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Gini Dietrich

Media Relations: Why The Economist Thinks We Have it Wrong

By: Gini Dietrich | January 27, 2014 | 
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Media Relations- Why The Economist Thinks We Have it WrongBy Gini Dietrich

It’s that time of year when journalists get sick of PR professionals and lament about the industry, as a whole, in high-profile publications.

This time? The Economist.

The subject? The five things PR pros get wrong when “reaching out to journalists.”

The author lists:

  1. Dear [[Firstname]]. Forgetting to do the mail merge when you send the blast email.
  2. Dear Firstname. Having the journalist’s name in a different font or color.
  3. Dear Ms. Lastname. Not knowing the gender of the person you’re sending an email to (this happens to my husband all the time), which isn’t hard to find with a quick Google search.
  4. The completely inappropriate pitch. We’ve covered that on Spin Sucks a thousand times or more. Do your research. The media database companies are there only as a starting point.
  5. Following up on the follow-up to a follow-up. My favorite thing in the entire world is when I delete a pitch because it’s irrelevant (do not get me started on why I don’t respond to every email) and the PR pro resends it with “resending to get this at the top of your inbox.” Seriously? Seriously.

The Entire Industry isn’t Wrong

Here’s the problem.

I don’t disagree with this ranting article.

The author is right. These are all problems that are consistently seen day-after-day in the inboxes of journalists and bloggers.

But…

It does get a little tiresome to be beat up on all the time because some in our industry can’t get it right.

I’m not going to rehash all of the things you should do to get your story placed (do your research, build a relationship, make the subject relevant, don’t harass). If you read Spin Sucks often, you already know all of these things.

Media Relations Done Well

Rather, I’d like to focus on the underlying message of his article: Ask for what you need after you build a relationship.

The language of emailed requests has unwritten rules, and many of them are just like the rules for meeting people in person when trying to make a deal to mutual advantage. Make eye contact, shake hands, and ask for a name. Remember the name. Ask questions; learn about the other person. This signals a willingness to take the next step in building trust. Don’t constantly push in a direction the other person clearly doesn’t want to go: That is conversational incompetence. Find out where the journalist wants to go, and see if you can get there together. And if it doesn’t work out, take no for an answer, and try again elsewhere.

Think about your media relations efforts as the same as networking (or dating, for that matter).

Would you go to an industry event, where journalists were a’plenty, and hand your business card to every, single one of them, saying, “I have the best story for you!”?

Of course you wouldn’t.

You would go to the event, meet journalists, ask them questions, find something in common, ask for their business card, and follow-up a day or two later (or three, if you follow the “Swingers” rule).

We can’t change the entire industry overnight, but we can certainly show journalists there is a symbiotic relationship.

Do your homework, apply some elbow grease, and get to work.

About Gini Dietrich


Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, a Chicago-based integrated marketing communications firm. She is the lead blogger here at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. She is the co-author of Marketing in the Round and co-host of Inside PR. Her second book, Spin Sucks, is available now.

79 comments
tressalynne
tressalynne

Hear hear! Always on target, Gini :) 

freighter
freighter

I'm not a PR guy, though I've worked with some of the best. This is what I recommend to anyone that is trying to start a relationship. Get to know the expertise of an individual, learn as much as you can about their circle of peers and influencers. Invest in the time it takes to educate yourself, and be in a position to have constructive conversations. You'll both be better for it.

bradmarley
bradmarley

My response to the Economist article: Well, duh. 


(BTW, Grantland ran an oral history of Swingers the other day. You might like it.

Palemota
Palemota

There's a tendency to make the pr pro/journo relationship, so different from any other, like it's especially complex and it takes a special kind do of talent to make it work. While it has it's idiosyncrasies, it is not much different from any other type of courting - be it dating, networking or selling.

Also, is it really as one sided as most pundits would have us believe? Given that PR has existed for this long and we are often a key source of information for journos, surely they can conceded that they need us just as much as we need them. Why are they always the coy maiden? What am I not seeing?

DwayneAlicie
DwayneAlicie

Hear, hear!  I appreciate the networking/dating analogy for understanding the reality of media relations.  


Also, there's the power issue at play between the journalist and the PR person. Each has something the other wants, but it's the journalist's market. So the journalist gets to be as nit-picky and vocal about her peeves as she likes. 

TaraGeissinger
TaraGeissinger

I can't believe we are still having to talk about mistakes like these. Come ON people! It's frustrating to think some people (many people) are still employing these techniques and think they might work. I agree with what @ClayMorgansaid earlier -- it comes down to managing client expectations. As professionals, we need to identify realistic opportunities and be honest with clients. We need to be judged by results and not by the number of emails or pitches we completed.

belllindsay
belllindsay

I love getting emails for Gini Dietrich - addressed to Gini, "Dear Gini" - yet under my email address. Um.....you don't see a problem here? But the best are the ones for Dear Arment. :D

katievukas
katievukas

@ginidietrich Thank you so much for writing this, Gini.  Yet another reason I'm grateful to my friend for introducing me to Spin Sucks.  Taking more of a low-key approach with the goal of genuinely trying to be helpful is such great advice.  Thanks again.

Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

The Economist emailed me saying 'You link us all the time on Sundays and thank you, but you aren't very influential and no one really cares about you, anyway you could get @ginidietrichto post about one of our articles?'

It was addressed to Ms Goldfarb. 


Obviously had they Googled they would of known how big a name I am world wide. But since I love them I said 'Write about PR which you never do. That will get her'


While I might rant about individuals or businesses vs my industry the fact is if everyone did it right, and everyone did it well how can we stand out? I think the real problem is too often the awards go based on popularity or financial klout vs what worked best or who did the best. Like Cannes for Advertising. You have to pay them to enter the judging vs them deciding who the best was from the year. Which means 'Congrats you won the best of those who had the money to enter their crappy ad for our judging'

And while the economist I am sure get's a TON of inquiries for their books and arts section, for the most part if they are talking about your brand in an article it is a coin toss on whether it will be flattering or not.

SavvyCopywriter
SavvyCopywriter

Well said! I'm glad so much attention is being brought to this annoyance (because that's all it is... an unproductive annoyance).The same can be said of guest bloggers, and other types of media outreach folks that believe in using the spaghetti approach to getting exposure/backlinks/whatever their little heart desires. It's ineffective, and it's far more costly in the long run. When you invest on the front end with the right approach to reaching the media, the results of your efforts on the backend will be exponentially more lucrative. 

KirkHazlett
KirkHazlett

Well said, @ginidietrich ! You're right...we're not perfect. Nor, I would add, are any of the other professions that comprise the current working world. If I had the proverbial nickel for every boo-boo I've made in my professional (AND academic) life, I would be sipping margaritas in Tahiti right now rather than dealing with the New England winter!

But we...like everyone else...have to do our homework as we ply our trade. It only takes a minute to do some quick research on a topic or an individual before acting. And, just like engineers, we need to "test-drive" our communication programs to make sure they're fault-free. (I love getting mass emails addressed to "Dear APR" myself! Makes me feel important!!)

I will share your thoughts with my Principles of PR class to which I am heading as soon as I hit "Post." Thanks for making my day!

EdenSpodek
EdenSpodek

There are a lot of people who do a great job of building relationships by following approached similar to the one you've described @ginidietrich... by getting to know someone and working together for mutual benefit. It also gets harder to say "no" when you're approached by a friend. 


There's only so much ranting you can do but if I had a nickel for every time I did a presentation on blogger relations with real-life examples of exactly what The Economist is criticizing, well, you know. To receive emails like that in 2006 when I started blogging was one thing – and it wasn't good then either – but it's 2014 now and it hasn't stopped. The other day I received an email addressed to Barbara because the person was sloppy and my retired blog is called Bargainista. Aside from having juniors who don't have proper leadership within their organizations, influencers have to stop responding to this type of outreach or poor pitching will continue.

Palemota
Palemota

@Tarageissinger I'm curious to hear the kind of measures that you would put in place. Given the ongoing debate about ROI in PR, I'm interested to hear how others are doing it. Please share

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@KirkHazlett It always makes my day when I learn you (and other good guy professors) are teaching the next generation the right way to do things. What makes me sad is many young professionals know how to do things the right way, but don't have the confidence to stick up to their boss when told to do it wrong. I wish I could be in every one of those meetings to protect them.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@EdenSpodek There are definitely faults on all sides. I once got into a debate with a PR pro about how rude it is to delete or ignore emails from him and his team. I can't answer all of the emails and, if I do, I tend to get another email back arguing with me about why I'm wrong and the franchise opening in Florida is a good fit for Spin Sucks.

SavvyCopywriter
SavvyCopywriter

@ginidietrich Smart! That's a struggle in the copywriting/content marketing world too. I've had many clients/prospects think that just rewriting a couple of pages on their website, or adding a handful of blog posts will skyrocket them to the top and make them immediate industry experts. Not the case... If it were that easy, everyone would do it. 

Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

@ginidietrich@EdenSpodekI just had that Eureka moment!


It must subliminally be really hard to be called a PR PRo. I mean who wants to heard the sounds PR PR ever associated with their names? Comm Pro works. Message Guru. Phonics DareDevil absolutely. But PR PR sounds like something a cat does. PURR PURRRR-O. PURR PURRRR-O. Makes you fall asleep.


I will spearhead the changes needed to change this!

EdenSpodek
EdenSpodek

@Howie Goldfarb @ginidietrich Picking a fight with someone has to be the ultimate in "what not to do". Sheesh! On the other hand, wouldn't you like an office in Florida right now. It's kinda cold outside right now, even for ski fanatics. ;)