We're a high maintenance bunch, journalists. We diss PRs all the time, even though they're just human and they're just trying to help us (well, in some cases they're obviously trying to hinder us, but that's a different story).
But sometimes, even when they're trying to help us, they hinder us. They promise one thing, we wait and wait. We ring. They promise it's on the way, then two or three weeks after your first call and two days before deadline, they turn round, say they can't do it and then say they're telling you this now “so as not to lead you down the garden path”. Hmm. A little late, love, at that stage, isn't it?
Anyway, in the interests of improved customer service, I'm going to list some of the recent PR fiascos I've braved my way through. I won't name names (although I'll list the companies at the end so you can play a game of “pin the tale on the PR donkey”), but if you're in PR and you've done these things (or something similar), if you don't do them again, you'll make us journalists a lot happier.
Just appointed to the account, so some slack needs to be given. But three weeks after my initial contact with the former PRs, who passed the enquiry on, they finally got round to approaching me. I told them I could do an interview on the following Thursday. I asked if they could provide customers to talk to. To help them, I gave them the names of customers I'd already spoken to before.
On Thursday (five days later), I get an email midday asking if I can do an interview, by which time, of course, I can't. Needless to say, they also hadn't managed to set up any customer interviews - although they weren't willing to confirm that by actually answering any emails of mine asking if they had. Fortunately, I'd placed a call with the customer already and set up the interview (yes, yes, I know I should do that anyway but these guys get paid for every interview they set up, so I thought I'd help them out a bit). Moral: If it's handed to you on a plate, try to make sure you still don't cock it up.
Admittedly, it was actually impossible to get through the client's phone system anyway, but in this classic piece of PR fun, I called the number on the web site for the PR and got told that he no longer worked with the agency. Who was handling his account? They didn't know, everyone was out at lunch, but they'd get back to me later to tell me who handled that company. I'm still waiting. Moral: You'll get more business if you know who handles which company and then actually call back journalists who throw money-earning opportunities in your direction.
When told it was very very important that a piece of software got given to me on a Monday, took it upon themselves to courier it to me at 6.30 at night. Good job I didn't have to go out that evening, wasn't it? Moral: Only expect journalists to work during business hours - try not to force them to stay in of an evening, waiting for the package you swore blind you were going to get to them during the day.
One company, who I've already named and shamed for doing this and whose MD called to apologise and promised to rectify the situation immediately, has stopped answering email requests again. Moral: PR about PR companies should never be believed and never make promises to fix things if you're not going to – we're never going to trust you again.
Happened today, actually, and was perpetrated by another company I'd already named and shamed and whose MD had also rung up to promise things would be different (cf moral from company 4).
All-day conference with a press room. Press room has nothing in it. It's a room. No Internet access or anything. (Moral 1: don't give the press worse facilities than all the other delegates. We don't want to waste our precious break-time looking for a room that's worse than useless when we find it). PR finds me after I leave the press room. Spends ten minutes badgering me about why I haven't installed Linux on my Mac. I don't expect him to have read my blog, but after I'd told him why, you'd have thought he wouldn't have carried on for another five minutes, despite my obvious growing hostility.
Lunchtime rolls round. After stuffing my mouth with food (interviews while eating are always tricky), I'm about to head off to interview some of the attendees, when PR comes over again and spends the whole lunchbreak, despite my initial monosyllabic answers and obvious uninterest, quizzing me on the best ISP for him to subscribe to to download movies and what the current state of HDTV, Blu-ray, etc is.
Lunchbreak ends and I've not had a chance to speak to anyone. I have an interview scheduled at 3.30pm with the last speaker. Speaker over-runs by 60 minutes so doesn't finish until 3.45pm. After the speech, he legs it off the stage. I leg it down to the meeting point. PR isn't there. Speaker isn't there. I wait for a good six minutes and neither of them turn up. Pissed off, I head off home. Five minutes later, just as I'm about to head into the tube station, PR calls wondering where I am (despite it now being 25 minutes after the scheduled interview start). He didn't see me leave the hall (despite the fact I was sitting in the front row and was only one of three people to stand up and leave after the presentation), beggaring the questions
- What were you doing in the hall, instead of coordinating one-to-ones? Or waiting for me outside?
- What about the other one-to-ones that were supposed to take place before and after? I know someone had one at 3pm - I suspect he would have been disappointed
- Why didn't you usher the speaker out the hall to the interview as soon as he finished, rather than letting him stay on to watch the end of day remarks?
- Why didn't you rush out to let me know any of this?
I suspect I'll be less peeved tomorrow. But Moral 2: Don't regard every trip out of the office as a chance for you to do some quality chatting and relaxing - don't take offence, but I don't get paid for interviewing you; you will never feature in one of my articles; if you waste my time, I'll stick you in my junk mail filter in future; if you keep messing me around, I'll talk to your competitors instead. At the moment, I'm damn sure if I ever choose to deal with your PR company again, I'll ensure I deal with anyone on the account except you. Bye bye commission.
Anyway, food for PR thought. The companies involved were, incidentally, in no particular order: Text 100, Bite PR, Hotwire PR, Porter Novelli, Octopus Communications and Goode International.