Wednesday, October 15, 2008

In Defense of PR Pros

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I normally don't do posts like these, but this one was forced on me. Yesterday a bunch of bloggers and journalists were blasting and trashing PR people because of a post by a BusinessWeek columnist and blogger named Sarah Lacy. The post started off like any good post would. Objective. Balanced. Clear. Specific. Professional...
"I don't hate PR people. Really. When I say some of them are my best friends, I actually mean that. (Shout out to Miss Hammerling! Holla!) I just don't understand why 90% of them lack total common sense."
Hmmm, okay, maybe not. Anyway, a blogger I respect and work with took up her cause and jumped on the "PR people are stupid bandwagon."
"Sarah Lacy makes a lot of sense in this column about PR pitches, and the all too common mistakes that PR people make - even on simple crap, like getting names and locations right. I know why she's writing this, too - I get a fair number of email pitches, and I'm laboring away in a tiny niche of the technology space - who knows how many lame pitches come her way? Scoble has written on this topic a bunch of times, saying the same thing. Maybe we just need better PR people - you know, the kind that can use Google, and know something (anything, really) about the products they are pitching..."


I was okay with the vent, typical stuff, see it everyday.

But then ... he had to go and pull a "Scoble" out of the hat.

That did it.

I tried to comment on his blog several times but for some inexplicable reason the response didn't take.

So here it is.



Although I respect you, your work and your opinion - I couldn't disagree with you more on this one. Her post was arrogant and useless.

Useless, because good PR people wouldn't pitch the way she described and don't need her pedantic puerile attitude or information. Then, she insulted 90% of the hard-working people in the profession. The people that do pitch like that wouldn't read what she wrote anyway. Even if they did, they wouldn't care. It was a waste of her time and effort. Useless.

Arrogant, because most good PR people are tired of this condescending, "holier-than-thou-I'm-great, you're-stupid," shtick of a blog post by another whining journalist, columnist, blogger or whatever her claim to fame is. It's been repeated Ad nauseam. Do a copy and compare. Been done a gazillion times - argumentum ad infinitum vomitus eruptus.


I'm not a good PR person - below average at best. But I've never pitched like that. And I'm below average. I've worked with a lot of good ones though - and they would never do that. She paints and taints an entire profession with her harpy brush.


GOOD PR is now more about being "found" by search engines, connecting and building relationships with people ... not blasting out blind, inaccurate pitches. The question is, how to do that in today's hyper-hyper communications environment? Best I can tell from what I've seen ...

GOOD PR fights daily on the battleground of content and story, sharing helpful ideas, information and insights to EARN the right of "attention."

GOOD PR helps find the essence, the heart of the story, and tells it. The heart being the value, the problem solved, the net positive change effected. That works for any product. Any market. Any time. Any place.

GOOD PR tells that story with honesty, authenticity, specificity, and does it sans all the useless corporate gobbledygook that unfortunately proliferates in business.


Whiny journalists like the one you mention spend too much time complaining "WOE IS ME."


Just hit the frigging delete button. How hard is that?

Because of Expert Access I get a lot of email pitches too. Some of these pitches have absolutely no - ZERO - relevance.

Thankfully, I've learned how to deal with it, without government intervention or psychological counseling.

I follow a genetically intuitive program.


STEP 1: DELETE, ERASE, IGNORE - often and with alacrity


STEP 3- Repeat Step 2- then don't write about it.

STEP 4: Repeat Step 3. Then move on.


There are two major realities going on right now in the marketing/pr/media world that we happen to work in.

1. There are about 26.7 million small-to-medium size businesses in the US. Each one wants media attention/coverage - PR.

2. Journalists are being laid off en masse, eviscerated, due to lost and shrinking revenues (mostly classified ad revenue). They're doing more and more with less and less. The "advertising revenue asteroid" is remaking the world, turning the whiners into Jurassic Journosaurists. The professional journalists will flourish and be more in demand than ever. Why? Because they'll be working - not whining.


Most good companies and products don't stand a chance of getting coverage through the traditional route with journalists because of those two new realities. There are simply too many companies - too few journalists.


From that same post you cite:
"the deck is stacked against you from the beginning, since most reporters get hundreds of pitches a day and almost never write a story that comes from a pitch."
GOOD PR means you have to creatively attract people (buyers/media) to you with content as described above.


Journalists who think they're great and PR people are stupid and scummy are not real journalists. They're wasting their time whining, mired in the throes of the 'Woe is Me Syndrome" when they could be discovering and covering a company or story that deserves it.

Works both ways. PR people that pitch the way she describes are not professional PR people either.


You mentioned Scoble in your post.

Scoble isn't relevant to the PR - Media discussion.

