this point, I’m starting to think of these guys.
“Right – so it’s sponsored? Because you said it wasn’t.”
“Oh – I think you might have misunderstood me. But our expert isn’t connected to Big Bank.” (you’re really not getting this are you?)
“But he’s being paid by Big Bank to appear, right?”
“Erm, well ahh, what I meant was that the radio stations don’t have to pay for the interview…” (Oh dear…)
“Because if he is, that’s twice you’ve effectively misled me.”
“Well obviously it’s your choice as to whether you run the interview.”
Too right it is. But here’s the thing. This isn’t an isolated example. Some PR agencies actively go out of their way to avoid putting a sponsor’s brand name into a press release, because they know it’ll be binned. Then, said expert comes on air and hey presto – mentions the brand name. Another agency I dealt with today specifically promised that there’d only be one mention of the brand name. Which closed the deal for me : I’m definitely not using it.
So why don’t I just do what every other journalist does, and hang up the phone or just bin the press release? Because there are still too many are agencies out there who just don’t get it. And there are exceptions. Some of the bigger surveys make it onto the network TV and radio news – day in day out. If the survey is statistically credible and has a good angle for the audience, we’ll use it.
And yes, I know how it works. Generally, these agencies employ eager young things who’ve been promised a job in the meeja, but find themselves desperately trying to meet commission targets against less than sympathetic grumpy hacks like me.
But please, Honest PR – don’t treat a newsroom like Steve Wright’s Factoids slot. Or assume you can use lines like “Well Countyshire Sound don’t have a problem with our content.” Entertainment fillers? Show prep? Sure. News shows? Most certainly not.
So what do I want from a good PR agency?
First and foremost : openness and honesty. If you feed me bullshit, I’ll rub your nose in it. Sorry, but journalists are trained to read between the lines.
Secondly, a story with some information that is of use to me an my audience. That is not a generic press release with “regional” stats which – if treated purely statistically – would be laughed at by the real number crunchers. And actually it could breach OFCOM’s Localness Guidelines.
Thirdly : one good press release, and no follow up calls. If we like it, we’ll use it. If it’s crap to start with, it’ll still be crap when you email me the second, third and final reminders or call every extension in the office on the off chance that someone will say yes.
Fourthly : some fresh thinking on treatment ideas. Want me to share them with you? Tough – that’s your job.
And perhaps most importantly – don’t try to lie to me.