Monday, 9 January 2012

An open letter to PRs everywhere

I was supposed to be in London today, providing blogger input at a PR seminar. The invitation flattered me by talking of my 'expert input'' and asking me to help them 'refine and improve the way we communicate with media and bloggers'.

I thought about it, decided there was plenty I could say and duly made the arrangements to go. Then the warning bells started ringing. First, came an email saying they were 'keen to catch up with the rest of the team before finally confirming this'; then came a 'phone call revealing that the day hadn't been confirmed and was likely to change. Finally, I was told that the changes meant my presence was no longer required.

Now, I'm not one to sulk. (Not often.) I'm quite happy in the knowledge that some invites come my way and others don't. It doesn't bother me that some bloggers get invited to things I'm not asked to attend. What does bother me is being invited to something and accepting only to be told - having made childcare arrangements, for example - that the whole thing is off. Worse, that it's not off but that - in spite of fulsome we would love you to attend-s and please tell us what you think about PRs-s, in spite of being sent a schedule, a location and specific time and date, in spite of receiving (unsolicited) a wholly unambiguous invitation detailing the kind of blogger input they require, input I was capable and willing to provide - the event is going ahead, just not as planned. Thank you and goodnight.  

At first, I thought it might be my misunderstanding. So I re-checked all the emails. Not only weren't they 'round robins' (I began to wonder if they'd done a blogger beauty parade and found me lacking) but they were specific and direct. It was me they wanted. And they wanted me for a very specific purpose. Until they didn't. No, this wasn't my misunderstanding at all. This was someone at best being cavalier with my time and schedule or at worst making up a brief 'on the hoof' and sending invites only to find it wasn't what the bosses wanted at all.

Which isn't really good enough.

So, here's what I would have said if I'd been there. Here's what I'd like to say to PRs everywhere. I like working with PRs. Most of them are really good. But clearly, some need just a little help. It is at hand.

Rule 1: Know what you want.
I know the design of a PR campaign is your area of expertise rather than mine, but I could save some of you a lot of time (not to mention money) with this simple rule. While most firms are now reasonably blogger-savvy, some still seem to think that sending of an email with press release attached is like pushing an enormous button marked 'go' on a blogger's head, sending them scurrying straight to the the lap-top. (Here's our latest press release - now blog about it.) Basically, you ought to consider why I should bother reading about your latest book/product/outreach programme or whatever. That way, when you tell me about it, I'll know (a) that you've read the blog and you know who I am, and (b) whether anyone else who reads this might be interested.

Rule 2: Know your incentive
There's nothing worse than toddling along to an event only to find vague promises of 'traffic' being pushed to our blogs being dangled as a carrot. To be honest, I don't really care how you 'incentivise' us. But please don't insult us by assuming we can bask in the reflected glory of your or your client's website. And don't use the word 'incentivise'.

Rule 3: Be specific
I like knowing where I'm going, when, and what I'm doing when I get there. I don't like being told, on arrival, that part of the day will be spent (in groups - horror!) deciding what we should be doing. It's a waste of everybody's time. I'll gladly help you decide if you'd like. I'm good at that kind of thing. But not on the day. Time is short. Things need to happen.

Rule 4: Don't assume
We blog, but it's not all we do. We have lives, diaries, commitments, meetings, schedules just like you do. We can't (well, I can't and I suspect I'm not alone) simply 'drop everything' for an event you're organising. Nor can we easily pick it all up again if you decide you don't want us. We need notice. And we need a commitment. If you want us to put ourselves out for you then make sure it's going to happen. 

Rule 5: Be realistic
Although I like to think that my posts will have a global reach and I can therefore help you deliver your message to the masses, let's be realistic about it. And don't instruct me to post three times at a specific time with a prescribed number of backlinks and then tweet about it on the hour, every hour for the next three days using a ridiculous range of hashtags. Speaking as a reader, they're the posts I never bother with. Let me do what I can and let me do it my way. There'll be some quality 'engagement' (as you people like to call it) and that'll be that. Tomorrow's a whole new PR campaign.

So, there you have it. I hope the PRs our there find it useful. And if you've got any more tips of your own, please do add them in the comment box below. I'm sure they'd be happy to hear them.
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