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OPINION: PR pros affect us all, should better know their local markets

A woman working at a public relations training camp. Flickr photo

Brooklyn Daily Eagle

With the proliferation of new media and news websites, many of which do no original reporting, public relations people have more influence than ever.

Several months ago, I wrote an editorial for these pages called “Public Relations: More Professionalism Needed.” The gist of my article was that public relations professionals should know the ins and outs of what they are promoting.

Now, it turns out, many of them also need to know who they are pitching news to.

For example, someone representing a national foundation recently called me to interest me about an event in Brooklyn. “I’m sure you’ll want to come,” she said, “because it’s right in your office’s backyard.”

The event was in Coney Island. I explained to her that while we definitely cover Coney Island, it’s an hour away from our Downtown Brooklyn office, not in our “backyard.” She seemed shocked “Really?” She asked.

The next day, a public relations person called to interest me in a store opening “right in your area.” When I asked where it was, he told me it was in Flushing, Queens. I told her that we only cover Brooklyn, or events that have an impact on Brooklyn. I asked him to let us know if the chain was opening a store in Brooklyn. He seemed completely taken aback. “I’ll write that down,” he said, as if this was the first time he had heard such a thing.

Just as public relations people should know the basics about the products, services or events they promote, they should also know the basics about the publications, websites, or radio and TV stations they are pitching to.

Now, let’s be realistic. Many public affairs associates are given a list of, say, 200 media outlets to pitch an idea to, and then told to contact them all within a day or so. It’s not feasible to do intense market research on every one. But at the very least, they should formulate an “A list” and a “B list” for particular projects. They could then do some research on the A-list outlets – those that would be most responsive to a pitch.

As it is, I often get requests that reveal profound ignorance. Here’s one – “What day of the week does the Brooklyn Daily Eagle come out?” The name “Daily” should be a clue that we come out more than once a week.

I appreciate it when companies or public relations firms DO try to tailor their press releases to specific publications. It often makes the difference whether it catches my interest or not.

For example, if someone writes in about a new type of medical equipment, I might pass over it because it’s not the type of thing we normally cover. But if the same company points out that this equipment is being used in Lutheran Medical Center or New York Methodist Hospital, that’s a whole new ball game.

All this reminds me of the time I was working for the Indiana Jewish Post, and a barbecue restaurant decided to advertise. But when the barbecue place decided to feature a picture of a pig in its ad, then our ad people got upset. The restaurant should have realized that an ad featuring a picture of a non-kosher animal might antagonize many Jews. (I realize that in New York, many Jewish publications wouldn’t accept ads from non-kosher eateries, but in Indiana, that’s not an option.)

To sum up, if public relations people took a little more time to read up on the media outlets they’re going to contact, they would not only avoid embarrassing situations, they’d also stand a much better chance of getting coverage for their products.

November 5, 2013 - 9:30am


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