Stories by Frankie Flack
In the great comedy sketch “Who’s on First” two comedians, Bud Abbott and Lou Costello, go back and forth in a wonderfully written piece where the two performers struggle to understand the names of the players on a St. Louis baseball team.
Hearing the patient Costello inform a confused and irritated Costello the names of players are “who,” “what” and “I don’t know” reminds me of some conversations often had between PR people and reporters.
PR language has a way of leading to circular conversations at times, especially when a PR person is able to confirm only partial bits of information. I find this to be more common with public companies that are confronted with the balancing act of releasing information to the market with a nearly universal business desire to keep most things private.
However, conversations between PR people and reporters become truly comical when a reporter is on the hunt for information. In these early discussions both sides tend to put on the extra-friendly exterior but at the same time manage to miraculously wipe their brain of all relevant information. It can be a fun and frustrating bit of chess playing as each side tries to learn as much as possible while also revealing as little as possible.
The PR person in these conversations wants to try and keep the reporter talking about this potential story so they can understand what the piece will focus on, if there is anything alarming for a client, are there any competitors involved and other pieces of information that inform how they may want to participate in the story.
It is exceedingly easy to play dumb (and in many cases it’s not even playing) as the PR person and being a dutiful note taker is step one for any good media relations professional. However, at a more advanced level simply taking notes will not get you all the information that is required. Here is where pre-existing relationships help, as the PR person can have more of a blunt conversation with the reporter about the story and get beyond the top-line details.
While leaning on all the usual “I don’t knows”, “I’m not sures” and “I’ll get back to yous” a good media relations professional might begin to indicate an interest in the story. For example a PR pro might say “I’ll have to get back to you on this, but as you know we do have a facility in that area so this could be interesting. Are you also talking to Competitor Y?”
At the same time, the reporter is trying to be careful about protecting their story while also getting the source to contribute. Sometimes it is helpful to lay the whole thing out there, but in a hyper-competitive news environment it’s increasingly important to keep the focus of the story close to the vest.
In the end, these conversations sound a bit like “Who’s on first,” with the hem and hawing as both sides feign ignorance.
But unlike Abbott and Costello, PR people and reporters (at least some of them) have figured out a meaningful way to communicate in the midst of the confusion.
Every now and then my email will suddenly become inundated with emails from friends and colleagues in the PR industry all emailing me one story. Before evening opening any one of these notes I know exactly what the content of the story will be — a story featuring some PR person doing something stupid.
Sometimes it’s just poor a quote or subtle reference to tension between PR and reporter but most likely it’s a full story focused squarely on something a PR person did to irk a reporter. For an industry dedicated to speaking with reporters on a daily basis, it’s a little ironic how paranoid we can be about ending up in a media story. I wonder if the people who juggle flaming sticks are equally amazed when someone in their field inadvertently sets themselves on fire.
The best story I’ve seen lately where a PR “pro” metaphorically set themselves ablaze was when Beyonce’s PR rep emailed the infamously snarky BuzzFeed to request they take down less-than-flattering photos of the superstar. (Note: I have no way of knowing exactly how the Beyonce issue was handled. All commentary below is not specific to any particular situation).
It’s a situation in which almost every PR pro has found themselves dealing with at one time or another. An important client calls up incredulous at what a media outlet has decided to publish and demands a change. Instead of taking a few minutes to think through how best to handle the request, the PR person does exactly what they were told and fires off an email to the outlet.
No one likes corrections. PR people don’t like asking for them, and reporters almost never like changing their story (unless it’s a simple mistake like misspelling a name). Because both sides aren’t going to enjoy the conversation, it’s human nature to avoid conflict and opt for email. This is a fundamental mistake on the PR person, especially when dealing with a publication that publishes stories incessantly and on almost any topic.
While uncomfortable, a simple phone call is critical. It will give the PR person a sense of how the reporter reacts to the request and, most of all it will not give the reporter a chance to turn the request into a standalone story.
