Tuesday, 29 April 2008

PR Howlers: A Message From The Inside

We have received a letter. Not with a snarky comment and a rubbish press release attached, although those are always welcome, but with a plea for understanding. We're all for understanding, so here it is, in full. What do you think?

Hi LiS

I've been reading Lost In Showbiz after finding the link on Holy Moly! and wanted to stand up for the poor souls that have to write some of the stuff you've posted.

There's no excuse for a lot of it, but the real problem is that PR agencies are run by psychotic nutters that insist on the poor peons they employ, who sadly are under the impression it'll be a glamourous and interesting career, writing press releases about utterly inane events and then giving them ludicrous deadlines in which to complete them.

In the trade we call these the 'tick-box' press releases, as in 'get the bloody thing done, then tick the box on the jobs-for-today list to say it's been done'. More than half the time we really don't give a toss about the crap we're being bullied into writing, which is why it's so poorly written. You'll probably notice a correlation between how interesting a press release is and how well it's written. I've done some stuff I'm quite proud of, about things which are actually interesting, and achieved pretty good coverage as a result. I've also known instinctively when I'm doing something that's just going to get binned unread, so it's not like I'm going to put the effort in.

As for the psychotic people running PR agencies, half the time they think they're geniuses but far too often come up with an utterly unusable concept or title that their poor minions have to work with. For example, last year I was working for a client that sold a range of fairly creepy small dolls. A lorry load of the dolls' houses that went with the line got stolen. So my boss wants me to write a press release about rising house prices meaning that thieves are resorting to stealing dolls' houses as they know they'll make a huge profit on them because of the state of the housing market, but to drop the brand name into it as often as possible... No, really. And then she doesn't just want me to send this out to the usual toy trade journalists, but also to the main newswires and major newsrooms. Because in their own minds they're geniuses, doing the 'that's a great idea, but how about...' just doesn't even get listened to.

I still feel the shame of that release and wish there was some kind of secret code or phrase that PR people could include that tipped the nod to journalists that they were ashamed of what they were sending, and please not to post it online with their name included, to be exposed to the widespread ridicule. Any suggestions for how to go about this? A sort of 'you might think this is a shit press release I've just sent you, but I couldn't possibly comment' type thing. But maybe involving dots at the bottom of the copy, or something.

Anyway, cheers for Lost in Showbiz, it's a good read and I hope it will help to raise standards, but don't be too hard on us poor fools at the bottom end of the business...


Dave the Flack said...

It sounds like you're working for the wrong company if your boss is that deluded that they believe releases like that will generate national news coverage. Don't get me wrong - my own clients think every product launch or new appointment should make the front page of The Sun.

In fact, one of our clients recently wanted us to do a reactive piece based on Prince Harry/MRSA soldier story that was in SUCH BAD TASTE.

We told them no.

Because it wouldn't fit in with their overall brand image, and would be in poor taste. Sometimes you have to be firm but fair with your clients. If your boss is going into client meetings promising the earth, then it sounds like he or she is not only tarnishing your client's brand, but your agency's brand as well.

Too many PRs are happy to bash a list out in MediaDisk and send it to EVERYONE that comes up. It's so lazy. Find out if the journalist is interested the story you're pushing. Speak to them on the phone. Then send them the release. That's how good media relations works. Eventually you might get the point where you can send a press release to a journo and know there's a good chance they'll run it. But it's still nice to have a chat to them anyway.

There endeth the rant.

Lost In Showbiz said...

That is all true, DTF - bit I think it's also a case of people just not giving a shit about what they're meant to be working on and the trouble is, that disinterest just drips off everything that they write and everything that people at the other end read. Each badly worded, lazily written, cliche-happy, idiot-fest screams, THIS ISN'T EVEN WORTH MY TIME AND I'M BEING PAID TO CARE. Bad PR is an own-goal of epic proportions and I still can't believe how much of it there is. I keep expecting it too dry up, but it never does.
Thanks for your "rant" - I appreciate it.

Lost In Showbiz said...

If I'd read that back I'd have noticed that I wrote "bit" when I meant "but" :(