Washington Business Forward's editor claims to dislike PR people. But DC's non-government-focused business title depends on pitches as much as any other outlet of its ilk, finds Douglas Quenqua.Eamon Javers doesn't really hate PR people. But you'd be forgiven for thinking otherwise after reading a column he wrote last October.
"I hate PR people,
he wrote. "There, I said it. Any self-respecting journalist feels the same way, and is probably more than willing to tell you all about it over a beer."
So why say you hate PR people if you don't really feel that way? As editor-in-chief of Washington Business Forward magazine, Javers needs PR people.
Probably more than he cares to admit.
The column concludes with a confession: "I still think any CEO with a PR firm on indefinite retainer is wasting valuable cash. But I'll confess, with Jimmy Swaggart-style tears running down my face, a journalistic sin.
In this issue, there are three (smallish) examples of PR pitches that worked on me. See if you can find them."
So there you have it. He doesn't want to need you, but he does. It's every journalist's secret shame. Javers chose to put it on page eight, and he's fairly well known in DC for having done so.
Frankly, it would seem there are a lot more than "three smallish examples
of effective pitches in any one issue of WBF (and it would also seem there are more in that same issue, but more on that later). It only stands to reason. The magazine concerns itself with the other side of doing business in the nation's capital. The side that, until WBF launched in 1999, wasn't really being covered by anyone. The side that most people who don't live in DC might be surprised to learn is here. The side that doesn't have anything at all to do with working for, selling to, writing about, or buying from the federal government.
Well, maybe not anything at all, but at least less than most. Lobbying and public affairs firms certainly find their way into the pages of WBF, but not in any greater concentration than venture capitalists, telecommunications firms, restaurateurs, or real estate magnates.
"Washington is seen as a political town, and yet there was this explosive growth in the private-sector business community,
explains Javers. "(CEO) Jeremy (Brosowsky) decided there should be a magazine covering those folks.
It was a hole we thought we could fill nicely."
Evidence would suggest WBF has indeed filled a hole. After three years in publication, circulation hovers around 40,000, with presidents and CEOs making up 68% of its readership. Owners and partners make up another 14%.
Regular features include First Forward, a front-of-book roundup of useful or quirky tidbits from around town; Square Feet, a look at local real estate happenings; and The Buzz, which highlights an industry or trend worth noting.
Annual features include The Forward Forty, a list of the city's biggest power players; Deals of the Year; and the BOBs (Best of Business), which showcases the best and worst of everything in Washington. This year, Porter Novelli was named "PR firm to call in a crisis
for its work with the family of missing intern Chandra Levy. From the sound of it, every PR professional in DC phoned in, "flacking
their own agencies for the award.
But Porter Novelli won at least in part for what WBF called its "penchant for avoiding self-promotion, which is fine by us."
As should be obvious by now, if you are going to pitch WBF, do so gingerly.
Most importantly, do your research.
"What's frustrating about a lot of PR pitches is that they come from people who haven't read the magazine,
says Javers. "I get a lot of pitches from people who say, 'I've got a new-hire release for your People in the News section.' But we don't have a People in the News section."
"The best thing you can do is read the magazine,
Dan Baum, founder and CEO of Periscope Communications, confirms that conclusion. He claims to have a great track record placing items in WBF, but only because he understands the needs of the magazine. "Their editorial calendar is something they base off the news needs of the community,
he says. "So you've got to understand those news needs as well as or better than they do in order to be of any value to them."
Baum also holds the distinction of being one of last year's Forward Forty.
"I was the only PR person ever to be put on the list, and I didn't even pitch them on that,
But as much mutual respect as there clearly is between him and Javers, Baum does have one potentially damaging bit of information to hold over the editor's head - a piece of information that may prove Javers isn't as immune to the powers of PR as his October column suggests.
"That column said that issue contained only one or two pitches that had gotten through,
he says. "For the record, I placed five articles in that magazine. I like pointing that out to him."