Friday, April 29, 2005

Two Ways 

I was in another part of the country through yesterday in a meeting with a Chief Technical Officer. I kept pressing him for detailed information about his product, and he looked at me for awhile quizzically. Finally, he said he had worked with a lot of PR firms, and most told him that they didn't want to know about his product. All they said they had to do was to get him an interview. It was his job to explain his product.

This was an interesting statement because other agenices had been successful in getting him interviews, with at least one major medium anyway. So, I should have asked myself then and there whether I was making too much of the issue of knowing about his product. I didn't. I told him instead that there are two ways of approaching publicity. One is access -- getting an interview for the client. The other is product knowledge -- knowing everything there is to know about the product -- AND getting the interview for the client. Both are legitimate.

We prefer knowing everything there is to know about a product because our experience has been that national level media dislike PR practitioners who don't know what it is they are pitching. I described a situation to him of getting one phone call through to reporters who are harassed with hundreds of PR calls a week. I had better be prepared, or I've lost my one and only opportunity. I also described our role to him as that of an attorney in a courtroom. The attorney prepares for hundreds of responses from witnesses even though the attorney knows most of them won't arise. What the attorney knows is that they could come up, and one should not be caught flatfooted in front of a jury. (This apparently happened in front of the Michael Jackson jury two days ago according to news reports. But that's a story for the tabloids.)

The Chief Technical Officer appeared to accept my explanation, and he generously spent his time explaining details of the product that had been left out when we had studied it earlier.

But I have to ask: Does it make any difference whether one knows a story well or not? If I can pick up the phone and get hold of a reporter at The Wall Street Journal and persuade the reporter to do a story, do I really have to understand the story? The answer is I don't, but the risk of not knowing is one I won't take personally. If I'm going to put my reputation on the line with a reporter and the reputation of the agency, I want to know the story in detail.

Reputation with the media is a fragile thing. They don't like to be misled, and they don't like to have their time wasted by people who don't know what they are talking about. So, why take the chance?

Great thoughts! I think this is where we PR people can bring a double-dose of value to our clients -- being able to answer basic questions up front AND knowing how to cultivate relationships with journalists.

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