Not every reporter is looking to turn a PR person’s email into a story. We’re just not that interesting. However, there is a certain line where a reporter is almost required to put pen to paper and let the world know what we are up to behind the scenes. In my opinion this almost always happens when a PR person mixes pushiness with a genuinely bad idea.
As PR people we need to defend our clients and push back against reporters from time to time. But we also need to consider the reporter, understand the media outlet and most of all, evaluate the clients demand.
Now that BuzzFeed is launching a business vertical, I would caution my colleagues in the field to think twice before asking them to take down embarrassing photos of their hedge fund clients.
Given the events of last week, it seems appropriate to spend some time discussing communications principles in the time of a crisis for a business.
There are a number of ways to define a crisis, and in fact, there are many divergent views on how best to handle a corporate crisis from a PR perspective.
The simplest way to think about a crisis is an event that an organization does not expect and has the potential to cause significant long-term damage if not properly managed. Properly managed means that after some time an organization and those directly impacted by the crisis are able to get back to some state of normalcy.
As with pretty much every aspect of public relations, speed is a critical component to good crisis communications protocol. Once a crisis happens, the people directly impacted by it want to know who is responding to their needs. This is one of the trickiest moments for a communications leader because in the chaos of a crisis there are a lot of people saying what should and shouldn’t be done. At this time, it is best to focus on figuring out who is most affected and what do they need to hear that will assure them the business is responding.
Details are going to be sparse, but simple phrases that indicate the business is aware of a problem can go a long way in those early moments.
The key focus at this time is toward those most impacted by the crisis. This means that reporters should not be a primary focus in the immediate aftermath of any crisis. The challenge in staying focused on this approach is that the influx of media inquiries after a crisis can be crippling for nearly any communications team.
Just like always, all media calls should be returned, but the PR person should not get caught in long conversations with reporters. It is important to acknowledge the company is addressing the situation and that more detail will follow.
The goal is to project to the media a sense of calm, that the company is focused on the problem and not overwhelmed. Impacted parties will want to hear directly from the company. The more personal it can be delivered, the better.
In addition to a staggering amount of incoming inquires, there will inevitably be a similarly sized influx of stories. This coverage should be closely watched to ensure that in the fog of the immediate fallout damaging misinformation is not gaining traction as fact.
At the appropriate time, a company should address the media and discuss in as much detail as possible what caused the crisis, how it was handled and how the company is moving forward. This might be considered pulling the Band-Aid off all at once theory.
Media are important vehicle to convey important messages to impacted parties, but they are also focused on addressing the totality of a crisis all at once.
Communications teams are best to squarely focus on responding to the needs of those most impacted, as aiding those groups is not only the right thing to do but will also allow the company to eventually move past a crisis.
The return of “Mad Men” last night spurred my thinking about the history of public relations.
As I watched the show, and the continuing growth of the fictional agency Sterling Cooper Draper Price, it occurred to me how the public relations industry back then was so young and that the power of PR was still years and years away from being truly understood. While the number of workers in the advertising industry was large and growing, those practicing public relations constituted a small fraction of what it is today.
Forty-five years later and the number of public relations professionals has grown at a staggering pace, with numerous global agencies, countless boutiques and rapidly expanding internal teams. It seems that PR practitioners are growing on trees at this point.
These numbers are often pointed to with some angst among reporters who argue that there is a direct and negative correlation between the rising tide of PR professionals and the dwindling numbers of media. It has been argued in a number of different ways but possibly most famously by Robert McChesney and John Nichols in their book “The Death and Life of American Journalism.”
While I do acknowledge that there are many good points in this debate, I am not entirely convinced that a simple rise in PR practitioners coupled with a decline in media staff creates a terrible vacuum for society. Before jumping into my reasoning I want to be clear that 1.) I am a major supporter of our national media and feel strongly that more should be invested in its future, and 2.) I can in no way speak to how PR is practiced in the political field. I am strictly talking about the relationship businesses have with the media through PR.
