The thin line between being persistent and being a nuisance

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By Leo Valiquette

One of the guiding principles at our affiliated PR agency inmedia Public Relations is that real work has only just begun when you hit the “Send” button on a news release blast. But this of course raises the next obvious question – how much “work” is warranted once that button has been clicked?

Let me back this up a bit. There are two key activities that must first be carried out before your itchy cursor should drift anywhere near the Send button: The development of the media materials and the development of the media list.

Great writing is of course the basis on which all else rests. If you can’t write clear and compelling content that conveys the story in a way that will hook media, nothing else matters. Nonetheless, this industry is riddled with mediocre writers. Francis wrote a while ago a timeless post on the subject, My PR agency can’t write.

In hand with the development of media materials is the media list. This is, for me at least, the most mind-numbing and time-consuming aspect of getting ready for a media launch. But it is nonetheless crucial. As we have said before, you can only put so much, if any, faith in online directories. There is simply no substitute for primary research of publications and their websites, looking up editors and journalists and qualifying that they do cover the kind of story you are looking to fire at them.

Even if you have drafted golden prose and assembled an on-target media list, one quick appearance in a journalist’s inbox is seldom sufficient to garner the level of media attention required to justify the expense of the PR effort. But as I said at the outset, this begs the question, how much followup is too much?

It doesn’t matter if your principal means of followup is by email (which most journalists prefer), by phone (still the most efficient option), or a social media channel. What’s important is that you apply common sense and some measure of empathy to appreciate how much is too much. If, for example, you have already left a voicemail and sent a followup email in the past 24 hours, consider your next move very, very carefully.

As a newspaper editor, I fielded every imaginable approach employed by various PR practitioners to get my attention. The best of the worst had to be what I call the “phantom phone marathon.”

It all began one day when I was at my desk and the phone rang. I recognized the number – it belonged to the PR person who had, within the past hour, emailed me a release, appropriately garnished with her contact info.

Since I was in the middle of something, I decided to let her leave a message. Only, she didn’t.

A half hour later, she called again. I was still busy.

When she called a third time and still didn’t leave a message, I decided the game was on. How many times could she call before her common sense prevailed and she decided to just leave a bloody message?

She gave up after the fourth call (all of this was within the space of a few hours, mind you), still without leaving a message, and picked up my trail again the following morning.

Now, I did ultimately pick up her story, despite her best efforts. I intended to all along. There may be instances where something is so time sensitive as to warrant such pesky behaviour. On the other hand, if it was and I was interested, I likely would have answered the phone on the first call, if not called her first. And if I was away from the desk, a voicemail is a much more effective means of communication than a series of missed calls without one.

As a PR practitioner, there is often a sense of urgency to generate results for a client and justify your existence. The creation of media materials, the development of the media list, and especially the outreach to media, all involve a substantial amount of effort that, like the paddling of a duck, often goes unseen under the waterline. Prime interviews with top media outlets are what impress.

The danger is in pursuing these opportunities so ardently that you end up annoying a journalist and burning a bridge that may be difficult to rebuild. There is, of course, merit in revisiting your pitch. Once you’ve engaged with some media and determined what aspects of your story caught their attention, it may spark inspiration and give you the opportunity to hit the non-responders on your contact list again with a fresh angle. And by all means, hit them, just don’t beat them senseless.



  • adrian

    October 17, 2012 7:07 pm

    This is always a subject of debate among my communications team. I will say this: “The squeaky gear get the grease.” What i mean by this is if yu want to secure top tier media you need to dance the line between being “pleasantly persistent” and down right aggressive. I prefer to lean a bit more towards aggressive and it’s what has helped us consistently land in almost every top-tier publication and media source over the last 5 years. We’re talking about everything from WSJ, NY Times, CNN, Today Show, and Fast Company, etc., etc. Humbly speaking, we clearly know what we’re doing. We’re as good as it gets in this regard by any standard. Bottom line, if you want to get noticed you need to be aggressive and hustle (hard) to get the top-tier ink. That may mean calling a member 4 times in a row until they answer. It rarely lands on your doorstep. Thanks for sharing your thoughts from a journalist’s perspective. By the way, I’d be curious to see who called you so many times- I think I’d like to add her to our team (lol).

  • Francis Moran

    October 18, 2012 5:04 pm

    Not to take anything away from your outstanding results and dogged efforts, Adrian, but you did have a lovely story to pitch.

    We’ve seen similar results — dare I “humbly” suggest maybe even better results — with our five years of work as global PR agency of record for Scotland’s Touch Bionics. Coverage in the first week and half of our effort came from media on every inhabited continent, every network broadcaster in the U.S., the national broadcaster in a dozen other countries, and in more than two dozen languages. Google counted more than 250 news hits in that 10-day period alone.

    Since then, we’ve had articles in Time, Newsweek, Wired, National Geographic, Paris Match, Corriere della Sera, Tin nhanh, Vremya and La Prensa, a four-minute (!) segment on Good Morning America — twice! — and almost everywhere else imaginable. The only hit I wanted that we didn’t get was Oprah.

    I wish I could say we had done as well for all our clients but, as you know, not every story is as newsworthy. Sometimes, despite an effort that strays well across Leo’s line, we’ve still been disappointed with the outcome because the media simply had no appetite for what we were pitching.

    The best combination is a phenomenal story backed by a phenomenal pitch effort. Ain’t it grand when you have both?

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