They are simple, and here they are...
There, I've said it. Every single press release that appears in the inbox tarnishes the soul of the person receiving it and there's nothing that you can do to change it.
It's all to do with the volume going into any reasonably sized news room. The quality threshold for you sending it will be high, their quality threshold for actually doing anything will be far higher; it's a question of scale.
So how do you attempt to get round this, either raise your standards (well that's quantifiable and easily achievable) or you don't send press releases... erm, what?
How about, and this is a break from the norm, that you call your contacts and ask them when the best time to call is, engage them in a conversation that benefits both of you. You may have been sending things to the wrong person for years; I wouldn't deal with companies that called whilst I was on air, if they couldn't work out that I was unavailable between 9 and 12 due to being on the radio then they couldn't have anything that would interest me.
The other reason why Journalists don't like PR Professionals is the memory of the day when they encountered a bad one...
A demanding one...
A 'we're doing you a favour, sunshine' one...
Here's a couple of my favourites...
1) During an interview with Raymond Blanc (he was in a studio elsewhere) he broke off half way through an answer he was giving and said, "oh, I'm sorry I've just been told to let you talk more". I had made no effort to interrupt him, I was delighted how the interview was going and transfixed by his passion, but the PR with him in the studio had decided that he needed to talk less. I replied that the listeners could hear me any day and that I was facinated by what he was saying. The PR in the studio had made me cross and added to my work; I'd have to edit the middle of the interview out.
2) We had been trying to secure an interview with Richard Hammond for months. His PR department were saying 'yes', then 'no' then 'we'll get back to you' I was on-air when the call came through that Richard could do a 5 minute phone interview in the next 10 minutes if we still wanted it and that was the final offer. We said yes, and I started plugging it like mad, telling everyone that we'd have him in 10 minutes. They had insisted that they would call us. Half an hour later we got the call. 'You only have 5 minutes, Richard will bring the interview to an end, don't ask about the crash, he doesn't talk about that any more'. 20 Minutes later we were still going, he'd spoken about everything he wanted to, everything that we wanted to and lots of stuff in-between. The PR had, again, got us all a bit cross.
OK, so these aren't huge problems and I'm being a moaning Presenter, but they make you wary of dealing with the PR industry. Instead of helping the journalist and alowing the media to have an adult conversation about what we want compared to what is offered journalists are treated like irrational hyperactive children who can't be trusted. The vast majority of journalists aren't there to cause problems or try to uncover scandal they just want to do their job and go home.
Journalism is a job, it's not a calling or passion, it's a job. In the early days it may start out as something that really drives a young reporter but by the time you've interviewed the 'Local Woman 100 Years Young Today' and found out from the couple 'Married For 60 Years' that the to a happy marriage secret is not stabbing each other in the throat, it all becomes a bit samey.
A news/broadcasting organisation is like a factory. They produce a product made by people with impossible deadlines and angry bosses. They have to hit their targets otherwise the paper is thin or the TV has to go to the test card. They don't want to catch you out, they don't want to make a big song and dance about it, they just want to get the content and go home before it all starts again in the morning.
However... (and there is always an 'However') That doesn't mean that if you try to fob them off they wont bite. Journalists don't like to be given half a story, they can smell a 'real' story like a big lad can smell a Greggs, and there is no stopping them if they catch a whiff. They all like to get the stories that seem hidden, so be honest with them and they will leave satisfied, all full of tasty tasty news.... Sorry I'm still thinking about Greggs.
For about 8 years I put together a market leading Mid Morning Programme. We were 60/40 speech/music so there had to be around 3 stories an hour along side the things that I had to do like News, Travel, Weather etc. For 6 of those years it was me and an assistant that did the whole thing. 2 people making 15 hours of radio a week and within that finding 45 stories a week. Some of those we could get from other members of the news room, but the vast majority were self produced, recorded and edited. So when we were presented with a story that was an 'easy hit' we'd jump on it. It simply meant that we could then use our remaining time to concentrate on the more difficult content.
When I say 'easy hit' I'm not talking about Christine Hamilton talking about British Sausage Week, because no one in their right mind would ever use that (lots of people did I'm sad to say).
Today 28/10/11 an Easy hit could be hung off the Apple Vs. Samsung figures it would be a technology expert, a local user, and a guide to upgrading... Or it would be a charity, a charity service user, and the money raised from recycling technology. It would be something that has a couple of elements, something that can be localised and something that I could trust to sound good. That's from a radio point of view but the same would be true about print feature or TV slot. Something topical but light that makes the audience either question or reaffirm behaviour.
The 'easy hit' needs to be pitched correctly. You can't just hand it on a plate as most journalists will just see it as a 'puff piece'. If I were pitching I'd get into a conversation about how I could help it to happen. The Journalist would give the parameters and I'd offer the plan and meet somewhere in the middle. It's content that's interesting enough and it's content that requires little leg work for the journalist.
I did a course a little while ago and one of the delegates said that they do all that, just run around making journalists lives as easy as possible but they weren't taking the stories. Nothing will help if the story is wrong... not wrong for you, but wrong for them.
How do you make it right?
That's for another blog...