Do you deal with PR companies? Having been fortunate enough to blog for several larger networks, I’m definitely “on the radar” and am contacted daily by those wanting to promote companies, products and services to me.
In general, this is great — I’d rather receive interesting information about new products and services than not at all — but sometimes things aren’t perfect.
This guide looks at five mistakes PR executives make when engaging bloggers and what can be done to improve the situation.
1. Poor contact etiquette
I realise that one of the core parts of being a successful public relations professional is making contact with people who can spread the word about clients, but I sometimes feel like I’m hounded (pestered, at least) by pushy account executives who feel they just have to talk to me.
Whilst I’d love to get to know PRs better, it’s not always convenient to talk every time one calls. My tolerance for interruption is low, which is why I have voicemail. Unfortunately, calling every half-an-hour instead of leaving a message and waiting for me to return it does not endear the PR company to me.
Similarly, phoning ten minutes after sending an email is also not appreciated. I probably did get the email but I haven’t had time to read or digest it yet. Again, I don’t jump at every email the moment it arrives, and if PRs do get to speak to me on the telephone I’m likely to respond negatively or at least be non-committal.
It’s worth making your voicemail message specific, encouraging people to leave a message and explaining how you’ll deal with that message.
It won’t necessarily stop people trying to contact you multiple times in multiple ways (I have three phone lines at home and have had PRs alternate between them) but it will hopefully let them understand how you like to be contacted, which in turn should create more positive communication.
2. Inadequate resource provision
I like to get as much information about a new product or service as possible in one go without having to jump through hoops to get it.
I hate being sent:
- minimal information
- dead links
- proprietary format for press releases (particularly Word documents) with no plain text alternative
- press release text saved as an image
- no images
- excessively high resolution images
- multiple copies of the same email
- complicated instructions on how to request images / more details
PRs can do themselves a great favor here by sending out as many resources as possible in the first instance. This includes:
- Press release in plain text
- At least one low resolution image of product/screenshot/logo
- Web links to more information
- Company web site
- Price and availability
- Contact info for someone in PR dealing with the account
If any of the above aren’t available it’s far more helpful to say so upfront.
While print journalists tend to need high resolution images, low-res is generally fine for bloggers so it needn’t cause the emails to be excessively large.
The immediacy of blogs means that a well-pitched press release can be up and published within the hour, but if bloggers have to chase around for information this will either get delayed or the story simply won’t be published.
As bloggers, it’s worth suggesting this list to PRs with whom you have an ongoing relationship. You may not always get everything you need first go, but there’s a greater probability that you will.
3. Irregular contact
I don’t expect hand-crafted emails and one-to-one service, but I would expect to be on relevant mailing lists so as to receive timely information.
I still don’t understand how the same PR person can send me information on a company one day, then another I’m completely missed off the list.
PR companies need to ensure their contact database is up-to-date and their mailing lists are consistently sending information to the right people.
If you have other blogger or journalist contacts who receive information that you’d like to get, contact the individual PRs involved and ask to be added to their mailing lists.
Be specific about the kinds of information you’d like to receive.
4. Sticking to traditional working practises
Many bloggers, even those who do it full-time, often don’t adhere to a standard working day, therefore PRs who expect them to be available for events during a standard working day may well be disappointed. This is particularly true for bloggers who have other jobs.
Additionally, events which are effectively just glorified press release presentations are, in my opinion, a waste of time. Seeing new products and being able to interview company representatives can be great, but when a blogger has limited time, often has to travel in to a large city to attend, and is doing it completely within own budget, the event needs to be exceptional.
PR companies which embrace the often differing working practises of bloggers are at a distinct advantage. If companies want to reach out to bloggers then positive ways of doing this include arranging exclusive, value-rich events at convenient times, and understanding that bloggers’ resources are often limited when compared to full-time journalists and other media professionals.
Again, communication is key for bloggers. Make it clear what time you have and what kinds of events you’d be interested in attending. While it won’t guarantee a PR company accommodates you, if they don’t know how you work it will be very difficult for them to help.
5. Expecting (positive) coverage
There seems to be the notion that bloggers are desperate for content and will publish anything. While that may be true for some, it certainly isn’t for all, and sometimes an over-pushy PR can really damage the reputation of the company they’re representing.
While I, as a blogger, may want to give your client some free publicity if it fits in with what I believe my readers want, don’t assume that because you’ve pitched me an idea, I’ll run with it.
And don’t assume that any coverage I do give will be glowing.
Though you can’t change someone’s perception of bloggers and blogging overnight, politely outlining what you blog about and explaining that you don’t publish news or features for the sake of it should help.
After all, there’s little point promoting a company’s new line of hamburgers on a blog ready by vegetarians.
Conclusion: it’s all in the dialogue
At the end of the day, good relationships with PR companies can be a great source of timely information on which to build news stories and original features for your blog, but good communication is key to ensuring that you, the blogger, aren’t bombarded with irrelevant and unhelpful content and that the PR company doesn’t get frustrated because they can never reach you or you don’t seem interested in what they’re offering.
Given the choice between being contacted by PRs and not, I’d definitely choose the former. Would you?
If so, build those relationships whenever you can, and don’t be afraid to stand up for what you want and need.