Last week was an interesting PR convergence of sorts for me.
I emerged from the boiler room with AirPR’s CEO, our lead investor, and some of the top marketing and PR minds on the planet with what I’m sure will be the next big thing in navigating our story-driven world. (Stay tuned. It’s going to be a fun ride.)
One of my dear friends simultaneously sent me this article on the birth of PR and where it is now, which helped frame the conversation. It’s well worth the read if you have five minutes.
Additionally, LinkedIn announced the launch of Trending Storylines, which is a noteworthy attempt to diffuse the noise and surface quality content to interested readers.
Then, I ended up on an informal call with Jason Feifer, editor-in-chief of Entrepreneur (a publication I’ve been contributing to for over five years). We discussed TechCrunch’s recent announcement to cut PR pros out of the mix in terms of contributed content.
The result of our convo has been documented below for what I believe is the culmination of this PR convergence: The future of PR is all about quality. Data helps. Research helps. Being a human and not a robot helps. Creative thinking helps. Good products and services help. Impeccable storytelling helps…
But how do we get there? Check out Jason’s thoughts below.
Rebekah Iliff: How do you think PR played into TechCrunch’s decision to accept contributed content on an invite-only basis? Do you think we will continue to see publications raise standards for what they accept in terms of contributed content?
Jason Feifer: I can’t speak to TechCrunch’s decision-making, but I do think every brand is thinking hard about how to remain relevant and trusted. A media brand is nothing without its credibility; it needs to be considered an authoritative source for information, and that authority is built or diminished with every story it publishes. Quality control is a must.
RI: An overabundance of pitches from PR people makes it difficult for reporters to manage their inboxes. What’s a solution? Or, what’s a better way for PR professionals and reporters to work together?
JF: I’ll tell you the solution from a journalist’s point of view, although I know it isn’t a practical solution from a PR firm’s point of view: PR people should send far fewer pitches. Like, maybe one tenth of what they currently send.
I receive probably 100 PR pitches a day, and 99 to 100 of them aren’t a fit for Entrepreneur. If publicists were only pitching publications they were confident would be interested in the story—a confidence built upon research and a deep familiarity with the publication and the kinds of stories it runs—I’m confident that I’d be getting only a small handful of pitches every day, and those pitches would more regularly lead to coverage.
Here’s a situation that repeats itself with regularity: A publicist sends me a pitch that’s way, way off from the kind of stories I run. I ignore it. They send me two or three follow-up emails, and eventually I relent and respond to say “this isn’t a fit.” The publicist then replies to say something like, “I figured it was a long-shot, but had to try anyway.” This response drives me crazy. If you knew it was a long-shot, why pitch it? That just damages your credibility, and makes it more likely that I’ll ignore the next pitch entirely.
I do understand that a publicist isn’t always exercising their own judgment. They’re sometimes at the mercy of their boss, or specific demands from their client. But the entire industry—and every client—would benefit if pitches were sent with real discretion.
RI: How do you think PR professionals can be better “PR citizens” in terms of the quality of content and ideas they pitch?
JF: Research. Most publicists who pitch me haven’t spent any time understanding the kinds of stories Entrepreneur covers. Their emails make that very clear. If they truly dug into the magazine—and to every major publication they’re pitching—and thought critically about what’s in there and why, I really do think they’d more consistently land stories. That would serve their clients better, and, for what it’s worth, make journalists’ inboxes happier places as well.
RI: What makes a great source?
JF: When I’m interviewing someone, I want humanity. The best sources are willing to tell me how they think and feel, and reveal their concerns, mistakes, and challenges. When a source only sticks to their talking points, or speaks like a Harvard Business School textbook, or glosses over the challenges they’ve faced in their business, I lose interest and am more likely to exclude them from the magazine.
Now, if you’re talking about those pitches that PR people often send where they say “if you’re covering X subject, here’s an expert you should interview,” I don’t think I’ve ever replied to a pitch like that. Those pitches are frequently tied to the day’s news, and as a monthly magazine editor, I’m just not chasing the daily story.
At a monthly, I can’t envision any situation where those pitches would make sense. They’re so temporal; for it to be useful, I’d have to be working on a story at the moment that email came in. Otherwise, I’m just going to delete it and forget about whatever source is being pitched.
AirPR Blog readers: Let’s work together to push the PR industry from a state of noise pollution to thoughtful storytelling and consciously useful information sharing. What do you say?