The “Have I Got a Story For You” Trick

I’m no fan of bad, sloppy PR, and to me there’s nothing quite as sloppy as pitching a product to a journalist s/he has already written about. Do these people not have any records at all? Do they have no idea of what coverage their product has already received?

I’ve been pitched two products in the past week that I have written about already in my WSJ.com column. OK, not everyone reads the WSJ, and not everyone reads the column, but it’s not exactly a backwater publication that would have not shown up in someone’s records, had they been keeping any.

First there was the Unotron washable keyboard, which I pretty much dedicated a whole column to a couple of years back (it shows up on the CollegeJournal with a search unotron wsj). In response to a request to the PR/expert source clearing house ProfNet a few days back I received a pitch from a PR guy which began

If you are looking for the latest technological advancement in computer keyboards, I may have your answer.

What surprised me here was that my column was copiously cited on the company’s own website.

Then there’s something called the Loc8tor, a tracking device I wrote about a few months back in another WSJ.com column. I just now received a pitch with the breathless subject line: “STORY IDEA: New RFID Tracking Device Finds Valuables with Directional Capabilities”:

I am contacting you regarding a new product story that will help your readers stay organized and find their valuables. 

The original column doesn’t show up high in the search engines if you look for loc8tor wsj but a reference to it clearly shows up in a link to Peter Morville of findability.org, whom I interviewed for the piece. Seems the PR company could use the product themselves to keep track of previous coverage of their client’s product.

(It’s only “new”, by the way, in the sense of newly available in the U.S.; the product’s been around for at least a year in the UK and elsewhere. The PR person involved clearly doesn’t have a particularly good database as my column has carried an Asian dateline for the past year, and my blog and webpage make clear I’m not U.S. based. Minor details, I grant you, but I feel sorry for the poor sap who’s paying the agency if he’s hoping for a well-targeted PR campaign.)

What’s telling, to me, in both of these cases, is that I had originally dealt with the companies themselves, not with their PR companies. In fact, I’m not sure either had PR companies working with them when I dealt with them. In other words, these companies have hired PR companies to go get coverage, who then go undo the positive work the company itself had done by pitching to the self-same guys who have already given them coverage.

I can understand, I suppose, this kind of thing happening. But it’s still sloppy, and clearly indicates that the PR company, when hired, does little or no research into what coverage the product has already received. Surely that would be the first thing you’d do, if only to see whether those publications or writers have already written about you might be worth cultivating for follow-up coverage down the track? At the very least, I guess I would assume you don’t want to alienate those people by showing you have no idea what they’ve been writing about?

PR note #273: When you get a new client, Google them.

13. November 2007 by jeremy
Categories: Media, PR | Tags: , , , , | 3 comments

Comments (3)

  1. I linked to this as another ‘rule to remember’ on my site as well.

  2. This is an ongoing issue for journalists, companies and PR reps. On the PR side, it’s more likely than not that, especially with younger companies, there has been little media coverage record keeping and new PR agencies and reps have to try to reconstruct who has been contacted and what the results were. Often, when a client is asked about prior outreach, they’ll only remember a fraction of what was done.

    So…then it’s on to Google search, and searching individual media web sites. I’ve found this to be predictably incomplete, as is the case when searching WSJ.com for “loc8tor” — no results come up. So, I also use topix.net and icerocket.com — these two sites inevitably turn up media coverage that Google has missed (though, again, your first loc8tor story does not turn up.

    But to your point that one would think a company would remember WSJ coverage; the answer is yes and no. I’ve had execs tell me of prior informal discussions with a WSJ, or NYT, or BWeek reporter, whose name they cannot remember “but I have their card somewhere.” Or they have the right name, but incorrectly recall the newspaper or magazine of the reporter.

    I’m not sure there is a true solution here. It’s aggravating for both sides when a reporter is pitched a story they’ve already done. But the onus does fall on the companies and PR reps to do their research and record keeping. That’s one of several reasons why, for every client I’ve ever had, I maintain a binder of all media coverage, and turn that over to the client at the end of every calendar year. It doesn’t ensure they will remember who wrote about them, or that the next PR rep will utilize the older binders, but at least I set them up to have a record.

  3. One of the finer examples of know-nothing PR work:

    http://www.buzzkiller.net/rogues2.html