Friday, December 18, 2009

"Trash Proof News Releases" doesn't live up to its title

Since we live in an age of irony, and public relations seems to thrive in it, let me share a true tale with you that takes this concept to new heights.

On November 24th, two weeks after I posted my "When Publicists Spam Other Publicists" essay, I received an e-mail blasted press release touting a book called "Trash Proof Press Releases" by Paul Krupin of Direct Contact PR. This lengthy diatribe -- "expressly designed to be an immense help to anyone who even thinks about writing a news release" -- went on and on with endorsements, ending with the words: "Stay safe!"

Of course, this press release went right into the trash.

E-mail blasts are one of the colossal rookie blunders in PR because it's easier to press a "send" button then establish an actual relationship with a journalist or blogger. And here was the publicist author himself who couldn't prevent his own press release from ending up in the dustbin.

So as I am wont to do, I e-mailed Mr. Krupin to ask him why he sent me this press release.

Ten seconds later, a SpamArrest e-mail bounced back to me that read:

Paul here,

I'm protecting myself from receiving junk mail.

Please click the link below to complete the verification process.
You have to do this only once.

Let me get this straight -- first you spam me with an e-mail blast for your "Trash Proof News Releases" that ends up in the trash. Then when I e-mail you about the release, I get sent to SpamArrest which is supposed to prevent spam coming to you?

After the verification process, Mr. Krupin replied that establishing more one on one relationships with bloggers and journalists "sets a very high bar of time and effort that may not be justified given the coverage one receives." He added that he receives "50 to 60" media requests a day by sending out e-mail blasts.

I invited Krupin to write a guest post here so he could present his point of view on why e-mail blasting is more effective than getting to know reporters and journalists, keep it unedited with no comments from me, and let the dialog with my blog readers begin. He said he would have it for me in 10 days. It did not arrive.

When I reminded Krupin about his post on December 7th, he showed me why his e-mail blast track record of 50 to 60 requests a day was impressive: he was offering freebie copies of "Going Rouge," the "alternative" Sarah Palin book to a customized list of political reporters. This guy is in the giveaway business, including his own book!

But what about non-freebie pitches and releases, do you get media requests then?

He said it was "an interesting challenge" and had "ideas on the subject."

Still, no submitted post.

I've learned my lesson for the future, though -- I am sending coupons for free ice cream sundaes with my press releases from now on, which should guarantee they are not deleted. Would you like yours with syrup?

Monday, December 7, 2009

Is the client from hell always right?

My 13-year-old son asked me the other day, "When you are driving the car, how do you know when to signal left or right? Do you automatically do it without looking?"

I responded that just like riding a bike, if you've done it well for years, you instinctively know how to steer in the right direction, when to change lanes, and how far ahead you need to signal.

Public relations operates similarly: if you do it long enough, and undergo many situations, you eventually know how things are done right instinctively. You acquire a set of professional ethics and guidelines to operate on the high road so that you earn the respect of colleagues and journalists, and your execution rate far above the norm.

Along that road, once in a long while, and perhaps luckily never, you will be tested by a client who makes life difficult. It's been drilled into your head that the client is always right, but what if the client is incredibly wrong? Instead of participating in an ideal collaborative public relations relationship, it's a one sided dictatorship where the common standard of practices don't count at all.

An intelligent public relations pro listens to their clients, and incorporates their wisdom into planning and execution. There is always room to learn, and from experience, I can tell you I've picked up many things from my clients.

Yet, there are clients who are not public relations savvy because they are great at the job they do, but not in the ways of PR. They can either learn from you because they trust you and your experience and insight (after all, that's why they hired you), or they can ignore you and impose their misguided will. And that's when things get difficult, because there's nothing worse than being stuck with a client who knows nothing about PR and never listens to anybody else. It's a train that is bound to crash.

Can you or should you jump off that train?

Consider this dilemma...

The press release you drafted four weeks ago finally returns from "approval purgatory" with a new headline and lead that are so wrongheaded and unimportant that issuing it would cause both the company and you great embarrassment. The real relevant and critical information has been pushed down so that the new yawn-inducing stuff leads off the release. The second half of the release is now filled with three pompous executive quotes. Everything about this document smells from amateur hour and an over-sized ego.

It's what I call "an instant delete."

You don't want to issue this release.

So you plaintively make your case to the client -- here's why the original news is so important and will have an impact on the bottom line, the dull material should be given second fiddle. You tactfully allude to the fact that the company will be made a laughingstock in the eyes of reporters and bloggers. You explain why reporters will never get past the present headline and lead. It's all about the good of the company.

Not only does the client not budge one iota, but they advise you to send the press release exactly as it is as an attachment, and you can write a cover note explaining what you really want to say.

You reply that you never send out press releases as attachments because reporters and bloggers have hated that since 1995, so it's not possible to send a cover letter.

They reply that they do not care, please issue the release as is.

Now you are at that fork in the road that you hoped you'd never arrive at...

do you adhere to the old motto "the client is always right" and issue the press release to your great professional embarrassment, knowing this is not the way you'd ever do your job, risk mockery and ignorance, while the real news peg never sees the light of day because it's been buried...

or does your inner professional alarm ring loudly, saying that you can never have your name on that press release nor can it come from your firm's domain, and suggest to your client that they issue it directly from their office via a paid service like PR Newswire, Business Wire or PR Web, not subtly implying how you really feel about this release?

Remember, it's a tough economy out there and clients don't just drop from the skies these days.

What would you do?