There is no question there are now more PR practitioners than journalists out there. One simply has to attend a corporate press conference or other business event where media are invited to quickly see the number of PR people buzzing around a handful of journalists.
But numbers alone do not create a stronger defense for corporations against bad press. (In fact, some could argue more people involved in working with the press only creates more opportunity for mistakes.) At the end of the day, a strong reporter cannot be stopped from a story by a PR professional. As a PR person all I can do is to try and persuade a reporter to abandon a story, write it differently, focus on a different angle, etc. Nothing I do can directly impact what ends up on paper, no matter how many of me there are.
Does the proliferation of PR people make a reporter’s job more difficult as they now have to work harder at source development and face more opposition to stories as they are developed? Yes, almost certainly.
Others have argued that the growth of PR, particularly with its improved financial backing, has allowed the industry to better manipulate the space between truth and fiction. This is I agree with to a point.
A maturing industry is bound to get smarter, and in PR getting smarter means being able to articulate a position for a company more convincingly. Most often, this comes in the form of surveys that are conducted with an eye toward supporting a point or driving news coverage. This though is not an argument about legions of PR people but rather a broader conversation about the improved intellect of a few.
Again though, all PR is really doing here is creating more “noise” in the market. When it comes to the stories that truly matter, the large investigative pieces, this “noise” matters little.
When it all comes down to it, reporters and editors retain the ultimate decision making power. The growth of PR may create more frustration for reporters, but I really do not believe it inhibits good reporting. What stops good reporting, in my opinion, is the lack of financial backing and editorial direction to go get the critical stories.
For example, anyone who reads business news voraciously is often perplexed to find that what reporters are left out there somehow all seem to converge on the same short-list of stories. This indicates a more important internal struggle in the media industry to serve the public interest through businesses that are financially viable.
The debate over PR’s impact on society as media declines is an important conversation that should continue to be studied. But let’s not forget that, though a contentious relationship, PR is really dependent on a strong, independent press. Without a strong media environment we all just become part of the advertisers like Mr. Draper.
Last week I noticed an article in PR Week, a public relations trade magazine, that the ongoing debate over PR and Wikipedia has again reared its ugly head.
This site has become a fascinating, perplexing and aggravating focus of the PR industry as its open-source basis creates functional and ethical problems for our industry.
For those who do not follow the PR industry closely, I will do my best to offer a high-level overview of the controversy.
As anyone who has been on the internet in the past 10 years knows, Wikipedia is the ultimate source of “factual” information on pretty much anything. The site is unique in that anyone can contribute to, or edit, any entry though all contributors are encouraged to follow strict rules to keep the site honest.
Overall, it’s a remarkable tool and a powerful demonstration of the utility of open-source products.
However, because it is open to all, mistakes happen. For high trafficked pages these errant entries are often caught and corrected with astonishing speed. However, because of its open nature, each entry can become more of a perfect reflection of public opinion versus fact.
This is where the problem for PR, and by extension reporters, enters. Often there are legitimate disputes over the content that appears on Wikipedia, particularly as it refers to businesses and executives. I have even heard of instances in which less scrupulous organizations edit their competitors’ entries.
If you’re not a Fortune 100 company, chances are there aren’t many Wiki editors monitoring the accuracy of your page, so these misstatements or attacks have a way of sticking.
As a PR person, you are then forced to use the convoluted guidelines from Wikipedia that say you must participate in the “talk” section, clearly identify yourself and simply encourage other editors to change the entry themselves.
It can be a bit of a Catch-22 if your entry isn’t watched much in the first place. Even if it is, sticking your head out as a PR person can lead to editors discrediting your information without ever checking it. Even BP was cited in the PR Week article, and it was following protocol to the letter.
