Seven deadly PR sins

It seems to be flavour of the month for Australian technology journalists to post some some unsolicited tips for the long suffering tech-industry PR people on their personal blogs. I might as well add mine.

I have no doubt that many PR people would love to post their list of what they’d like journalists to do, though their list of pent-up frustrations would probably be longer than mine; at least journalists have a day-to-day outlet for venting their thoughts. Of course, PRs could certainly post their thoughts here anonymously …

Refusal to comment
1. The worst thing you can do in a situation where we’ve referred a reader complaint to you and invited you to respond is to refuse or decline to comment, especially if you use a spurious excuse like “privacy reasons” (offer our reader a privacy waiver form if that’s a genuine concern.) Such a response will ensure the complaint is published and given maximum prominence and promotion in the magazine. Why? Because dodgy vendors routinely use these excuses in an attempt to avoid publication.

Trying to win the journalist over personally
2. If you really think a complaint isn’t justified and want to discuss it, talk to us about it, letting us know you want to discuss it confidentially, ‘off the record’. However, bear in mind I’m not usually personally interested in the complaint I’ve just referred to you, so trying to personally win me over is a waste of time – I’m just there to report what the reader said and what the vendor said; my point of view is irrelevant. If you do want to talk ‘off the record’, be ready to offer solid reasons why the magazine shouldn’t give a reader’s complaint any credence.

Oversized emails
3. Please, please, please don’t send out press releases with high res images attached or Word files with inappropriately high resolution company logos embedded. Journalists are inundated with email and most of us working at large publishers use server-based systems like Microsoft Exchange which impose limits on the size of our mailboxes. While this might sound more like our problem than yours, I can tell you that the first emails to be deleted to make room (when working remotely via Citrix, for example) are the largest press releases. Try to make your email 50 – 100KB at maximum.

Trinkets, damned trinkets
4. For best results, don’t post us swanky colour-printed press kits, stuffed cushions, inflatable televisions, pens with inbuilt USB memory keys, cardboard models of your product, jigsaws or rubber knives (though my niece, Mia, did like the babushka dolls HP sent me recently). All we need is a black and white press release and the ability to get review product and high resolution photos quickly when we ask for them. It pains me that every day my office rubbish bin is filled with stuff that vendors have paid thousands of dollars to have sent out. On the other hand, AMD did a wonderful thing when it sent us all AMD-branded notebooks (paper ones). Journalists can never have enough lined, blank paper.

Throwing your weight around as an advertiser
5. Don’t ever complain to the advertising department about something a journalist has written in the publication. Vendors that try to push the boundaries of the editorial/advertising divide will put themselves in the editorial dog house for a long time. Remember, it’s journalists that write the magazine, not the advertising department, regardless of your annual ad spend. It’s far simpler just to complain to the Editor. Journalists are held accountable for accuracy and fairness, and if you have a valid complaint, it will be handled.

Out-of-hours press events
6. If you want journalists to attend a press conference for something that isn’t bone shatteringly important (e.g. the launch of an updated range of products) hold the event in business hours and keep it relatively short (one hour is good, two hours is the max.) Dinner invitations and drinking nights sound good in theory but in reality eat into the already-eaten-into private lives of journalists. Likewise, opportunities to go sailing or play paintball all afternoon are unlikely to be possible given the constantly immense workload most journalists have to churn through.

Onerous loan conditions
7. Don’t ask journalists to provide personal credit card details in order to test an online service or guarantee the return of a product; we won’t. Likewise, asking journalists to sign and fax back loan agreements for review products is fair enough, but is nonetheless an incredibly irritating and does nothing to endear a vendor. E.g. if there’s a choice between two equivalent vendors, one of which requires loan agreements and one which doesn’t, we’re more likely to approach the latter in the future. I recently had to sign and fax back a loan agreement to review the new “Mighty Mouse” from Apple. That was ridiculous.

Supplementary bonus point
8. APC is predominantly a consumer magazine, read by people for pleasure. Don’t pitch CRM systems, enterprise firewalls, business integration servers. If your product or service wouldn’t be of interest to a shopper in Harvey Norman, we’re unlikely to ever write about it in the magazine.


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