PR COG'S GEAR GRINDINGS

February 24, 2009

Dear Journalists … (Part 1)

Filed under: flack,flacks,mailing,PR,spam — prcog @ 5:30 pm
Dear Journalists (and bloggers) –

Gina is right. So is Chris. We (flacks) as a group, generally suck. As a whole it took us a long time to catch on to the whole blog thing and we’re still a little terrified about it. Generally there’s no publisher to threaten appeal to and your commenting readers are of the One Flew Over the Cuckoo nest kind of nuts.

But this is really directed to mainstream press…

Here’s the thing – and I’m sure most of you realize this, you’re mostly pretty smart folk – we do what we do (including overmailing and blind-mailing) because we have to. We’re hired guns – the client comes to us and the conversation goes something like this –

“Hey Flacks – we want a story in The Metropolitan Moon about our widget.”

But it’s the MetroMoon – they don’t generally cover Widgets, or anything similar.”

“They wrote something up 10 weeks ago.” (Produces trend story).

“Yeah, that was in the lifestyle section on new, modern, widgets. It’s a trend piece – this was before you hired us, they aren’t going to redo the story now. Most people never have a reason for a widget in their life – 2 stories in a year, much less 3 months just isn’t going to happen.”

“Well we want in. If you can’t or won’t pitch it we’ll find another agency that will.” (May not be stated, but is always implied).

“Oh. Ok, we’ll pitch it”

And then the thought process begins – how can I pitch this to a great pub., that just isn’t going to care. Inevitably one of the following pitches will be produced, sent and perhaps follow-up pitched –
  • To the energy editor – “Just wanted you to know that some widgets by widget co are produced with clean/wind/horse/nuclear energy”
  • To the religion writer – “You may not have known this but the factory workers at widget factory have a religion”
  • To the kids/family writer – “We wanted to remind you (and your readers) that widgets are totally appropriate toys and not at all a choke hazard”
  • To the W. Coast bureau chief – “We wanted to let your office know that widgets are really popular out there and may merit a story.”

You see where this is going.

It isn’t that we don’t care – we do, we’re just trying to do what our client wants even if it’s not best for them because (and I know you understand this) they won’t end our contracts if we do what they say even we advise against it and sometimes it takes a phenomenal failure (under their instruction) to be given a bit more rope to do it right. And potentially worse for all of us, if we do pushback and they go to another, less reputable agency you’ll get the same crap, but worse since the new agency is likely disinclined to push back even a little against their newest client.

Then again, sometimes we don’t know better. Here’s the other, not uncommon, scenario….

New client – sells Tidgets wants press. He opens the first meeting with ….

“So, we’re launching a new Tidget the day after tomorrow, 8a eastern time. This launch can’t fail, we’ve spent nearly 7 figures on the R&D so we need everyone to cover this. No it can’t be moved – we’re ringing the bell at the NYSE that day.”

Forget whether or not the MetroMoon even covers Tidgets – we’ve got to learn the Tidget trade mag scene intimately in about 24 hours, craft a strategy, implement it and measure it.

After stopping all other projects, calling all-hands meetings and figuring out WTF a Tidget is, much less what could cost nearly 7-figures in making one, do you really think the first things we’re going to do is dissect each issue of:
  • TidgetWeek
  • Month of Tidgets
  • Tidgets & Widgets
  • Tidgets Worldwide
  • Widgets International, with a quarterly Tidgets International supplement

to see who the exact proper beat reporter is?

No, we’re going to our database and searching for Tidget beat and Tidget ‘pitching notes’…even if the pitching note says “Not interested in Tidgets, I think they’re the scourge of the Earth.”

Yeah, you’ve got a blog called “Tidgets Today” that doesn’t cover Tidgets for some reason — tough, you’re getting the release and the follow-up call. Heck we may even be a bit drunk to get the nerve to actually make these calls (ok, not really, but we’ll wish we were).

And this doesn’t just apply on coverage topics, it’s also a geographic issue.

Imagine if you will, the days before the popularization of the internet – the midsize shop in NYC knew the regional press and the trade press. If a project fell outside that parameter they found a colleague in another small shop in the proper part of the country/world. So when NYC Co. opens LA Office small shop in LA gets directed to handle the LA press under NYC’s guidance.

Now we’re all national (if not international) agencies because we can see every paper on the planet every day and most for free online. Of course all the small-medium NYC agencies don’t read the LAT everyday, we’ve got enough NY papers to keep up with, but you can bet if a client walks in and asks can we handle an LA project the answer will be yes. Why? Why not just farm it out to the LA agency?

Two big reasons – dollars and cents.

This year in particular we’re all trying to bring in as much as possible now. We’ll worry about later when later happens. The other big issue – even if our client loves us, the second we look at them and say “we can’t do that” (even if there’s a good reason why not) we run the risk of losing the client altogether, not just for that one project – either to a larger agency (which always poses a threat) or to a similar agency that is willing to lie and/or blindmail everyone possibly interested.

So we pick the lesser of the two evils – staying in business and keeping the client and doing our darndest to not bother too many people or hit outside the interest area. Do we succeed? Certainly not all of the time…

Oh, and PS …. (see part 2)

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