Media relations. Sigh. For many PR people, it’s the core of what we do. For many others, it is but just one strategy out of many we use to get the job done. I am in the latter camp. I use it sparingly, when it is the right strategy for what my client or company is trying to accomplish. I believe that too often, media relations – the practice of working with members of the print, broadcast and digital media, to place a story – is the “go to” strategy companies use when they want to get the word out about something, or raise their profile in the public’s eye. Rarely is it the right strategy for them. For one, it’s like hoping you’ll get hit by lightning while in line to buy a lottery ticket. The chance of placing a story, due to the incredibly vast competition for air space and ink, is so slim; it’s often not worth the time invested. But more importantly, it’s usually not even the right strategy for the client or company. By that I mean, in most cases, the target audience comprises only a tiny fraction of the audience of the media outlet, so the return on that invested time spent getting the story placed is not great.
Alas, many PR people still try. Boy, do they try. Many will stop at nothing. They hound reporters with their calls. They make long boring pitches. It’s embarrassing, quite frankly, for all of us to be in the same camp. With client demand to be in the news so often and cohorts killing the game with bad practices, what’s an intrepid PR professional to do?
I used to think that the Universal Accreditation Board’s accreditation (APR) for PR people was the answer. I had originally thought more than ten years ago when I became accredited, that this for sure was the answer. If we all followed the right school of thought, the right approach and strictly adhered to a code of ethics, then we could tamp down on the reckless use of media relations. Through this we would improve our success with clients and bosses, and improve our reputation with journalists. But I’ve found, unfortunately, that the APR is not the answer. It just hasn’t taken off within the PR community the way I had hoped. Not enough of the good folks have it. Many that don’t have it can’t earn it because they don’t have the right foundation of learning to pass, and many that have it still aren’t playing by the rules.
The best I can come up with is a pledge. For simplicity, I am calling this, The PR Pro’s Pledge. It lays out all the things I will not do for a client or boss in the name of smart and savvy PR practice. My thinking is, if enough of us sign this, and share it with each other, and more important, share with clients and bosses, than we may have a real chance at success, whether that success is for our clients, or our own reputations. United we stand against bad PR. Please join me. Sign this. Present it when asked to violate these rules and refuse to violate them. We can’t do it without each other, so let’s do it together. Take the Pledge:
The PR Pro’s Pledge
I, (insert your own name), being of sound and strategic PR mind, hereby swear before all my PR and journalism colleagues, to abide by the following rules for best practice public relations. Should I violate any of the rules contained herein, let me be shamed in a public forum of my peers, with nary a media call returned to me, so long as I shall practice PR:
- I will not spam journalists by sending multiple journalists the same, generic release or pitch in the same email or in separate emails.
- If I have to send a generic release or pitch because time is tight or there’s a gun to my head, I will at least hide all the addresses in the BCC line or send them separately with a personalized salutation.
- I will not call a journalist on deadline to see if they got my email.
- I will not try to pitch a journalist a story after the journalist has become a victim of an email blast where all other media outlets were visible in the email TO line.
- I will not turn off my cell phone after sending a release or pitch on a Friday about a weekend event.
- I will not pitch a story about a client or boss receiving an award, unless my client or boss is an A-list celebrity, a high ranking authority, or a truly remarkable individual.
- I will not pitch a story that is not news to anyone but my client or boss.
- I will not lie, stretch the truth, or even white wash information to make my client or boss appear better than they are.
- I will not purposefully hide information from, or circumnavigate questions asked by the media.
- I will not buy advertising with a media outlet in attempt to garner more coverage for my boss or client. I won’t even suggest it as a strategy.
- I will not pitch a journalist that I am not positive covers the topic I am pitching.
Samantha J. Villegas, APR
Samantha Villegas, APR, is the President of the National Capital Chapter of PRSA. She is the owner of SaviPR and is an accredited PR consultant with 20 years experience in agency, corporate and government settings. A version of this story first appeared on her blog Savithoughts and PR Daily. She can be reached by Twitter at @samanthajvilleg.