He's too far out there for the majority of businesses. I've seen him speak. I've seen him demo. He seems like a wonderfully warm, genuinely nice, sincere and obviously passionate guy -- but also one that had about 595 of the 600 people at the conference I was attending holding their heads, looking for Duct Tape to keep them from exploding.

Scoble is all tech, all-the-time. I've seen his advice "just dump the PR people and Demo your product." Uhh...that's okay if you're selling low-cost, simple products that sell themselves. No-brainer. It's not okay, and is a totally unrealistic and out-of-touch strategy for a B2B complex sale product with a high dollar price tag. Why? Because ...


When we get in a complex sales cycle (our company) we have to deal with buyer evaluation committees, consisting typically of 10-25 people, all with differing personalities, titles, departments and agenda's. The DEMO is a given. It's the least of your worries. The very minimum you need to do to get into serious consideration for the sale. It either works or you'll never get to first base with the buyer committee.


There are a lot of good PR folks out there that understand this. They're doing it everyday. They all want to be successful at what they do. Just like you, just like me. They invest their time, money, sweat and lives to it. To paint 90% of them with the whining Jurassic Journosaurist mantra is boring. Annoying. Arrogant. Useless.


You might not hear about them because ... they're working, not whining. Check them out:
And the list could go on and on.


jarober said...

More than likely your comment ran afoul of my rather simplistic keyword based spam checker.

Dave said...


Instead of writing a magazine article, couldn't you have just said:

"All professions have their good practitioners and their bad practitioners. If there wasn't some need for the profession, it wouldn't exist. Believing that PR folks, in general, are bad, could put you at a disadvantage because you are more likely to miss opportunities (even if they seem to be rare) when a good PR person could help you. And it hurts our feelings. :)"

I think a long, angry reply is bad PR for the PR industry, when a succinct, polite reply would have done the job very nicely.

Steve Kayser said...

Glad we got that straightened out

Steve Kayser said...

Glad we got that straightened out

Steve Kayser said...


Hmm ... I wasn't angry. What made you think that? Was it my 3-D Hulk Donkey Twitter design? Simple observations from my part.This was in response to another post. You're right - good and bad in both - but all you ever hear are the PR people are ignorant and "lack common sense." Boring. It's old. Besides, I'm not a real "PR" person in the PR industry. Wouldn't want to be. Have no aspirations to be. But I do have to deal with both PR and Media - and the PR people I have dealt with have been outstanding. Great folks. Always go the extra step - quite amazing to me sometimes. Why they're constantly trashed I have no idea. But I'm not going to waste any more time on it. Have work to do. Thanks for your comment.

Appreciate it.


Steve Kayser said...


Hmm ... I wasn't angry. What made you think that? Was it my 3-D Hulk Donkey Twitter design? Simple observations from my part.This was in response to another post. You're right - good and bad in both - but all you ever hear are the PR people are ignorant and "lack common sense." Boring. It's old. Besides, I'm not a real "PR" person in the PR industry. Wouldn't want to be. Have no aspirations to be. But I do have to deal with both PR and Media - and the PR people I have dealt with have been outstanding. Great folks. Always go the extra step - quite amazing to me sometimes. Why they're constantly trashed I have no idea. But I'm not going to waste any more time on it. Have work to do. Thanks for your comment.

Appreciate it.


Luv ya duv ya said...

Saw this post on Twitter, thank you very much! I am still on the learning curve, and your post was very effective at getting across some great points. Thanks!

Booklover said...

Sorry I posted the last comment signed in with my co-worker's ID, my is Booklover...again thanks!

Terry Morawski said...

Two points:
First, I wish we could put the term "common sense" to bed forever. It is a totally meaningless term. There is simply no such thing.
Second, why do we allow journalists to stand and hurl insults at the rest of the world from a lofty pulpit. I do not buy the "barrels of ink" argument anymore. I took my own good- natured shot last week at journalists here - .
Thanks for the post. It is good to keep the discussion going on the mission and value system of PR.

Nettie Hartsock said...


I think your post was spot on and I'm actually humbled to be on that list, as I don't think it's really deserved.

But I can tell you that having been a tech journalist for ten years and then moving to PR that I think the whole rant of PR people are stupid is useless as well. It is an old argument, and it's a cheap shot.

And actually Sarah Lacey is great about doing PR about herself when she needs to (as evidenced by her hair twirling at SXSW during interview with Facebook founder last year, and touting her book at the same time), but not so great in terms of really doing her research as a journalist.

Sarah has to be applauded because she's a success in terms of her own PR and constantly being able to generate more by posting derisive hot button statements to get people going. (See it even got me going.)

I like the idea of "people relations" instead of "public relations" which jerry michaelski has written about on his blog.

People Relations demands that we treat each other with respect, know that the other entity exists because we need one another and help one another to all do our jobs the best we can.

