CAREERS: Pandora's Problem Page

Q: I'm a junior staffer within a large PR department of a major

multi-national, and my question is about calling journalists to check

whether they have received our press releases. Although I understand

that this is the type of job that people on my level do, I'm not

convinced that it achieves anything except annoying the reporters and

editors that we're trying to strike up good relationships with. What do

you think?

Ms. R, Boston

A: You've touched on a very controversial media relations topic. Some PR

practitioners counsel that this kind of thing is to be avoided because

it is indeed the fastest way to drive a busy journalist to


However, I happen to believe that it is worth making the call - you just

have to make sure that you are offering something of value, rather than

just being annoying. Back in the dark mists of time, when I fished on

the other side of the media pool, I used to regularly take calls from PR

people like yourself, wondering if I had gotten their lovingly-crafted


Maybe they didn't realize that I received a pile of releases each day

that threatened to give our mailman back problems. Either way, they

always seemed surprised that I responded in snippy fashion.

But I always made more time for those few PR people who rang up to say,

"I sent you a release on so and so the other day and just wondered if

you would like me to arrange an exclusive interview with the CEO," or "I

just wanted to let you know there's a conference call tomorrow at


The point is that your release may well be vying with hundreds of others

for the attention of that frazzled journalist. Do whatever you can to

induce them to draw it out of the pile and at least give it a cursory

look. If you are calling to offer something, that is what will motivate

that journalist to check if this is something he or she should be

following up on. One more thing: if you're making that follow-up call,

make sure that you are heartily familiar with the contents of the

release and its context. Nothing winds a journalist up more than a call

from a PR person asking for help who does not know the answer to a basic


Q: I'm an AE at an agency. I've just realized that I've made a big

mistake by not getting my aviation client into a major feature that a

magazine is planning on the airline industry. I forgot to check their

editorial calendar, so it's totally my fault. What should I do now to

make the best of a bad situation?

Ms. V, Orlando, FL

A: Firstly, don't think you can sweep this under the carpet. Closing

your eyes is not going to make this one go away. However much you think

your client relies on you to be kept appraised of their mentions in the

media, you can bet that this is the publication that your client will

choose to flick through on the train home.

Your client isn't going to be happy, but he or she will be happier if

they can see you taking action. Admit your mistake now, apologize, but

assure them that you've put new processes in place so that you'll never

again be unaware of important features.

Consider writing a letter to the editor on behalf of your client, taking

issue with some of the points brought up by competitors. You could

actually end up with more space devoted to your client than if he or she

was interviewed for the original feature.

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