Why bad PR is killing all the fluffy kittens

Why bad PR is killing all the fluffy kittens

Last week I was described by a PR person as “not very compliant”. In other amusing anecdotes, I was once also called “quite a ball buster” in a WIP meeting at a telco. My former flatmate was in the room at the time and indulged in endless mirth in reporting this back to me.

I’m not sure about the latter comment but the former is probably quite true. A year and a half ago, a few things changed. I lost my code of compliance, for a start. I made peace with broccoli, after years of pain and suffering. And I stopped answering my phone, because of non-stop PR pitches.

This all happened roughly a month after settling into the editor’s chair at Idealog. I think a lot of PR people see Idealog as an easy sell; we write about cool companies doing nifty stuff, and aside from the occasional 'lovingly critical' piece, for the most part we’re on the business peace train. Yeah! You’re in good hands when we’re driving the Love Bus.

So what’s the problem? Well, there’s Good PR and then there’s Bad PR. And unfortunately, I’ve seen a little bit too much Bad PR lately for my own liking, and I’ve also got my Ranty Pants on and boy, do they fit snugly. Here’s what separates bad from good.

Bad PR gets account executives to call up and ask, “Did you get the press release?” The answer is always yes. Yes we got it. Every time you call a journalist and ask this question, a fluffy kitten drowns.

Bad PR gets account executives to call up and ask for a features list. We don’t do features lists. If you find a publication in this country that is organised enough to be producing features lists a year in advance of the actual news that is happening, please let me know who they are. I’d like to know who among my journalistic competition is that organised.

Bad PR calls and calls and calls – every five minutes on the dot – from a withheld number BUT WILL NEVER LEAVE A MESSAGE. For the love of fluffy kittens, just send an email. Or a carrier pigeon. Carrier pigeons are so Web 3.0.

Bad PR sends you an email addressed to the editor/deputy editor/features editor who left two years ago. “Hi Matt! Love your magazine! We read it every issue, cover to cover!” Clearly, you don’t. Otherwise you’d notice that Matt has had a sex change.

Bad PR sends you an email pitch claiming the story will be perfect for Urbis/Unlimited/NZ Business. And you know what? We are so in agreement on that one.  

Bad PR gets account executives to call up and pitch stories over the phone by reading out a pre-written spiel, without pausing for breath, so the editor can never say, “I’m sorry, I’m in the middle of a deadline right now” or “Please excuse me, I need to go stab myself repeatedly in the eyeballs with a compass”. I have a term for this: Verbal Handcuffs. It’s the words! They hold you hostage and you can never break free.

Bad PR freely admits to you that they don’t read your magazine. This is when I like to say, “Oh no, you see, I edit Ideal Log. We cover the wood industry’s best products. Logs, and ... stuff.”

Bad PR pitches a story to you for a section in the magazine that doesn’t exist. In the past week, I’ve had pitches for our travel section, our appointments section, and our ‘engagement’ section. The first two certainly don’t exist. I’m unsure whether ‘engagement’ refers to a marketing technique or a wedding feature, but I didn’t want to, erm, engage in that discussion. 

Bad PR wants you to come to their offices so they can tell you about their clients and then you can find a way to put them into your publication. If you don’t know why this is bad, please post your full name and company name below so I can make a hit list.

And now to the good!

Good PR knows who the editor is and has up-to-date information on staff. It isn’t too hard. Most publications have contact pages on their sites, and if those are out of date, well then it’s not the PR’s problem. But there’s Twitter and LinkedIn, and a myriad of other ways to Google Stalk your editor of choice.

Good PR may even actually know the editor In Real Life. Most of the stories in Idealog that have originated from a PR company have been pitched by someone I’ve dealt with before, who has a good brain on their shoulders and doesn’t get account executives to call up with Inane Questions. I could name names here but you’d get all blushy and cute.

Good PR reads the publication or watches the TV programme or listens to the radio show. Inside the office of one particular PR company (yes, I have been inside! Muah ha ha ha) there’s a wall of drawers full of magazines. There’s one drawer for each publication with back issues inside and the current one sits upright at the front. When they want to pitch to print, they can stand back and survey the magazine wall for potential outlets. It shows the company takes print seriously and also takes the time to familiarise themselves with the publications at hand.

Good PR pitches exclusives to an individual rather than taking a carpet-bombing approach. As soon as the carpet bombs arrive in the inbox, they get deleted. I’ve even figured out how to put repeat offenders on auto-delete. It’s like they don’t even exist! The fluffy kittens, they thank me.

Good PR keeps its powder dry. One chap I met in a former job reporting on property only ever pitches stories he genuinely thinks will have a chance of being published. And yes, he often has to push back to the client, but at least you know he will never waste your time. 

I’m sure PR people have their own frustrations about journalists or a few horror tales to tell (post them below, if you do, and we shall all laugh at the carnage). Your frustration with me is probably that I don’t answer the phone and hence don the verbal handcuffs. But if I did, we’d simply never get the magazine to print.

For the moment, I shall continue on my merry path of non-compliance and get back to work. I got me some balls to bust.

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