Dial out: thank you for not becoming my client

This company clearly wasn’t a good fit for public relations, at least as I practice it.
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It started with a Monday afternoon email from the company’s marketing coordinator. The submission, made through my website, expressed interest in media relations services.

I wrote back, expressing thanks and adding: “I would be thrilled to have a conversation with you about [your company’s] needs; besides media relations, for instance, would you consider adding a blog?”

I won’t identify this consumer business by name, but it operates in multiple states and appears to be on a nice growth trajectory. Yet my interaction with the company – via email with the marketing coordinator; a phone conference with the marketing coordinator and three other people – revealed its head-scratching approach to communications.

This company clearly wasn’t a good fit for public relations, at least as I practice it.

Troubling pattern

Tuesday morning, I got back to the marketing coordinator, who suggested a 9 a.m. Friday conference call that also would include the vice president of marketing, the marketing manager, and the events coordinator.

By that afternoon, the marketing coordinator had changed the time to 10:15, but soon it was back to 9. By Wednesday, the time was moved again, to 11 a.m. Come Friday, however, the 11 a.m. call never came. I received word from the marketing coordinator that the group was in another meeting and running 10 to 15 minutes late. When we finally connected, it was 11:40.

I had encouraged the marketing coordinator “to take a look at our website for capabilities and philosophies regarding media relations and other services. Please take note of our blog, which will give you a real sense of our writing ability, passion and insight.” I provided links to three blog posts that I thought had particular relevance to this company.

I also had invested several hours in online and on-site research and brainstorming in advance of our conference. However, it was clear that none of the other participants had done any prep work, the vice president of marketing even asking where my business was located.

Taken in isolation, these might have appeared to be only minor hiccups. In reality, they portended a troubling pattern that soon played itself out.

Building relationships

Clients typically know their organizations better than an outsider would, but the good ones also recognize they don’t necessarily know how best to tell their stories. This is why they engage a public relations professional to help.

But this company was adamant: Its only interest in media relations was to issue a news release – supplied by the company – upon entering a new market or for special events. The effectiveness of these efforts would be based solely on media turnout.

Of course, media relations is an art, not a science. Even the most compelling news release or media pitch is subject to various whims, such as breaking news. The tragic Feb. 13 pileup on Interstate 78 forced one local TV station to beg off a Valentine’s Day live segment that I had scheduled on behalf of Royer’s Flowers.

Now, the news release is not the be-all, end-all of media relations, but it’s arguably still the most efficient and effective approach. A snappy lead, a concise narrative, a compelling visual element, all conveyed in Associated Press style, tell reporters and editors that you’re worth their scarce time.

But one news release or media pitch, no matter how successful, isn’t enough. Clients that truly understand media relations go about it with the long term in mind. They build relationships with the news media: Be a trusted, reliable source of valuable information and the news media will work with you again and again.

Good ones and bad ones

This company’s vice president of marketing explained that having sustained relationships with reporters was too much work, which translated into too much money. (The company apparently has a significant budget for paid media, however.)

If you’re like this company and view media relations in particular (or public relations in general) as a once-and-done proposition, then I’m not inclined to argue with you. It’s not that I can’t; I just have found that a mind made up is difficult – or even impossible – to change.

We concluded the conference call with the understanding that this company was going to continue its search. It was clear to me – and probably to them – that we would not be working together.

I’m not a jazz fan, but Dizzy Gillespie is my muse when it comes to client relations. There are only two types of music, he is said to have opined decades ago, the good and the bad.

I have found that the same sentiment applies to PR clients. The good ones approach it with an open mind.

The bad ones are like the company I just described.

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