Wednesday, October 23, 2013

A Comedy of Preventable PR Errors

PR professionals ask me all the time, "How do I get my client featured in one of your magazines?"

The answer isn't rocket science and just takes a little bit of common sense.

However, not everyone is using their noggin.

Case in point:

About 10 days ago, I sent out a query on (the site that connects journalists with story sources). The story was for one of my military publications, and the angle was pretty straight-forward: I needed sources to discuss how people in the National Guard can find military-friendly employers. I deliberately sent the query early, because I was going to be out for a week's vacation and wanted to hit the ground running when I got back.

A young PR professional got in touch the same day and said he had two sources. Both of them were veterans, and both were owners of franchise companies that largely employed veterans. After looking over their qualifications, I determined that they would be good fits. And I turned down other responders to my Profnet query in favor of them.

The PR person told me that the sources would call me. The first was to get in touch at 9 a.m. Eastern time -- today. But about an hour later, I received an email calendar alert that the interview was to take place at 6 a.m. So I checked with the PR professional again to make sure I hadn't crossed my wires. He informed me that the 6 a.m. time was for the source, who was on the Western clock. I also double-verified that the source would be calling me, not the other way around.

Fast forward to today.

9 a.m. came and went. I gave it about 20 minutes and then emailed the PR person, explaining that no one had contacted me. Twenty-five minutes after that, he emailed back and said he had not communicated to the source that he was supposed to call me. "But here is his phone number, and you can reach him now," he said.

With an email message like that, I assumed that the source had been briefed of PR person's mixup.

I called, and this was the first thing the source huffed:

"Hi -- you were supposed to call me 45 minutes ago! I guess I can still do the interview."

I explained that the PR person had communicated otherwise and apologized that he'd been kept waiting. I then gave the source the Cliffs Notes version of the story angle -- how National Guard members can find employers that are sympathetic to their challenges.

And then the source said:

"I was under the impression that you were doing a story about how to get into franchising. I had prepared responses about my company and how to find franchise companies that are good fits for military service members. And I don't have anyone working for me who is in the National Guard."


The biggest mistake I see among PR professionals who use Profnet -- especially those who are in their 20s -- is that they think they can change the reporter's story angle by getting THEIR source in the story to talk about THEIR angle.

See .... it doesn't work that way.

I have a story angle. I have an editor who has assigned the story angle. I am not paid unless I deliver a story ... with that precise angle.

You, as a PR professional, are not going to change my story angle. And your sources will not convince me to change my story angle.

Can I make this any plainer?

Additionally, if you are coordinating interviews between a journalist and your source, for God's sake, please make sure that 1)  You have given everyone the correct time zone for the interview, 2) You have communicated clearly who is to place the call and 3) Your source has been fully briefed on the angle of the story -- WHICH WILL NOT CHANGE.

These things are all basic common sense, but I have seen this happen more frequently in my 24 years of reporting than you would imagine. And I hate to over-generalize, but it mostly occurs with PR professionals who have been in the business for fewer than 10 years.

So back to the original question: "How do I get my client featured in one of your magazines?"


Use common sense. Don't try to fit a square peg in a round hole. Take your time and coordinate schedules.

Because if you don't, you can be assured that I will not come back to you when I have another assignment.

What did I do after this mix up? I'll tell you. I emailed the PR professional and said that not only was I not using the first source, but I also would not use the second one. I know that sounds harsh, but I have a lineup of others that were at the ready to participate. If the first source was not fully prepared, it was fairly predictable that the second wouldn't be, either.

Burn me once, shame on you. Burn me twice ... shame on me.

I don't give opportunities to be burned twice.

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