PR people had some redemption yesterday.
On Monday morning, a press release appeared on PRWeb announcing Google’s $400 million acquisition of Rhode Island Wi-Fi hotspot provider ICOA. The announcement sparked two chain reactions: bloggers raced to “begin” reporting on the news with basic details from the release, and then, minutes later, they backpedaled.
Turns out, the press release was false.
Shortly after major media outlets such as the Associated Press and TechCrunch
reported on the deal, employees questioned the story, while ICOA CEO George Strouthopoulos insisted to TechCrunch
, “This is NOT TRUE!!”
At heart, it was a race to report the news first, followed by a perfect storm of finger pointing. And in a small way, it was redemption for PR people.
While we are usually the butt of jokes or scapegoats when businesses make news blunders, this time (or at least so far) it wasn’t a faulty agency or junior staffer that hit the wrong button or reached the wrong reporter. According to media reports
, the blame falls on a stock promoter in Aruba.
The Google fake acquisition news demonstrated why PR people exist. Good or bad, our profession is here to serve news, accurately, and in a timely fashion.
In the midst of reporters rescinding stories, many jumped to the conclusion it was a PR mistake. While some even called us out on Twitter, outlets scrambled to cover up generic reporting. Some bloggers made fun of their own mistakes and feverishly called out PRWeb, while others sent remorseful apologies in 140 characters.
Either way, PR people sat back and watched, because news to us should never be about being first, it should be about being right.
Unfortunately, the best intentions of all PR people are often riddled with fear for reporter/blogger backlash, as we suffer from the bad reputation of poorly trained PR people that infuriate the press.
Every PR person I know, and every media outlet I read, has made mistakes. The process of PR aims to reduce this problem.
I don’t like embargoes any more than the next person, nor do I love the gentle dance of balancing a client’s or your manager’s expectations for news with trying to give bits and pieces of exclusivity to different reporters. What reporters forget is that just like you, companies want as many eyeballs on their news, too.
Tech PR is broken
What’s broken about tech PR isn’t the profession of public relations—it is the process. Bloggers fight viciously with each other and outlets compete for “firsts and exclusives” versus being dedicated to their readers about delivering news.
PR professionals today are fully aware that it’s about clicks and ad dollars; we understand that a reporter’s DNA is getting the scoop. We can help achieve both for reporters.
The process of PR is what it is—a process. It’s not perfect for every story; and it doesn’t preclude reporters from doing their own homework and uncovering their own stories. It does serve a great purpose though in times of hard news, such as acquisitions or brand launches.
Larger brands won’t struggle with the same news funnel problems smaller brands do, and most larger brands have corporate communications teams that do very little media outreach at all as press releases serve as the only form of getting headlines.
The process exists for the rest of us that work on our one-on-one press relationships to build trust. As a result, we tell the smaller stories that are worth paying attention to.
When the process breaks, everyone feels the effects; the reader suffers the worst.
Trust makes for better news
Bloggers have created a brand for themselves, and we depend on that to tell a story. We know their personalities and quirks, their drink of choice, and their hangouts. A good PR team will always consider you first when a relationship exists.
That relationship has ties that bind. The process needs to exist and be respected and trusted. When you break an embargo, report half the story, or don’t take the briefing when the news is relevant but then bash us later for you missing the story—that breaks a relationship and ruins the process.
When we set up an interview with our client or CEO, don’t just stick to the questions from the release. There is always another angle to be had, or an exclusive way to turn a news hook into a more click-driven feature story. Lean on the PR person to get you a customized angle that serves your readers best.
PR People: Stop asking for it
The broken process and strife between PR people and reporters is our own fault. Process and timing is everything in PR, as is the content. We have to admit to ourselves that the PR blunders that make headlines are embarrassing. So how do we change as an industry?
If we want reporters and bloggers to stop calling us out, grab your own internal process for media relations and social media by the throat and fix it.
If you’re an agency with a bad reputation, start working from the top down on getting a hold of the emails, content, and bad cold callers who shame your brand.
Train junior staffers, review pitches together for content and editing, and educate your team on how to communicate with the individual reporter. Set best practices for social media and stop putting the brand’s voice in the hand of your next entry-level team mate.
Stop mass mailing.
Stop blindly pitching.
Stop being so dependent on lame product news.
Stop thinking the technology beat is an open invitation for your pitching.
When an agency staffer makes a mistake, it’s on the leadership of that team to take the fault and fix the situation because ultimately it is our job to train. As managers, it is our job to have their back, teach them what we know, and be helpful to their career growth. Our joy in this career should always be found by the success of our teams.
If we want reporter’s respect, we must have respect for ourselves—that comes down to the quality we put out.
There may never be a perfect balance between PR and press, but where process and collaboration can make both sides more effective, why wouldn’t we rely less on the wires and more on the relationship?
Nicole Messier is a corporate communications executive, specializing in technology PR for more than ten years. She is a frequent contributor to PR Daily and can be followed online @NMessier.