My inbox is a parched desert

Bruce Springsteen once wrote a song with the lyrics, ‘fifty-seven channels and nothin on’. With some slight tweaking, Bruce could be singing about my inbox. Ok, I may lack Bruce’s patriotism, lyricism and way with words, so let me explain.

As a magazine editor I get countless media releases sent from PR people each and every day. Some are excellent; clearly a lot of care and attention has been paid to crafting these. At their very best, these releases can set a story off on a new, fresh angle, or spark some serious debate – all good things for the consumers of your product.

Indeed, some might suggest that in this 24/7, time is money, cut’n’paste world, the ultimate compliment is to do just that – with minimal changes copy and paste it straight into the finished publication. Of course, I’ve never been guilty of that (no, never). Seriously, the people who write these releases can be the best friend of the editorial staff on any publication. And as another song goes, we all ‘get by with a little help from our friends’.

That leads me to the rest – sadly the majority – of these media releases.

It usually starts with the headline. In a face-to-face situation it reportedly takes just 30 seconds for most humans to determine whether they like you or not. Likewise, it can take around 10 seconds for a busy editor to decide whether or not it’s worthwhile reading the rest of the media release. Brutal but true. The headline should grab you instantly, while also not being so far off the mark or so outrageous that it stretches credibility to breaking point. It’s an art form in itself.

If you get past that hurdle the next stumbling block is the text itself. We’ve all been guilty, at some dark time or another, of screaming at the television news, “that’s not news!” – usually for those cute kitten up a tree type stories.

Sadly the same applies to written media releases. Some are simply so far from being relevant that they make you sit back and wonder: Perhaps I’ve been off track all this time! Perhaps this IS what I should be writing about! In other words, it’s so far out it becomes in.

No, that last scenario is unlikely.

If you make your life from writing then generally you know what you’re writing about. You tend to become a subject matter expert, whether you wanted to or not. Therefore, if you’re pitching to people who know their stuff, it pays to do a bit of research yourself. Hell, I’ve checked Google three times typing this article. It’s not difficult to check facts, get your head around an unfamiliar topic, even check the media outlet you’re pitching to in order to see if they’ve run something similar recently.

I find there are three broad categories for media releases:  the glorious (for everyone) ‘nice lead, I’ll take it!’, through to ‘maybe, with some tweaking, I could do something with this’, and then the dreaded ‘what are you thinking?’ Those in this last category usually come from someone totally unfamiliar with the target publication, hoping desperately that their scattergun approach to getting coverage for their C-grade celebrity or get rich quick scheme will hit paydirt. If nothing else, these do garner a chuckle from me; for others less inclined to forgive they may result in an abusive email straight back to the unsuspecting PR person (most likely a junior, ‘following orders from above’).

Other doozies to avoid:

  • The ‘personalised’ media release that uses the wrong person’s name!
  • Wrong publication name
  • Media releases with ‘track changes’ still visible
  • Incorrect attachments, and/or lack of attachments
  • ‘Exclusives’ that aren’t exclusives

All that said, I realise that often hands are tied. It’s often not the fault of the public relations/comms person that the end result is a muddied mess: multiple levels of client approvals need to be granted; egos need to be stroked; corporate speak adopted. If you’re in that situation, well….I have no solution for you.

Perhaps follow in Bruce’s footsteps and take up singing lessons? Audition for a reality TV show? Get some more appreciative and understanding clients? Or perhaps someone more experienced in this field has some advice….but I’m sure that with just a little more effort my parched desert of an inbox could be transformed into a verdant field of insight and wit.

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Comments
3 Responses to “My inbox is a parched desert”
  1. sam says:

    Having done the PR course and multiple internships myself, I see the truth in this. Unfortunately for a lot of PRs it’s quantity over quality – ie cast the net out to the masses and hope to catch as many as possible, rather than using a few different fishing lines with different and better tasting baits! Hey, I’m a junior – what do I know? These PRs have been in the biz a long time and what they do seems to work well enough for them!

  2. Even though you may be a junior Sam, it sounds as though you have the right concept when it comes to sending out media releases! Iain – your doozies actually made me cringe. Always good to be reminded to check and check again before sending material out to anyone – especially the media! If we only have 30 seconds (or less) for a journo to decide whether the story is a keeper or not, it has to be right on the money.

    You’re right Iain in saying that it’s not always the fault of the PR team however I do believe if this is the case, that the comms professional has a responsibility to do everything they can to educate the client on what makes a newsworthy release. At the end of the day, if we are sending out a jumbled mess of a release, it damages our credibility as reliable and solid PR practitioner. Sometimes there really is nothing you can do – but it’s worth doing all we can to ensure what the media receives is “copy and paste” material and not the victim of the delete button.

  3. Iain Hopkins says:

    Hi Sam and Gem – great comments. Totally agree Gem, if a jumbled mess is being sent out, it’s not really doing a service to anyone. Credibility is key, and once that’s gone it’s hard to recover. But as you also mention, as always, there is only so much one person can do, and sometimes circumstances don’t allow us to take the right path. I guess all we can do is raise our concerns, suggest a better way forward, and hope the right choices are made.

    Oh, and I recently had another classic media release blunder land in my inbox. This will really make you cringe. It was an attachment to an email which was meant to provide further information about the subject being discussed. Instead the attachment was the invoice the PR rep meant to send to the client for the work undertaken. Talk about red faces!

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