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The Unwritten PR Rules, Part 3: Promotional “Cautions” :

The Unwritten PR Rules, Part 3: Promotional “Cautions”

It can be tricky interacting with journalists. One one hand they greatly value smart PR folks, on the other not every promoter knows how they game is played. Here are some “cautions” to consider.

Don’t expect journalists to be your promoters. The role of a reporter is to report. Except for advocacy forums such as editorials and signed columns, a journalist’s only obligation in news stories and broadcasts is to present information and ideas to a given public fairly, accurately and in context.

Don’t believe that friendship is a substitute for a poor story. Rather than relying on personal relations with a reporter, editor or broadcaster, good promoters stress news values such as how a story will benefit the journalist’s audience. Suggesting that a story should be used merely because a reporter is a neighbor, buddy or golfing partner demeans the journalist’s integrity.

Avoid promotional excesses. The most important promotional inducement is simply information. Meals, tours, samples, trips, etc., must be viewed as possibly inappropriate and handled with extreme care.

Act appropriately. For instance, if a reporter is going to be at a new industrial park all day, proposing lunch on-site or nearby seems reasonable. Driving 150 miles to the most expensive place in the state is inappropriate.

There are some businesses and activities where the line between appropriate and inappropriate promotion is hard to draw. If you’re in the cruise business and you have a new ship, is it appropriate to suggest a story? Sure. Is it appropriate to pay for a reporter’s room and board? That’s not so clear. Some publications and stations will allow such arrangements, others will not. Those banning free trips will pay for a ticket if they elect to do a story.

Note, however, there are absolutists in the fourth estate who seriously worry about such galactic issues as free key chains and complimentary pens. The principle of journalists receiving goods of any value, not the tokens themselves, is a source of conflict. Yet somehow, magically, no one seems compromised by preferential postal rates for publications, the free use of space and facilities in government buildings, or the value of all those news releases that are the basis of so many stories and which, in effect, represent an undeniable form of subsidy.

Because the issue of promotional items and services is so sensitive, because feelings are strong, promoters should tread carefully in this area. Always question if something of value — lunch, a token, a ride to the factory, whatever — is clearly related to a story. If not, forget it.

Avoid invective. It’s easy to say things in conversation which look awful in print or when sent by e-mail, and which sound terrible on the air. A good interview rule is be circumspect because you can’t control the arena where your remarks will appear. You may feel a competitor is unethical and unfair, but save that thought for private moments. Keep disagreements factual, explain why your case is strong and your opponent’s is weak.

There are no guarantees in media marketing. The best efforts to promote a story can fail for reasons wholly outside the promoter’s control. A story can be bumped to make room for another item or because an editor simply doesn’t like the topic, the writing, the reporter’s approach or a hundred other reasons. If you want guaranteed visibility, advertise.

Do the principles and protocols described in this area guarantee media coverage? Not at all. But it seems difficult to believe that one could follow these guidelines and not maximize such media attention as a story may deserve.

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