Monday, November 17, 2008

PR companies can be a nuisance

There was a time when dealing with public relation (PR) companies and their employees was a breeze. But these days, whenever a PR calls me, i shudder. With all due respect to a majority of them - and some of them with whom I am on good to very good terms - they have become a nuisance. As a journalist, I deal with several PR people every day. I am observing a disturbing trend. 

There are two things I hate about these PRs 

1) Spam emails: Turns out, SPAM emails are not just on erectile dysfunction, penile enlargement, improving sex quotient, taking a loan or taking charge of some wealth left behind for us by some Nigerian gentleman or lady. Even PRs send us spam emails these days. These PRs do not bother to check which journalist where tracks what. If they have a news item to be publicized, they just shamelessly send mass emailers to all, dry and sundry journalists across magazines, newspapers and TV news channels. Some of the spam PR emails - on topics that I do not deal with at all nor have a I ever dealt with nor have I ever shown any inclination to cover - are as follows

Name of the PR: Sampark
Topic: New Identity of SKS Micro Finance (with an SKS logo of 193 kb)
Date: 11 November 2008

Name of the PR: Sampark
Topic: Gitanjali Group announces the appointment of Mr.Dhiresh Sharma as Head Retail of Gitanjali Group
Date: 10 October 2008

Name of the PR: Sampark
Topic: FCB Ulka Press Release (WITH 14 attachments totalling the size of 3.11 MB!!!) 
Date: 10 October 2008

Name of the PR: Perfect Relations
Topic: Quarterly results of companies of sectors I have nothing to do with

One other journalist from Hanmer MS&L Communications (member of Publicis Groupe) also used to send me irritating and irrelevant emails but about whom I recently complained to a senior PR person in the same organisation and ensured the former gets a earful. So it's not right for me to repeat the name again here.

Note, that the above is a sample of a long list. 

2) Spam phone calls: Some PR people randomly call me up at regular intervals and ask me: "Are you doing any stories this issue?" or "Which stories are you working on at the moment?" I could not think of being asked a more irritating question. How could I not be working on any story. I can understand that they call to help me get in touch with industry officials for perspective, quote, etc. And I appreciate. But to pose this particular question is most irritating. 

If you are PR and reading this, please note:
  • Do not ask stupid questions. Of course journalists are working on stories since we are employed. We have to be, God-forbid, unemployed to be not doing any stories.
  • Also, avoid asking "Which stories are you working on?" No self-respecting journalist would want to share with you their story ideas. Ask in a way to offer liaison services rather than straightaway asking the topic of our story. You may not mean to leak our story ideas to our rivals, but it is still idiotic to ask on what we are working on. 
  • Understand from our point of view. If 5 PR people call us per day and ask us about our story, it could become very irritating. 
Some suggestions to PR people
  • Maintain a database on who (journalist) working where (name of the media firm) tracks what (beat, sectors, companies). Official email id, contact number and designation should be maintained. 
  • Ensure this database is available to all in the PR firm and shared by all. It is my gut-feel that newcomers in some PR firms could be goaded by their seniors to call up all journalists and build a database. This should be avoided, as all existing PR firms are expected to already have such an existing database ready for use. 
  • Send relevant emails only. Avoid sending spam emails
  • Regularly and actively track magazines and newspapers to record any change in mastheads
  • Seniors in PR firms must guide their juniors and make them aware of which journalist tracks what and what not, so that juniors are given an idea. 

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