Do the Wrong Thing: When Best Practices Are Anything But
This morning, a client told me I was "different, but it worked." She was referring to a briefing document I wrote for an interview. These documents tend to be formulaic and gigantic -- a few paragraphs about the reporter, a few anecdotes, and a few links to related articles. I don't find the norm especially helpful, so instead I include a few sentences about the reporter, how I know them, and what they care about in the context of the story -- and in general.
The longer I work in this industry the more I realize that the PR professionals who don't follow staid industry protocol tend to be better liked by reporters, better at retaining clients for longer, and generally more tolerable people.
I've also found that the most annoying, time-wasting things in PR that don't actually help clients are a function of "industry best practices." For years, people pass down sage advice about "how it's done" and "what the client wants" -- without asking the client what she actually wants. Assumptions are made about clients, reporters and the industry, and the result is wasted time and bad results.
Here are five of my great pet peeves, and ideas for eradicating them in the name of better efficiency and service to clients and the public alike.
1. Cut the B.S.
"Circle back" should now be "email." "Take this offline" should be "I'll email you after the call." "Near-term" should be "in the future." "Drill down" should be "find out more," or maybe "investigate." "Stakeholders" should be "customers" or "people interested in you guys." "Key elements" should be "important things." "Learnings" should be "thing we learned." "Impactful" is not a word to describe anything.
Words that sound fancy like "amenable" are, well, not.
Why? Truly intelligent people do not have to force words, terminology, jargon or industry slang into conversations. They sound intelligent because of the content of their words. In contrast, people using a bunch of garbled, verbose sentences intermingled with "smart" terminology actually come off as inexperienced and dumb. My general counsel once told me that he sees this a lot in early lawyers: They tend to over-word things because "that's what lawyers do."
Similarly, young PR people think that an ornate vocabulary will win over clients and reporters when it generally does the opposite. Ellen Healy, PR manager at Intel, adds, "If a PR person starts reverting to industry ravaged jargon, they instantly lose credibility and alienate their audience."
2. Cut to the Chase.
You may think your clients want detail. The truth is that they want results. No client that has received a long strategic overview and zero results has ever been happy. If you're doing so because you think you have to, stop -- if you're doing so to cover up your own lack of substance, quit this industry. You are moving matter around the cat litter box.
This includes briefing documents, press releases and especially emails about articles you've secured. If it's a good article, the client will see that. If it's a bad article, your attempt to explain its value comes off as deceptive.
3. Stay Home.
The common philosophy of PR professionals is that they have to attend everything. You don't. Don't go. Stay home and read a book, or browse Techmeme, or play with your dog. If it's an event where you'll have the opportunity to meet someone you normally would not on a more intimate scale,then that's one to go to. If not, don't. I've gone to one event in the last year and I've made lots of new contacts and plenty of new business.
That's not to say that making connections with reporters isn't important; just take care to distinguish yourself from the pack when interacting with media. Ellen Healy, a PR manager at Intel, shared a story where she introduced herself to a prominent editor and famous pet by asking them out on a dog playdate. "Many PR people tend to forget the 'relations' part of media relations and that the reporter/PR person dynamic should deviate from the standard pitch-and-briefing format. Reporters are people just like the rest of us and personal/professional connections are really one and the same."
4. Don't Make Any Unnecessary Calls.
Last week I made the first cold call I've made in three years. It was to a reporter who had explicitly said "call me if you ever want to run anything by me." I felt dirty and apologized profusely. I called another this morning who asked me to call him - I still felt bad. I have felt for years like cold calling is bad, and have gotten hundreds of pieces of coverage for clients without it.
Also, reporters really hate it on a large scale. The last time I wrote about this, many PR people disagreed with me -- the reporters don't like it, guys. Stop trying to pretend they do.
5. Don't Form Pitch.
It bothers me that people still do this, but I don't care that your boss said to pitch 100 people. If they said that, say "I have to write 100 emails, that's impractical." If they suggest form pitching (i.e.: Send one email to 100 people), feel free to send me an anonymous email at ed at ez-pr.com. This is a vile, unethical practice that some argue is "against the law depending on how you do it."
In truth, if you do these things to hide your inadequacies, someone will find out. If they don't shine a light on it, they'll simply take your business away. There are great, intelligent, hard-working PR people ready to do a great job without compromising their ethics.