Caught in this position of ineffective Wikipedia rules, a number of agencies and even some companies have gone ahead and directly edited entries. Making things worse, many of these instances have not been an editing of fact, but instead rewriting controversy or even deleting unsavory truths.
This is not OK. In fact, because of these past bad actors and the general difficulty to get things changed using approved methods, I often recommend clients ignore these entries altogether.
This is not the most helpful advice, but a reflection of the stand-off currently in place.
Any solution Wikipedia and the PR society comes up with should recognize the challenges of the current system while maintaining, or even improving, safeguards for unethical behavior. Until then, companies will need to be sure the facts about their organization are readily available and verifiable. A corporate website can always be built out with more narrative in hopes this content floats to the broader internet.
I’m not smart enough to know the solution to this problem, but I will dare to offer a few guidelines for PR people and reporters.
First, PR people should adhere to the same ethics they use when talking to the media and putting out other content as they do in proposing or editing any Wikipedia entry. A no-brainer, but somehow the ability to edit this content brings out the worst of our industry. Remember, the core job of any PR person is to help an organization have a fair and honest discourse with the public. We cannot alter the truth.
Reporters should not rely on Wikipedia as fact. This has become a trite phrase, but it bears repeating here. Use Wikipedia, it remains a helpful resource, but click-through to source documents to pull facts.
Also, jump over the wall sometimes and check the “talk” pages where PR people are relegated to put forth their suggestions.
A few weeks ago I used this column to complain about how marketing fundamentals were invading the public relations field and eroding media relations basics. New tools for a new era of engagement has had a sweeping impact on the public relations field.
While I firmly believe that this new way of thinking has been largely detrimental to media relations, there has been some interesting new ways to use media relations for a marketing effect.
The idea came to me when I was looking at Twitter and saw that a notable technology editor at a national business publication had blasted out a tweet about a bad PR pitch she had received. Apparently, some PR agency had sent her a pitch about a limited time deal at everyone’s favorite doughnut shop.
At first glance, this made absolutely zero sense. Why would a tech editor care about donuts?
Reporters, especially business reporters who tend to focus on specific, often times esoteric topics like the mechanics of a leveraged buyout, are flooded with poorly targeted emails. In fact, it happens so often most reporters I know are completely unfazed by these wandering bits of mail.
However, after a closer look I am a believer that the wayward doughnut pitch was not in fact poorly targeted, but perhaps a clever new way of utilizing media relations. (Full disclaimer, I was not involved in this pitch, so my theory below is only rooted in an understanding of current practices that may or may not have been applied to this email.)
The impact of the internet and social media on news media has been talked about ad nauseum, so without diving into a broad examination of this changing field there is one important evolution reporters should understand. Journalists are no longer simply the arbiters of information for their specific beat but are now influencers of the general population (especially those that engage on social media). For public relations in the modern era, influencers are fundamental tools to deliver a message.
Consider that this tech editor maintains an active Twitter account with thousands of followers. The information she shares with her community of followers is not confined to technology news, but is filled with updates about her day, opinions about the tech industry and general musings on life.
In this light, one can certainly argue that the doughnut pitch was not a common PR misfire, but perhaps a targeted approach to a highly influential consumer.
What if she had tweeted in the past about her love for this brand? Would a PR person then be off-base to assume she wouldn’t be interested in what’s happening with this brand? Either way, when she took to twitter to alert her followers about the pitch, and the marketing promotion it highlighted, a PR objective was achieved.
Is this the best way to practice media relations? Absolutely not.
I can’t imagine there is a reporter out there who would condone increasing the number of bad pitches they get.
To be clear, I am not condoning sending business reporters consumer PR pitches just because they have an active twitter account. Targeting and thoughtfulness in any approach to media are still the most important considerations, but in a new media era carefully targeted pitches don’t necessarily have to address a reporter’s beat.
A few weeks ago I was catching up with a reporter, who I have come to know well, over a few beers.
