Monday, April 23, 2007

Pitching, Bad Pitching and Blogger Griping

Every once in a while I read bloggers complaining about PR people.

OK.... more than every once in a while. Probably about once a week. The latest is on the Church of the Customer blog, which starts out by saying not to pitch reporters and then falls back a bit encouraging PR people (and their customers) to cultivate relationships instead.

This is, of course, sound advice. It is also how things SHOULD be done across the board. In PR we're taught from the start to read our assigned publications, learn the reporters, talk with them and only call/email/IM when we have something worth sending. The issue isn't what PR SHOULD be, it's what PR is, meaning all this bitching and moaning is about a lot of bad PR, not PR in general.

But in the Church post is this:

PR companies could actually become more strategic service providers by helping their clients cultivate relationships with existing, well-connected customers. Appeal to the people who already love your clients and foster those relationships.
(I'm really trying not to take an overly snarky attitude on this one.) OF COURSE we do that! We can't do our jobs without having our clients' customers work with us. But the reality is, especially for smaller companies, customers don't always want to talk. Different companies have different reasons. I've had situations in which my client would be competing with a small part of Microsoft and the customer wouldn't go into a public forum and say "this is great!" since it could hurt their contract deals with Redmond. In other cases the deals are relatively small for the size of the customer, so they just don't feel it's important enough to discuss.

In other cases it's a pure marketing issue. While it may be great exposure for my client to get on a technology-focused blog or in a similar publication, their customer may only care about reaching teenagers, aged 12 to 18. Those audiences don't often mix, so the customer doesn't see it as worth their time to get on the phone and talk.

It's fine to toss off comments like "PR should build relationships" or "make your customers work for you," but giving solid advice on how to do that is a different story.

When I work with junior members of my teams I will often assign a large list of publications, bloggers and podcasters, then tell them to focus most of their attention on a much smaller and more strategic list. On the large list they are responsible for keeping track and getting coverage, but the smaller list are those publications they should "own." After a few months on the account they should be at the point that the blogger/podcaster/reporter calls US for information.

That means talking to these people on a regular basis, not just when we put out a release but sometimes calling to say "what are you working on?" Sometimes it's directing them to other people in the agency (or even outside the agency) who can help with their reporting. When you become a trusted part of the reporting process, only then do you have a truly working relationship.

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