Some Practical Advice for My Fellow PR Comrades


I’ve earned a living as a public relations professional for nearly 30 years. During that period, I have encountered my fair share of media representatives who treated me as nothing more than a nuisance, roadblock or necessary evil. To counter those characterizations, I've worked hard to demonstrate my value as a knowledgeable, reliable resource. 

After launching Plotlines in 2012, I turned the tables by signing on as a contributing editor and freelance writer at a few industry magazines. This role reversal requires interacting with and relying on PR people to complete my assignments. 

And it has been an eye-opening experience, to say the least. 

First, I must acknowledge that there are many skilled, effective PR pros practicing today. They are smart, savvy and excellent assets for their employers and clients. 

That said, there’s also a sizable group of publicists who, frankly, give the profession a giant black eye. Trust me, I've witnessed them in action. 

In the spirit of helping my PR brethren and raising the bar for the profession, I’d like to pass along several pieces of practical advice. All of these nuggets are inspired by recent interactions with publicists who chose to do the polar opposite. 

Here goes… 

Don’t overpromise. Before you commit to arranging an interview or delivering materials, make sure you can deliver on those promises. Speed only matters if it’s followed up with action. 

Follow directions. If a reporter asks for transportation trends, don’t send him a capabilities presentation or a marketing description from your website. And your company’s retail expertise is probably irrelevant as well. 

Limit the marketing-speak. Journalists typically conduct interviews to learn about a topic and gather compelling quotes for an article. We want to quote expert sources. But it is blatantly obvious when a spokesperson is spewing well-rehearsed message points. They (and you) should limit the jargon and speak simply and conversationally.  

Answer questions. Please coach your folks to respond to questions directly and succinctly. Most reporters are pressed for time and working against a tight deadline. Having to listen to superfluous details or vague platitudes is annoying.

Don’t be a control freak. I realize a PR professional’s role involves “managing” publicity opportunities so your employer or client is positioned as positively as possible. I get it. But most media representatives don’t appreciate feeling controlled or stonewalled. If your spokesperson misspeaks or provides incomplete information, by all means, step in and correct the record. But for the most part, focus on listening more than speaking. 

Deliver the goods. If you offer to send follow-up information or materials, be sure to deliver on that commitment. I can’t tell you the number of times I have had to track down information that was enthusiastically offered, but never shared. 

Don’t hide. If you’re not interested or able to participate in an interview opportunity, just say so. Ignoring repeated requests is rude and unprofessional.  

Having the opportunity to interact with PR people as a “journalist” has reinforced to me the overall value of public relations to an organization. It’s a role that carries tremendous importance. 

Thankfully, I have been fortunate to interact with some terrific ambassadors of the organizations they represent. I look forward to opportunities to work with them again. 

As for the rest of you, here's your chance to redeem yourselves...