In the course of our conversation I asked him about his recent interactions with other PR people. This is a question I ask all the reporters I know because the stories are all over the place. Sometimes I learn good tips or pick up interesting intelligence, but most of the time I just like to hear about the antics that go on in our industry. As I have said before, there are many strong, smart PR practitioners in this field, but there are also too many who put a bad name on the field.
It was no surprise then to hear that just a few days earlier this reporter had recently been berated by a PR person that questioned his IQ level and overall ability to read. The altercation was over a column this reporter had written questioning the logic behind a company’s strategic decision. He said the dispute came down to a disagreement over semantics, but that he did end up revising the column a bit.
I am sure few reporters are stunned to learn about this story and even less that can’t share a similar tale of PR abuse themselves. What struck me as interesting about this particular altercation was that the antagonistic PR person was someone I knew and is well-respected in the industry. This wasn’t a younger flack who doesn’t know better. This was an experienced veteran and his actions are revealing of two distinct schools of thought in practicing media relations.
PR people, particularly those who work “in-house” at a company or manage corporate reputation, are first and foremost employed to protect a company’s image. When a reporter is working on a story a helpful, if a bit extreme, analogy is to compare it to a hostage situation. The reporter plays the role of the hostage taker, the PR person is the law enforcement official and a company’s public image is the scared prisoner of the reporter.
A PR person can approach this situation in one of two ways: work as a negotiator to gently coax the hostage taker to release their captive or bust in the door and forcefully take back the hostage.
A negotiator will work with the reporter to better understand key points, engage in a fact-based debate, concede points and work to get a fair conclusion for both sides. The result may include a more nuanced story or a reporter re-evaluating the news value of the piece all together. While this is a preferable way to engage with media, sometimes the situation calls for a more forceful approach.
The SWAT team approach focuses on using force and intimidation to convince a reporter to back off potentially damaging points. Instead of engaging in a debate, the PR person engages in forceful declarations and threats of going to an editor, or cutting the outlet off from “access.” There are entire agencies built on the belief that this is the only way to interact with reporters.
Believe it or not, many times, the result for both tactics can in fact be the same. Force is not always the “feel good” way to go, but we are all humans and all have a response to conflict. Conversely, this is the same reason why reporters employ a forceful approach, because it produces results.
However, a more forceful approach brings along substantial risk that 1) the reporter will only be further incentivized to write the piece negatively or, 2) take every opportunity to point out company failings moving forward and most risky of all, 3) publish a piece specifically focused on his interactions with the PR person.
As I mentioned in my first column, the relationship between PR and journalists is fundamentally built for conflict. Smart PR is always cognizant of this conflict and understands the best way to engage with a reporter in every scenario.
Last week on this blog Dean Rotbart made an impassioned plea for PR people to be more responsive to journalist inquiries.
It was a well-written piece, and I fully agree with his points. In thinking about how PR has come to a point where the basics of responding to a journalist inquiry are too often lost my attention was drawn to Dean’s passing comment about using a release for SEO improvement.
The line reads “The release may be designed primarily to bolster the SEO results attained by the issuer, although I assume that most companies that pay to distribute news releases are still hoping to get free media coverage from mainstream news outlets.”
This touches on an important struggle in modern PR, negotiating a company’s relations with media and supporting (or driving) company marketing efforts.
On the surface, the two should not be at odds, and in many ways they are not. An organization comes up with a marketing program and the PR staff develops an approach to media to drive press coverage. It is the foundation of pretty much every global PR firm.
However, as PR has grown as an industry and seized on new trends, using its core strength as communicators to become a larger part of an organizations marketing efforts, too many have lost sight of the importance of media relationships. The end result is a larger population of the PR industry with no ability, or interest, in working with the media.
