I used those tweets as my opening paragraph because I love the imagery they bring to mind, but also because it’s so true. It is easy to go off the (beaten) track and run with a tired phrase when there’s a simpler way to put your thoughts into words, especially when it comes to a press release that will likely be edited down to its bare bones before it is published, anyway.
That’s if it even is published. The general newsroom sentiment these days seems to be that a press release will only be published if it meets the specific content mandate of the publication, if it hasn’t already been published in a different format, if the PR hasn’t made a nuisance of themselves (asking if/when/where it will be published) and if there’s actual space for the info to be used.
Journalism is still a free industry (the Media Appeals Tribunal hadn’t kicked in yet the last time
I checked). And yet, we are constantly badgered by people telling us how to write an article, asking to check that we haven’t misquoted them and the like. And I know I’m not alone in this. Members of the media world over get all het up about being asked (sometimes politely, sometimes not) to please not use certain info or use more of something else. In an excellent article posted online in 2007, ITWeb
’s Samantha Perry also wrote
of this frustration. My favourite part of her article? To paraphrase: “ … the next time you have the urge to ask me if you can approve copy … think about what you are actually doing. You are asking me to compromise my ethics, credibility, reputation, integrity and – ultimately – my career and I will not do that – for you or anyone.”
And then, heaven forbid that a PR actually stipulates that the information needs to be used on or only after a certain date. Embargoes are fine if you’re a ‘we work months ahead’ publication as this makes it easier to slot into the schedule, but if you’re online, chances are that the information you are sent through will be quickly forgotten and slip through the cracks. This also brings in the possibility that the rather stressed journalist will skim over the actual embargo warning and simply slot in the information ahead of time. When I wrote tweeted a link to an article I had written about embargoes late last year, award-winning journalist and author, Gus Silber responded: “Press releases should come with an embargo of 60 seconds, maximum, for tweeting purposes. Otherwise, no embargo.” (I’ve also written about the repercussions of broken embargoes
fairly extensively, as well as the damage control
that needs to be meted out). There’s also a risk that the editorial staff will end up feeling like they are being treated like children if simply ‘warned’ not to publish before a certain date – you attract more bees with honey, after all, and the media industry is not beholden to PR to get by. Being told to only use certain bits of the information has a similar hackle-raising result – if you don’t want us to use it, why send it through? Even worse? Sending it through and then recalling
the message as it wasn't actually approved by the client.
But I digress. We are all human and it is easy to make mistakes, but another word of advice – check your email before sending it out. It is so easy – especially when simply sending the same release out to an entire batch of journalists and personalising each with their name and publication name – to forget to update one, and nothing is more likely to ensure your press release is deleted than sending it out asking for it to be published in a competitor’s publication! Then again, if you take the less intensive route of sending said release out in a single email intended to reach multiple journalists, why not use the BCC function? Seeing that it’s been sent to all and sundry is another way of aggravating the media, especially having to scroll through paragraph after paragraph of email addresses before reaching the actual information (we’re a tetchy bunch, for sure) – and please, if it’s not intended as exclusive content
, don’t pitch it as such! As COUP
’s editor, Marie Straub puts it in a tweet, “When certain PRs use the word "exclusive" in a release, I read "that thing I've sent to everyone including my grandma" – #PRfail. And she’s not just being sceptical – Straub received a press release earlier in the day that read: "Co-owner and managing director of has specifically drafted the attached article … to perhaps be used in your … Nov/Dec 2012 issue of ." As I said earlier, please give the email a quick read-through before sending!
That’s enough of a rant for this week. PRs, I am by no means implying that the other side of the ‘dark side divide’ is by any means perfect. We often cut your pages of text down to a single sentence, we don’t get back to you when you’ve politely asked to be kept in the loop if the information is used, and we will pull the text at the last minute if something better comes along. It’s a love/hate relationship for sure. Please share your thoughts on the PR-media relationship on our blog.