It's interesting because this show I'm addicted to (ironically) called "The Cleaner" had a great scene last week where "The Cleaner - benjammming! Bratt!" has a scene with a drug boss who it turns out needs a favor from the cleaner to help save his daughter.

The drug dealer says to Bratt, "you and I are not that different my friend. Without me, there would not be a need for you." And in some ways that's true (although terrible in terms of drugs.)

But the point is the yen and the yang of this web world. We all need one another both journalists and PR people and what we could do simply is to raise all our efforts so that our stories and the people we focus on are real, authentic and timely. And that our pitches are real, authentic and timely.

Having been on both sides of the proverbial coin I have to say that it's always a learning experience and there is always more to do and the key is to be humble and understand that.

Why doesn't DAVE have a link to his comment by the way?

Steve Kayser said...

Dear Terry:

Excellent post!
6 challenges for journalists

Funny - been deluged with email about this post - but not many comments. All but one were positive -- hitting the same points you talked about. Nice to meet you.

Steve Kayser said...

Dear Nettie:

You certainly were one of the first I thought of and well deserve it - Tikkun Olan (I remember eh??). You're like me. We have to work both sides of the coin. I notice, as you pointed out as well, that the people that go on about how bad PR people are - are usually the ones pimping themselves out more than anyone else - doing their own PR - but calling it something else. I don't begrudge anyone though. I like what Terry said - quit taking the crap from unprofessional people - whether they're journalists, marketing, PR, sales, product managers, whatever.

People Relations - that nails it.

Far as Dave? I don't know - some people find courage in anonymity. No big deal to me.

Shonali Burke, ABC said...

Steve -


Seriously, this was a great post. I am SO tired of hearing the "PR people are blah blah blah" blabber. And I respectfully disagree with Dave that this was a "long, angry reply." On the contrary, it was a thoughtful and brave post when, quite honestly, you didn't have to do it. The fact that you chose to stand up for our profession makes me respect you even more.

I returned today from IPR's Measurement Summit in New Hampshire, which was wonderful. One of the best presentations of the Summit came from Mazen Nawahi of Media Watch (Dubai), who made a compelling case for creating a journalistic integrity index, which would measure bloggers as well. They're working on it right now. Won't that be something?

As far as the "flacks" go; yes, there are newbies we roll our eyes at, people who don't pitch well, and agencies that might as well be spammers. Every industry has its trials; these are ours.

What I'd love to see happen is a change in the perception that public relations is purely media relations or publicity. It's not; it's about building relationships with one's "publics," using the best tactics to do so, thus achieving measurable objectives that are aligned with one's organizational goals. Publicity happens to be one of the most-heavily used of these tactics, and the journalists who think they can get along without us need to get over themselves. But putting the "public" back in PR is how more of us are going to get that coveted "seat at the table" and give PR/Communications the respect it deserves.


Steve Lunceford said...

Great points, Steve. Like Terry, I've tried to take a good-natured shot at this issue as well through, a riff on Rafe Needleman's

Actually, Terry, I'd love to re-post a couple of your points as tips if you don't mind...

Steve Kayser said...

Dear Shonali:

Why are your comments always so much better than my posts? You're embarrassing me! That's why I try to stick to the more serious stuff -- like cartoons. Hacks, flacks, hucksters, like you said are in all professions. Including the media. Your observations, and the fact that you tie measurement to PR is the true mark of a pro.The goal is to serve your business. Not serve the media - however much they think that is the proper role of PR. I work to serve the employees, customers and potential customers of our company. Now, as in DM Scott's New Rules of Marketing & Pr. I don't have to beg the media to cover us or buy expensive advertising to promote us. I can go direct to the people that matter - employees, customers and prospects, with good ideas, information and insights. If they're good enough, specific, authentic, honest ... and they fit a need, they'll take wing.

I know that its possible only because I work both ends of the spectrum. As a PR director for a company - and as a writer, editor, publisher of a business E-zine for the company that has grown from 0 to 150,000 readers - simply by providing good content - not all from me (the best is not from me), but from a bevy of experts around the world - who have worked with me, written with me or were interviewed by me and shared their insights/ideas/info, etc. I had/have ZERO advertising budget.

I've worked with major media in almost all the major cities. And I have had some truly awful experience of THEM being unprepared - even after giving them all the briefing materials. And then they still screw up basic info. But I never blast them. Try to paint their whole industry with a harpy brush. It serves no purpose. Is useless and a waste of time. So that's why I take umbrage when people indiscriminately blast the PR Pro's. I have had nothing but exceptional experiences with the PR Pros I have dealt with. From outside US and European agencies - to individual PR consultants.

Thanks for your thoughtful comment- Best!

Steve Kayser said...

Dear Steve: Repost away - thanks for thinking it worthwhile. Maybe I should use a better word than repost - could be misconstrued as compost. And ... Good stuff!