Below are few thoughts on why and how this has come about:
- Too many journalists and news outlets – It has been said so often and in so many ways that it is now downright trite to say the media landscape has evolved through the digital age. The most problematic result of this change is that defining a news source can quickly turn into a lengthy philosophical debate. In this new media environment we begin to see the divide in modern PR. In some aspects, major news organizations remain the only credible voice and are the core focus of managing a company’s relationship with the media. However, a marketing mentality shifts that paradigm. When marketing the company, almost any vehicle will do, and often blogs and other forms of media can more effectively achieve the end goal of brand visibility or consumer engagement. In fact, nothing has impacted PR more than the opportunity for direct consumer engagement.
- New ways to measure performance – Not only do we now have new targets and forums to engage, PR is also being measured in all new ways. PR measurement has been long been elusive and remains a hotly debated topic. What is changing though is that PR people are becoming smarter about connecting their work to the broader marketing measurement mix. Furthermore, there has been an explosion of new ways to measure PR results and many are not even dependent on earned media. As a result, media relationships have become only one aspect of measuring PR.
Put crudely, when an organization puts out a release it may be more focused on driving results with bloggers, producing Facebook traffic or creating a buzz on Twitter. Therefore, when a radio show producer calls and wants an interview the idea of earned media coverage on radio is completely foreign.
There is a lot of exciting new work being done in PR these days as organizations lean more heavily on PR to have a conversation with their consumers. The fundamentals of creating and keeping good media relationships have empowered PR to claim this larger role in organizations. As PR embraces its new role we must be careful not to overlook media relationships as that is what makes PR strong communicators in the first place.
Editor’s note: Here is the latest missive from Frankie Flack, our anonymous New York-based PR executive.
In July of last year Jeremy Peters of The New York Times penned a piece titled “Latest Word on the Trail? I Take It Back” that struck like a sudden earthquake in the journalism and public relations field.
Peters deftly put on paper the all-too-common recipe for making news in our modern era and major media organizations quickly changed their tastes. Specifically, Peters laid out how “quote approval,” the process in which PR can review quotes prior to publication, had become so pervasive it was just an accepted reality of doing business. The AP, New York Times, National Journal and others all put out statements clarifying the appropriate use of this practice.
As someone who frequently requests quote approval and knows many others who do the same, I can say firsthand the impact was immediate, but perhaps not dramatic. A few times I was told “I just can’t do that anymore,” and even more frequently I was asked “is it really necessary?”
Six months later I can say those concerns have largely passed.
There are undoubtedly many sides to this debate, but in my opinion quote approval is a necessary evil of business journalism. I am sure that this practice is overused and in some cases outright abused, but in many ways it offers critical benefits.
I want to be specific about business journalism here not only because it is what I know, but also because I believe quote approval is used differently versus other topics, especially politics. Most of all, business does not require media for survival while good press is the lifeblood of politics. This creates sharply different motivations for how sources view and try to use the press.
Quote approval is beneficial almost entirely because business, particularly finance, often requires a sophisticated understanding of complex topics. Furthermore, this language is almost intentionally confusing. Gillian Tett of The Financial Times has theorized, I believe correctly, that the complex language of finance is purposefully exclusionary. Using quote approval allows both the journalist and PR person to ensure that quotes are captured accurately.
Certainly reporters and editors who know the space can argue against this, but unfortunately the wall of financial language can even block the most experienced. In fact, just this week, an editor at a trade newsletter was working on a story and interviewed a client of mine about a technical trading product. It was clear she knew this space well, far better than me. However, during follow-up we found out a critical concept on how the product works was misunderstood.
Arguably more importantly, quote approval is a necessary evil now because it is the only way to get good sources to talk. There is no question, lawyers, bankers, fund managers and other key sources have become accustomed to the practice. Jack Shafer probably made this point best in his column for Reuters in which he looked at the mismatch of resources. Too many journalists chasing too few sources. As someone who has represented major players and marginal ones, I can say that the lesser known source does not enjoy the same privileges.
