Monday, November 25, 2013

How NOT to do PR

Don't let this happen to you! "The Haggler" in The New York Times today tackles a complaint of his own: PR spam. This is the flood of emailed press releases that all reporters get and wearily delete because they're totally irrelevant to their beats. This time he decided to try and stop it before it arrived at his inbox, and quickly learned that most of the press releases were coming from just a few companies, led by Vocus and PRNewsWire. He wanted to know why a company would hire one of these firms to send out thousands of wasted emails, and quickly discovered that at least one client company didn't know that was what was happening on their behalf -- for a $1,500/month retainer. The CEO was not happy. This is one of the darker sides of disruptive innovation: it's possible to gather email addresses of reporters into databases, and automatically send thousands of emails for a relatively low cost. Traditional PR firms, which still pride themselves on building personal relationships with individual reporters, are seeing their fees undercut by Vocus and the others, which promise volume and not coincidentally, search engine optimization benefits for less. Some PR firms have taken to just reselling (presumably at a markup) the automated services, since like end consumers of medicine asking for antibiotics for every ailment or just the heavily advertised "purple pill," their client companies are (ignorantly) demanding the supposed benefits of the automated services. What should companies do instead? First, accept that there is no shortcut to press mentions and the buzz that lead to sales. Second, accept that some companies and their products are inherently "buzzworthy" or "buzz-magnets" -- and yours probably isn't. Third, accept that some success of others -- and yourself -- is due to luck. (Doesn't this sound like the "serenity prayer?") Finally, do your homework. Start small, not big. Read the media you think you should be covered by. Do they in fact write about your competition? Write down the names of the reporters. Do a search on Technorati for bloggers that cover your area. Can you see a way your product or service fits in with a trend story, or is relevant to a current issue in the (targeted) news? Be helpful. Sign up on "Help a Reporter Out" or HARO (ironically, now owned by Vocus) to get a sense of what reporters are looking for. Offer yourself as someone who can comment on topics without pushing your own company. Only then should you call reporters, and email selected bloggers, one at a time. Show that you've actually read something they've written. Ask if your topic is something they'd be interested in: ask, don't assume. Don't send attachments, unless instructed to. And don't use the subject line: "Press Release." There's more, but that should get you on the right track.