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.