The reason this happens is mostly because these sources are generally wary of the press and feel more comfortable speaking openly if they feel like they have a safety net. For example, lawyers are trained to be precise with their language to an unmatched degree. The idea of words hitting paper without proper review would keep them up at night. Furthermore, as mentioned above, business does not require media coverage, so the incentives are skewed in any media/source relationship. To be blunt, good sources typically have far less to gain from a reporter then the reporter does from the source.
These are two key reasons why quote approval needs to exist in business journalism, but it does not provide blanket approval. I believe that quote approval exists for accuracy and should not be allowed when the core intent of the quote is altered after the fact.
PR people need to be able to manage their clients expectations both in setting ground-rules and when editing a quote. I often tell clients that they can check the quote for facts but are not allowed to wordsmith.
As mentioned above, the reason quote approval works in business journalism is largely for accuracy.
Journalists should also be clear about the rules and not be afraid to enforce them. Don’t give us the space to abuse the practice, because I guarantee the line will only continue to be pushed.
Editor’s note: Talking Biz 2 is starting a new feature, a column by a top-level public relations person in New York who deals with business journalists every day. We have granted him anonymity — we have agreed on the pseudonym Frankie Flack — so he can be open and honest about his relationships with business journalists.
Frankie’s column will run every other Monday. A really cool caricature of Frankie is coming soon from our graphics department.
Here is Frankie’s first missive:
Every day business journalists and public relations executives exchanges countless phone calls, emails, text messages and sometimes even the hand written letter. Our jobs require near constant interaction, making friendly relationships helpful to get business done.
What people too often forget though is that at the end of the day our objectives are fundamentally opposed. PR’s job is to protect its organization, while business journalists must uncover news about companies, good or bad.
As a result, we have become very good at irritating each other. Sometimes it is intentional, sometimes it is just bad practice. Remember, hacks and flacks are not terms of endearment.
Therefore, when I think about common business journalist actions that drive me crazy I try and break them out into two categories: 1) necessary parts of their job; and 2) basic, avoidable annoyances.
Let me start with a sampling of the second category:
Act like we are constantly at war. As I mentioned above, our jobs can be confrontational. That said, every phone call or email from PR does not need to be treated with general disdain. We can be helpful and until proven otherwise, deserve some basic respect. There is nothing more irritating than reporters who simply refuse to work with PR people on principal. My advice, keep an open mind with new PR relationships.
Be unprepared for an interview. While setting up an interview seems like an easy task, it often requires a lot of work for PR. Approvals are sought, messaging is drafted, executives are trained, all adding up to a lot of time. So when the interview begins and the journalist sounds like someone randomly pulled from the street it creates a lot of headaches. My advice, it is better to cancel an interview than show up unprepared.
Take my idea, but not my client. A few times when I was representing smaller clients, I would pitch a story idea to a national business journalist who like the idea and decided to move ahead with the story. To my astonishment a week later there was the story with several quotes from our bigger competitors. To my client they had essentially just paid for good press on their competition. My advice, if you like the story idea work with the PR person and don’t always rely just on the “bigs” for commentary.
I will end with two from the first category:
Go around me. Many PR people would be incensed to speak with a journalist, deny a story idea, interview request, etc., and later find out that same journalist called an executive directly. This is primarily because it almost always leads to a very uncomfortable conversation from executives questioning why PR can’t do their job. However, good PR people know that journalists chasing a story will not stop because you said no. It is better to prepare executives for a phone call than fight with a journalist for doing their job.
Mislead me. Everyone knows that PR spins journalists, but what PR people can’t forget is that journalists will spin PR at times, too. Sometimes journalists, especially in business media, will pitch an interview with a CEO on a topic that sounds great on the surface, but perhaps the line of questioning will touch on some pretty sensitive subject. It is my job as the PR person to read between the lines of any request and prepare my executives appropriately. No one should expect that either side is going to reveal all their cards, all the time.