As a publicist, your main responsibility should be to not piss off your press contacts. You are probably thinking, “no worries that doesn’t sound too challenging; I am a charming, considerate person.” However, once you have clients breathing down your neck because they are paying you thousands of dollars a month to land major press placements, it becomes hard to differentiate between persistent vs. pestering.
The reality is unless you are doing PR for a superstar like Beyonce or a major brand like Burberry, you are at the media’s mercy. Once you realize that you are way more invested in your clients than anyone else, it will make it a lot easier to do your job, which is, in large part, becoming a dependable resource for your press contacts. The more convenient you make it for the media, the more often they will come to you directly when they need products, experts or services for their stories.
All journalists have horror stories when it comes to working with publicists. Aim to be the diamond in the rough by avoiding the following annoying habits:
1) Ask for interview questions
I will never understand why publicists ask for interview questions ahead of time. Especially because the answer will usually be no. Unless your client is in the midst of a crisis control situation, chances are the press isn’t going to stump your client with tough or unfair questions. Everyone is busy, and unfortunately, the press doesn’t always have the time to come up with in-depth interview questions beforehand. A lot of times, they make up the questions right before the interview, or as they go along during the interview.
Most often, the person you are organizing the media opportunity for, will be a successful businessperson- powerful CEOs, accomplished authors or creators of innovative products. If they aren’t able to successfully answer a journalist’s questions on the fly, they aren’t ready for PR. Part of your job is to help your clients confidently stay on message no matter the question. If your clients aren’t prepared for the interview then it is your fault, not the interviewer’s fault.
2) Go Radio Silent
If you pitch a story idea, and an editor requests more information, get it to them right away. Before you start pitching a client, you should already have all the necessary collateral ready to go: headshots, product images, suggested interview questions, biography, etc. This way when an outlet asks for them, you don’t have to scramble around to get the information. If you keep people waiting, they might decide not to go with your client. A lot of times, placements are decided based on who can get the information to the editor the fastest. You don’t want to miss out on an opportunity for this silly reason.
If the press does ask for something you don’t have, and you know it might take some time to get it, always let your press contact know what is happening and when they should expect to have their request. People are more understanding if you keep them informed and they don’t have to follow up with you.
3) Follow up like the world is about to end
I get it: every client has their heart set on placements in certain outlets, and when you tell them the outlet isn’t interested or isn’t responding, they bug you even more. Thus, you feel like you have to keep following up until you get something. While in the moment, it might seem like the only option, think long term. If a certain outlet isn’t interested in your current client, you don’t want to pester too much, and be blacklisted. This will ruin any chances of future placements too!
As a rule of thumb, you should follow up on every pitch you send: once by phone, and then once by e-mail. In my opinion, this should be expected by media contacts because e-mails do get lost in our digital black holes aka our in-boxes. However, after the initial follow up, use your best judgment. Sometimes you have a client that really is a perfect fit for a writer or column, and you should follow up until you get an answer. Save persistent follow-up for when you know the opportunity is a home run, not for mediocre clients or story ideas. Be honest with yourself, you know when something isn’t exactly a right fit! Even when you are following up more than once, don’t do it everyday; once a week is probably sufficient.
4) Treat media like a transaction
Even though, at the end of the day, we are all just trying to get a job done, try to go out of the way with personal touches. After all, we work in an industry where success is determined by relationships. Always start your e-mails with niceties, such as, “I hope you are having a good week!”, “How are you?”, “Did you have a nice weekend?” Also, if you do get a placement, don’t forget to send some kind of thank you e-mail acknowledging the work.
Another interaction that goes a long way is taking the time to meet in person. Try to take your contacts out for coffee/lunch once a quarter. During these meetings, don’t pitch your clients; instead, learning more about what they are looking for. This way the next time you do have a client that is a perfect fit, they will already know you. These small things will go a long way.