WALLA WALLA – Companies and entities often have little time to do important things including getting their organization’s message and information into the mainstream media. That’s why you hire public relations ”gurus” to field press calls, write new releases and use social media to reach out to the public about your brand. When done correctly, getting your brand into the mainstream media can reap real rewards.
But, want to know the dirty secret? Many hired public relations professionals employ the worst customer service tactics in the industry. I know this.
With a background as a newspaper reporter and editor, I have worked with more than my share of public information officers and PR people. In the beginning, I guess I was naïve. I thought a PIO or PR rep would go out of their way to help me obtain the information myself and my staff members needed. Boy, I was wrong. Here’s how:
1. The crappy press release
Many PR people write news releases for journalists but don’t spell check, fact check or follow Associated Press style. Guess what reporters do when they get these poorly written releases? Giggle and click delete.
2. They don’t return calls
So OK, your company CEO embezzled some money and the media found out about it. Yes, the reporter is going to call your company. Why? Reporters have to. It’s part of the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics (there is a legit code of ethics: www.spj.org/ethicscode.asp) that demands journalists always get both sides of every story. If your company did something bad, reporters often expect that they will call your PR person and get a “no comment.” But guess what – they still have to call. And they’ll likely keep calling your PR person until they’re past deadline. If the reporter can’t reach your PR person, they’ll say YOU were unavailable for comment. Isn’t “no comment” better than not being available? Where were you? Embezzling more money? Fleeing the country?
3. They still don’t return calls
I was working on a story last summer about charity work a local food producer was taking part in. Guess what? The company’s PR person never called me back. There was potential for positive news about the company in our paper, but because the PR person didn’t do his or her job, no good press was to be had. Do you know if your PR person has ever ignored calls and made your company miss out on positive press?
4. They are a stone wall
Say the spokesman actually answers the phone. That really gets a reporter’s heart pumping! But, even if the spokesman picks up the phone, he often gives the dreaded “I’ll have to call you right back” response. And that means he never will. Either he doesn’t want to bother his boss (you) or he finds so much power and control in being a stone wall it doesn’t matter. He still isn’t doing his job. And he sucks.
5. Denying the interview
This one is actually really fascinating. I’ve worked with PIOs who are full of information and great communicators, but when I say I need a quote directly from the CEO or police chief, they deny me any and all access. Huh. Yes, reporters know the PIO is hired to give information to the press, but sometimes public officials and CEOs of publicly held companies must go on the record. When the media is denied all access, reporters start to wonder things like “is that police chief capable? Will they make themselves look bad if they talk with the media?” The PIO should be able to strike a balance between providing information and also knowing when it’s best for the public official or CEO to speak for themselves.
6. Media people really just want good customer service
When I was interviewed for my position at AMI Advertising in Walla Walla, Wash., partner Katie Oblisk asked me to describe THE WORST customer service I had ever experienced. That was easy. It was a horrible public information officer for one of the sheriff’s offices I had covered in my career. I told Katie about the endless calling and hoping the PIO would pick up, being stonewalled and once actually camping out at the office trying to catch the sheriff myself. It took WEEKS to get information out of her and it was like pulling teeth.
BONUS: Why AMI doesn’t suck
In my role here at AMI Advertising, I choose to be a knowledgeable, strong, capable public relations professional. When reporters from all media call, I answer the phone. I might tell the caller that I need to call them back. And I actually will call them back. I do not view the media as an enemy, but strive to build solid partnerships. I can work better for AMI’s clients this way. Through good relationships, I can get more positive stories about our clients in the news. I’m sure one day I will have to do crisis management for our clients and I’m ready. I have a plan of how to handle it because I know what a newsroom needs and I can balance that with what my client needs. Public relations at AMI does not suck.
Written by Jillian Henze, Public Relations & Client Services at AMI Advertising Agency
AMI Advertising Agency is a full-service advertising and marketing firm serving the Pacific Northwest. With a major focus in eastern Washington, AMI is able to offer their clients public relations services from crisis management, event publications to social media PR and much more. Contact AMI today to find out how you can boost your companies PR reputation. 509-529-0175, www.amiadagency.com