I can still hear the perky voice, all these years later. ’Are you familiar with Stallion Technologies?’ the PR virgin chirped. Since I’d been covering Stallion, then a Unix adapter company, for about three years, I replied testily, ’If you have to ask me that, then I’m reasonably sure I’m more familiar with the company than you are.’
I can still hear the perky voice, all these years later. ’Are you
familiar with Stallion Technologies?’ the PR virgin chirped. Since I’d
been covering Stallion, then a Unix adapter company, for about three
years, I replied testily, ’If you have to ask me that, then I’m
reasonably sure I’m more familiar with the company than you are.’
I called the owner of the agency with whom I thought I’d had a good
Why, I asked, is this woman so uninformed? ’We can’t go down the whole
list of editors and explain who knows the company and who doesn’t,’ she
protested. ’That would take too much time.’ My response: ’Oh, but it’s
okay to waste my time?’
It took me many more years and frustrating dial-and-smile phone calls to
realize that the problem wasn’t laziness or stupidity or any other of
the seven deadly sins. The problem was billable hours. Like lawyers,
most PR firms rely on billable hours for their income. No wonder they
don’t mind taking my time with seemingly idiotic calls - they are
getting paid to do it.
My favorite is the follow-up call. These incense me so much that my
outgoing voicemail specifically instructs PR people not to follow up on
press releases they may have mailed, faxed or e-mailed. Let’s think
about this rationally. The name of the game is content. I’m scrambling
to find it as much as you’re scrambling to place it. If something comes
across my desk that’s interesting to my readers, it would be
professional negligence to discard it. And if I have questions, I’ll
call you. I promise.
But don’t bother me otherwise. Never mind that aggravating editors and
reporters is counter-productive for both the client and the agency.
Never mind that one story in The Wall Street Journal is more valuable
than 100 follow-up phone calls. As long as a bill listing phone calls to
editors supercedes a clipping as proof that you’re doing your job, you
and I are going to be at loggerheads.
It doesn’t have to be that way. I’ve edited stories that have come to me
as ideas from PR people. I welcome your suggestions and insights. This
is my challenge to the PR community. Scream about your value. Educate
your clients about the service you provide. Sit down with your client,
find out which five (or 10) publications they want to be in, read those
publications and fashion a pitch so laser-like in its precision that
I’ll be slack-jawed in appreciation. (And far more willing to take your
next call about your next client).
Ask your clients how much that’s worth to them and calculate a retainer
that’s fair to both of you. Because it may be dial-and-smile to you, but
it’s trial-and-frown for me.
CIO magazine senior editor Howard Baldwin has been in publishing for 22