I’ve worked on both sides (and then some) of the fence throughout my career.
I was a journalist, culminating as editor and publisher of a media group. I’ve been the editor for weeklies, dailies, web-only news outlets, magazines, and more. I’ve worked in PR, writing press releases, organizing events, and pitching stories to the media. I have also worked on the advertising side as advertising sales and as a media buyer. In these roles, I’ve received a few crazy requests from folks who wanted something from us.
Over on Twitter, I was reading the #PRtips Michelle Garrett is publishing, and it brought back a few memories.
I’ve written about pitches that didn’t work, and this one is a little different. Sometimes, it isn’t the pitch but the “request” that accompanies it, that kills the deal.
So, here are some requests, demands, and reactions from PR professionals of this admittedly old-school editor.
Only on …
The first of these crazy requests usually came when I was the editor of smaller-town newspapers.
“You can only publish this press release on Page 1 or 3.” Usually, it was in an email; I can’t remember anyone verbally asking for this request. And most of the time, these requests came with a press release that had no relevance to my publication or market and wasn’t going to get published anyway.
But yea. We’ll stick it out front. Above the fold even!
How dare you …
Usually, when this happened, it was about cutting the press release, changing the headline, or using it some other way (pulling quotes for a larger article, etc.). My favorite was a phone call – a livid phone call.
The lady started, “How dare you cut my press release. That was carefully worded, blah blah blah.”
I responded we didn’t cut the release. We ran it in full, but if it bothers her, the most I can do is pull it off the website.
This lady exploded. Her rant-filled response, loaded with f-bombs, explained that I left out … the boilerplate. You know, that little about the company paragraph is included after the main body of the press release.
I should be ashamed.
Just pull a photo …
There was an industrial manufacturer in our market, and they were generally very accommodating. Getting on-site to take photos required some planning as there were federal security concerns related to the site, but again, aside from some time constraints, they were easy to work with.
They hired a new PR guy, awfully green, and he sent a press release. I called and said hello and asked if he had any art.
“Just pull a photo off Google images,” he responded.
Talk about your crazy requests. I mean, copyright. Who cares?
Use them all …
This town festival was a big deal, and the newspaper I published was sponsored. We also printed the festival’s program guide and did it as a commercial print job, not as a newspaper project. This meant the Chamber of Commerce gave us the files, and we printed them and sent them an invoice. We sold no ads, prepared no copy, etc.
I got a call from the PR person representing a grocery chain with a sizeable presence at this festival. “I sent you 72 photos, and you only used one. Why the “bleep” didn’t you use them all?” Naturally, I explained we were contracted to print the program, not assemble it. The Chamber handled that, and they were barking up the wrong tree.
He then lowered his voice. “Well, in your coverage, you will put a picture of us on the front page and run quite a few other pictures of us there.”
Like all editors, I LOVE being told what to do, and I let him know this. Then, “I tell “the grocery chain” what to do in marketing. We’ll pull all our ads.” They were a significant advertiser, but I’m not sure public relations has much to do with this.
In the end, I ran one picture of one of their chefs doing a demonstration on the picture page inside the paper.
Oh, and about three weeks later, at a fundraiser for a local organization, I chatted with the chain owner. Not the local manager. Not the president. Not the marketing director. The owner. Their advertising spend with us sustained.
Don’t change …
Perhaps the most common of the crazy requests I’ve received was not to change anything. Do not cut the release. Don’t pull quotes out for another story. Don’t rewrite the headline. Don’t crop the photo. Don’t. Don’t. Don’t.
Translation: Don’t use the press release the client paid us to send to you.
The truth is
I get it. A public relations professional is trying to do the best for his or her client. At the same time, as a newspaper editor, I was responsible for doing what was best for the paper and our readers. These two were not always aligned.
However, the truth is that over the years, most of the public relations professionals I worked with were just that – professionals. They wanted to collaborate while also doing a good job for their clients.
If you need help crafting press releases that work or pitching media professionally and effectively, I may help. Feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.