January 26, 2008

How to be an annoying publicist



Something Like Life
Jan. 25, 2008


FOR those of us in the journalism profession, we cannot help but deal with publicists, media-relations officers, public-relations practitioners and the like.

While, theoretically, media practitioners are not supposed to be “friendly” with PR practitioners, in practice that isn’t the case. There is a symbiotic relationship that often exists between these two groups. Both deal in information and its dissemination, and rely on each other to do their jobs.

According to the late publicist and newscaster Tony Zorrilla, whom I had the good fortune of working for in the past, public (or media) relations used to be the purview of lawyers. As their job description often calls for it, lawyers would defend their clients by explaining to the public (or media) the nuances of the issue at hand, and try to portray their clients in a more positive light, especially in times of crisis.

These days, there are publicists who used to be in advertising, former journalists, marketing or salespeople who do double duty dealing with the media, some are event planners, and I know even one who used to be a dentist! Which is not a bad thing actually, as long as they know their job and serve their clients well.

Business has become very competitive that executives are always looking for strategies to make their products and ideas known. Decades ago, they would rely on marketing and advertising. But these have just become too expensive for some companies that they now prefer the more inexpensive but widely placed press releases in media. These press releases may not be as effective as TV ads to sell a product, but to some companies, hiring a publicist will give them more bang for their buck.

Because for as low as P50,000 a month, a company can hire a PR practitioner to write up a press release extolling the virtues of its products/brands with the hope that the press release is picked up in at least five newspapers. For this same amount, a PR practitioner can also put an event together, invite his media contacts to attend, and have a ready audience for his client’s product presentation.

When a company is in crisis, however, the tab goes up. Situations like a bomb blowing up in a shopping mall, for example, or a plane crashing killing all its passengers, warrant an even higher level of PR expertise. Information has to be gathered and collated from every source possible, whittled down to the most essential, and conveyed to the media and public in the most honest and positive manner possible to ensure that the company remains respectable despite the gravity of the disaster. For such a level of expertise, I know publicists who charge at least P500,000 to handle the crisis for just a couple of months.

So as you can see, public relations has actually become a very profitable profession.

It’s no wonder that every Tom, Dick or Hannah who believes he or she can write one grammatically correct press release, and knows at least one editor or reporter in mainstream media, wants to get a piece of the action.

As one who has been in journalism for close to 20 years, give or take the few years I joined the other side, it has become rather annoying to deal with a newer crop of PR practitioners and media-relations officers. (Okay, to be fair, there are a few veteran PR practitioners who can also be irritating as hell. Like there's this one woman who is notorious for texting editors, wherever she is in the world, and giving them updates every five minutes of her activities there. "I'm walking by the River Seine, enjoying the sunshine, blah, blah, blah." Poor woman doesn't realize she's the laughingstock of the industry.)

First of all, these newbies don’t even bother to spell your name right. I have, at one time or another, received invitations that named me Estela, Estelle, Estella but never S-T-E-L-L-A. In the same manner, I worked with a managing editor before whose first name sounded like a woman’s, so all the press releases sent to him were addressed as Miss or Mrs. (He used his mother’s maiden name as well, so perhaps the PRs aren’t wholly to blame.)

Still, in professions that deal with information such as PR and journalism, accuracy is of utmost concern. So I assume it is just plain laziness on the part of these young PR practitioners that they do not bother to check the actual spelling of a journalist’s name. What’s a few minutes in a day to go through the newspaper or run through the staffbox, huh?

Then there are the publicists who feel too familiar with journalists that they have the gall to text you at midnight or call you even on a Sunday! They just casually assume that you’re still awake even at a late hour (because, hey, all media people are drunken louts who sleep at 5 am and wake up at 12 noon!), or are in the office every single day. Again, this is just plain laziness on the part of these publicists. One media-relations girl I didn’t even know from Eve told me that she assumed I’d be in the office on a Sunday. Now if she actually bothered to do her research, this girl would know that I don’t go to the BusinessMirror office at all, except when I’m off to pester Loida. (Who’s Loida? That’s still your job to find out.)

One hotel PR girl, for example, has this habit of texting reporters at 10 pm just to follow up on her invites, or, like her latest stunt, ask for her contacts’ e-mail addresses and contact numbers at midnight. Gads, ang kapal! (This same girl even emailed about five different invites to the same event – teaser ad style – in a span of one week! Ang kulit ba?!)

Then there are those who constantly needle editors or reporters to come out with their press releases or beg you to come to their events. In my long years in the journalism profession, I’ve noticed that the real PR experts will just keep sending out their press releases. They wouldn’t follow up these with you at all. They trust editors enough to find the space for them when available, because they know editors are inundated with tons of releases every day. And if the media can’t come to their event, they will just make sure the editors or reporters are sent whatever press kit was handed out that day.

Those who I consider “small time,” not because of how much they charge but because of their irritating behavior, will keep calling you, even in the middle of the paper’s deadline hours, to ask you if you got their press release—and, believe it or not, when it would come out. And they will also beg 30 times via text messages or phone calls for you to attend their event.

The real PR experts will often take time to build a friendship with the media. As I said, while journalists and publicists are not supposed to have a cozy relationship, this happens a lot of times. Sometimes you just can’t help it. There are really nice, authentic and sincere publicists out there who are worthy to be called “friends.” (Of course, when the journalist leaves her profession, she will know just how many of these so-called friends will actually stick around.)

But some PR practitioners and journalists I know have all but gotten married to one another. And then there are a few publicists who may have been treated poorly by some editors in the past, but were right beside the latter especially during dire medical circumstances. What can you say about a publicist who will hold an editor’s hand while the latter undergoes chemotherapy?

Journalists are often perceived as unrealistically demanding, especially when it comes to dealing with publicists. For sure, there are some media practitioners who are abusive. We’re not saints. But for most of us, I think we actually demand very little of PR practitioners. We don’t even expect them anymore to send us perfectly written press releases, or creatively captioned photo releases, although it would help us immensely if they do. We just ask that you respect us enough to spell our names correctly, not bother us during deadline, stop pestering us by following up on your press releases, not inundate our e-mail inboxes with media advisories that should have been turned into print ads instead.

And when we say “no,” we mean NO.

2 comments:

iris said...

Stella,

There's this PR practitioner who asked us to publish his press release verbatim!

The nerve!!! Talk about annoying PR people.

Iris

Stella Arnaldo said...

Ooh, dish! Anyone I know?