Ways PR Agents Piss Off Journalists, and a Few Companies That Do It Right

In a perfect world, the best products would get lots of press coverage, and the crappy ones would be lucky to find a spot in Sky Mall. Unfortunately, the product placement dance is a bit more complex than that, and companies hire PR staff for a reason.

I’ve been in the tech writing business for years, and have booked or placed products in magazines, on network TV, blogs, and dozens of national radio stations. Needless to say, I have enough PR horror stories to make an ethicist cry. I’m saving most them for my forthcoming tell-all book, but here’s a fun Christmas-time list of a few fatal PR mistakes I see repeated again and again, as well as a few shout-outs to companies that I think do a killer job. While good PR can rarely secure placement for a worthless product, pissing off soft-skinned journalists can ensure products never pop up on pages.

As an informed consumer, just keep this in mind when you see certain products rule every magazine, and a couple others never show their face.

Click the jump to see them…

A Few Fatal PR Errors:

You Can NEVER Confirm Placement
If I had a dollar for every PR person who asked me to “confirm placement” or questioned why a product they thought was “confirmed” wasn’t in the final issue, I’d be able to start my own PR company. Here’s the deal: Until I edit, publish, and buy all the ads in my own magazine, there is no possible way of confirming anything. I may think your product kicks ass, but there are a thousand other editors with a thousand other viewpoints who might beg to differ. And ad pages come in and out, meaning editorial pages are gained and lost on a whim. Things always get cut. Remember that just because I’m your contact guy at a magazine doesn’t mean I run the whole thing.

Never Ask Me WHY A Product Wasn’t Included
It’s not your fault until you ask that question. See above. Things happen. Try again next time.

Don’t Talk To Me Like I’m A Client
There a few words no writer ever wants to hear come from a PR person’s mouth (or email). Anything that sounds like the type of managerial speak they teach you in entry level PR courses should be left there. Let’s put it this way, it’s dehumanizing (and a bit insulting) to hear the word “pitch” used in earnest.

Don’t Talk To Me Like I’m Your Friend, Unless I Really Am
On the flip side, there is NOTHING creepier than picking up the phone and having someone pull this “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” mojo on me. I know self-help books probably say that pretending to be somebody’s best bud is the best way to “get to yes”, but it is downright disconcerting when a stranger pretends he knows you better than your mother. If you introduce yourself by your first name without saying who you are calling from and act like I’m expected to know who you are, we better have at least shared a handshake at a convention.

Never Ask Me To Cross A Line
I recently got an email from a PR agent that was along the lines of this: “I know you occasionally write for [magazine name redacted]. We usually deal with [name redacted] but he isn’t allowed to do something we want him to do for a story because of their ethics policy. Will you do it for us and write about it and not tell them what you did?” No, I won’t.

Never Ask Me To Pay For Shipping A Product Return
I understand that UPS ain’t cheap, but I’m a freelancer, and the bill for sending back that DLP could be more than my review is paying me.

Never Cold-Call Me At My Desk
I’m busy, I’m at the office until midnight some nights, I have constant meetings and deadlines, and I may not necessarily have caller ID. Always shoot me an email, and never call to “follow up” on a press release email that I didn’t respond to. It will make me angry, and you don’t want to see me when I’m angry.

A Few Good Eggs:

Below are a few of the companies I’ve had the best experiences in dealing with. No hard-sells, no fake friendliness, and no feeling dirty just for talking on the phone with them. Of course, comparing the Belkin to Microsoft just ain’t fair (budgets, anybody?) so extra points are given to companies who have made the best of minimal resources:

T-Mobile: Some PR people lay the hard-sell so thick that you want to bathe in bleach. I’ve dealt with these guys for years, and I can’t ever recall them actually ASKING for a product placement, much less begging or trying to force one down my throat. They just tell me what they’ve got, and let the cards fall as they may. It’s refreshing. And they throw good parties.

Belkin: Every time you see a Belkin product in print, remember that their entire PR staff consists of two young women with no agency and no ad budget (meaning they can’t threaten to pull ads if they don’t get what they want—which does happen!). Just keep that in mind.

Samsung: These guys get credit for one thing: Unlike their Lucky Goldstar peninsula counterparts, they know better than to give their Korean executives 30 minute speaking blocks at their events. A favorite game for tech journos is to “spot the sleeping reporter” at such events.