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News Producers to PR Professionals: ‘Live Up to That Name Please!’

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Some of us aren’t crazy about the moniker “flacks.” Even more are adverse to being called “spin doctors.” The term many embrace in this profession is “PR professional.”

The reason? Public relations people want to be considered pros at their jobs. They do much more than pitch and play. They want to convey expertise in a title and hope our colleagues in the media will see that professional ability every time. One catch: being professional in the process. 

That’s fine but if you are going to use that title, I have a request on behalf of many assignment desk editors and news producers: “Act like it!” Apparently, there have been issues.

Over the years, I — much like many of you — have enjoyed a bite or an after-hours adult beverage with a buddy in the media. The job always came up in those conversations. Among the moments I have personally shared, I’ve learned one irrefutable fact: Many PR peeps don’t deserve to be called professional.

Not only is that hurtful, but it is also embarrassing. Here are three examples of non-professionalism I have come across in some very informal surveys and focus groups:

hack-turned-flack1. Overt and blatant schmoozing. This is a trait of many junior flacks in PR because they want to get a little respect in the agency and get a lot of love in the media…quickly. Excessive retweets…overly enthusiastic laughter…trying (too hard) to relate to the media types personally. Unless you are brought in someone’s inner circle, no one is interested in those personal references. Candidly, this is something I’ve struggled with my entire career. Apparently, many more do as well. Have confidence in your skills and everything else will fall into place.

douchebag2. Douchey reference dropping. So, you have been in PR a while. You have received a raise and good times ahead. The new car. The new apartment. The new attitude. Having lunch with a producer? Watch how many times he or she bends over to pick up those names you dropped. What about the car you drive? How about the address you have in that prized part of town? No one cares. You think media types make all kinds of cash — they don’t. I didn’t for more than a decade. The people you want to impress may, but those you pitch do not. Sure, they can afford to pay their bills like everyone else, but trust me: the less you know, the better.

Payola3. Freebies. When you offer a “thank you” gift before the present has been wrapped is poor taste at best, illegal activity at worst. If you have a great pitch, your assignment desk editor or news producer (hopeful) friend will notice. If your pitch sucks, take it back and work on it. Great pitching takes practice and your PR director should know that. More importantly, your client should have been informed of that. Finding the story takes time — and time worth waiting (a little).

Flacks, you cannot offer a gift of “what your client does” as a means to entice any decision. Why?

  • Payola: The practice started in radio, so yes, I have been offered this many times. It’s the illegal practice of payment by record companies for the broadcast of recordings. Today, flacks offer client services to “show what is possible” to those being pitched.
  • Plugola: This is for the PR people who don’t have much residual income. This is the illicit business practice of endorsing a product or service on radio or television for personal gain, without the consent of the network or stations. That under-the-table solid is frowned upon my management.

Some of our friends in the media have been burned once too many times by PR not-so-professionals to care about their clients ever again. There are others who are getting there, and it is up to us to hear their angst and rebuild that bridge. So, un-pop your collar, quit dropping whatever it is you want picked up, and save the “thank you gift” for after the interview.

It’s not that hard, but it will take some work. Ready to roll up your sleeves? Let’s make sure there are no tricks up there and allow the pitching to begin.

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