Friday, August 3, 2012

How Do You Handle Pushy Publicists?

Hi Edsters,

Over the last several weeks, I’ve nearly poured my blood, sweat and tears into this internship to make the most of every minute of every day.  In order to get assignments completed so I can leave at a decent hour, I try to arrive to work early.  But often I end up working through my lunch break and staying well past the end of my day.  Sometimes, I wonder if it would be better to pack a sleeping bag and camp out overnight in a spare conference room rather then endure the long commute when I leave so late.  But then I remind myself that I’m still paying my end and hope that my sacrifices will be worth it in the end.

In the meantime, as a reward for my efforts I’ve been granted opportunities to write a few pieces for the web.  Although one originated from my own story idea, an editor assigned most of these from press releases.  Each time I starting working on an article, I had to get in touch with the public relations person.  From these experiences, I’ve quickly come to realize that PR reps can either be either pleasant peers who provide practical information or pushy people that could try the patience of a saint.  Through a trial and error system of approach, I’ve figured out a couple of methods of dealing with publicists: 

Initiate the contact (it doesn’t hurt to name drop!).  First, I assess where the PR rep is located and decide which is the best way to get in touch with them.  Depending on the time of day and if they’re on the West Coast, I will usually call directly on my work phone.  I state my name, leaving out my job title since I know I won’t get a call back if I say I’m an intern.  I point out the fact that I’m working on a story for the magazine, emphasizing its name.  That moniker alone is usually enough to open the door of communication.  However, if it’s late in the day and the person is on the East Coast, I’ll send a detailed email and plan to call first thing in the morning the next day to speak to someone directly.  Most of all I make sure to put my contact info in the email to ensure they are able to respond.  While working on breaking news story, a cable network rep luckily called me after business hours, allowing me to get great quotes and photos even at the last minute.

Don’t take your time (or theirs) for granted.  After I get a response, I make sure follow up right away to set up a convenient interview time.  Once I got sidetracked with other intern duties and I made the mistake of not calling the PR person back until the last minute.  By then it was too late to talk to the rep; I missed my deadline so the editor took away the story and reassigned it to a staffer.  Since then, I make sure to keep my supervisor in the loop so that she knows what I’m working on with the editor, especially on the days I’m not in the office.  I’ve also learned that it’s best to scout out the research on the topic and work up a quick draft while I’m waiting to hear back from the publicist so that I’m ready to plug in quotes to get the story done on time.

Gratitude goes a long way.  Publicists work just as hard as journalists; they can get inundated with media inquires and have a habit of either forgetting to call back when you need to hear from them or calling way too many times when you don’t want to.  If and when this happens, it’s important to have patience and be firm about your intentions.  One time I didn’t hear from someone on the West Coast following multiple calls and emails over several weeks.  While I was frustrated and even tempted to physically go their office myself, I knew that it would be no use if the person wasn’t willing to communicate.  Upon consulting with my editor, I ended up having to use their quotes from the release (might seem taboo but it was necessary; I did cringe inside though).  In another instance, after a successfully published story the PR person from an independent firm flooded my work inbox with press releases.  While I thanked her for her previous help and the follow-up, eventually I had to tell her to ease up on the emails. But to prevent ruffling any feathers, I did promise to keep in touch in the future and sent her copies of the previous she helped me on.  Maybe this will lead to the start of a promising press contact.

OK, Edsters. Any helpful tips on working with publicists? I'd love to hear your thoughts. Thanks. 

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