I’ve been tracking a rather telling LinkedIn Group topic thread titled “Telephone follow ups to email press releases” that now exceeds 100 comments. There are some legitimate, albeit ageless, frustrations expressed by PR professionals on the whole telephone/email conundrum.
The thread addresses the fact that reporters, for the most part, state a preference for emails rather than phone calls, but due to the volume of emails received end up responding less frequently. Posters also stress the importance of building relationships with reporters via coffee, lunch, tea and crumpets – all fine recommendations but ones that only go as far as a reporter/editor’s willingness to develop a relationship.
More interesting, and I believe disturbing, are the handful of comments regarding how PR professionals determine what type of client news is deemed significant enough for a follow up call. In fact, one thread poster wrote:
“Bottom line, not every press release is worth that call! It’s crafting the message as best you can, with legal and regulatory in mind, and ultimately knowing what releases are worth the call, and those that aren’t. One other tool I have found helpful, the multi-media press release!”
News flash: If a press release pitch isn’t worth a call it isn’t worth a press release – or a pitch! Basically what this poster is saying is that email-only pitches are fine for non-newsworthy client announcements that the PR professional knows really won’t be interesting but just feels he/she must go through the motions to be accountable when the client asks for outreach efforts, BUT…if there is actual real news then the PR professional will bother to pick up the phone and pitch?
If that is in fact where things are headed PR is etching its own tombstone towards becoming a human version of Vocus – an email blasting machine devoid of strategy, value and ultimately, strong results. This notion of creating tiers of outreach based on the self or client-determined importance of the news exposes an obvious flaw that explains why reporters tune out so many email pitches. You think you are doing reporters a favor by not calling them on lower priority news announcements, but all you are really doing is polluting their inbox with the dregs of ‘news’ and ensuring that any real news that might be emailed will become lost in the clutter.
Let’s be clear, this isn’t a discussion with an easy answer. The fact is that the press release itself is really secondary to the pitch. No one should be pitching a press release – they should be pitching a story for which the press release might be a supporting piece of. Here are a few ideas:
1) How about a little (gulp) honesty with clients – We all love the fact that clients are excited about their news, products and services, but understandably not all of them will generate the same external enthusiasm. It is hard for PR professionals to kill press releases because, unfortunately, that remains a component of what we do. But in the bigger picture there are likely other ways to communicate the information that will be more valuable than a press release, and it is up to PR firms to identify those rather than blindly drafting and blasting releases.
2) Eliminate the two-tier news approach – This notion of a two tiers of newsworthiness is just ridiculous. Something is important enough for a phone call but other news only rises to email level damages the value of what we do and contributes to the eroding value of the PR professional-journalist relationship. Something is news or it isn’t.
3) Remain proactive but not stubborn – I’m still a big believer in phone calls and in person interaction with journalists. Not as a ‘follow up’ to an email but simply as an effective means to communicate. Email is easy and it is lazy. Takes 2 seconds to send an email and if a reporter bites back than wham, maybe an entire outreach initiative becomes a success. Calling can be tedious and painful, but as many other posters in the LinkedIn thread confirmed, there is a 50/50 chance at best the journalist even saw your email.