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Pet Peeves from the Press

May 1, 2010

By Jim Rhodes

I ran across an interesting Web link the other day. It’s called “Care and Feeding of the Press.” It’s a guide for public relations professionals written by members of the Internet Press Guild, and it’s packed with practical advice on how to communicate effectively with the press. Although it is aimed primarily at IT and software PR professionals, the guidelines apply equally to the boating industry. You can read the full document atwww.netpress.org/careandfeeding.html. I’ll summarize a few of their pet peeves.

Pet Peeve Number One is PR people who insist on following up a press release to a reporter with a phone call asking if he or she received it. This is a major gripe. Here’s what the “Care and Feeding” writers have to say on this subject: “Nothing sets a writer or editor’s teeth on edge more than an eager young voice saying, ‘I’m calling to see if you got the press release we sent.’ (It is, alas, common practice to have follow-up calls made by the most junior [read: clueless] members of an agency.” They continue: “Possibly the worst phone call is when the PR person just reads from a document, and actually has no idea what he’s talking about.” And if you must call, make sure it’s not deadline day (if you don’t know the magazine’s deadline day, you should find out before you make the call).

Pet Peeve Number Two is large binary files attached to unsolicited e-mails. (The “Care and Feeding” writers put it bluntly: “Let’s make this clear: unsolicited attachments merit the death penalty… Do not send us e-mail attachments unless you are willing to bet your job that we want that file.”) Put your press release in the body of the e-mail as an ASCII file instead of an attachment. Binary file attachments can carry viruses. Moreover, you never can tell when the journalist is trying to download e-mails from a slowpoke dial-up connection in a hotel room. The best way to make large graphics files and images available to journalists is on a Website, where they can download at their leisure.

Pet Peeve Number Three is e-mail press releases with the entire media address list in the header. ‘Nuff said.

Pet Peeve Number Four is press pages on company Websites with incomplete contact information. Most reporters do their research online. You should make it easy for them to find the information they are looking for about your company and your products or services. Make sure there is a direct link to the press page from your home page; don’t make them search through multiple layers of links to get there. And on your press page, make sure you list all of the key PR contacts, their areas of responsibility, their phone numbers and e-mail addresses.

Pet Peeve Number Five is PR people who do not understand the technologies and products they are supposed to be promoting. When a reporter asks for information, if you don’t know the answers put him or her in direct contact with someone who does. Don’t forget that writers work on deadlines, and they usually need a response right away. Too often, say the “Care and Feeding” writers, PR people create obstructions and do not follow through when asked for additional facts, photos or technical details.

Pet Peeve Number Six is long PowerPoint presentations. If you must send a PowerPoint, limit it to no more than five slides.

Pet Peeve Number Seven is asking to review an article before it is published. Most publications have a policy forbidding it. So don’t ask. All you do is convey to the writer that you don’t trust his or her reporting. Sometimes, the writer may agree to let you read the actual quotes that will be published, to give you a chance to confirm their accuracy. But don’t count on it. If that’s what you want, you should ask before the interview.

And finally, Pet Peeve Number Eight is – you guessed it – attempts to link editorial coverage to advertising. We’ve talked about this subject before, and I won’t flog a dead horse. I will simply refer you to the code of ethics adopted by the Boating Writers International organization (www.bwi.org). Most boating industry publications and PR agencies subscribe to these guidelines.