May 14 2010

For PR Pros, Digital Media Does Not Change Rules of Engagement

joanne

I’ve been gearing up for a somewhat unusual product launch the past couple of months. The product—autopitch.com—is sort of like reverse eBay. People post the car they want, and dealers and sellers compete for their business. If successful, Autopitch could change the way people search for and buy cars online.

The launch plan called for direct outreach to auto, tech and mommy bloggers, print media, and industry influentials. Communication vehicles included email, twitter and Facebook, chat rooms, community forums and discussion boards.

How different this scenario is from something typical of 3 or 4 years ago. The product, and the communication methods being used to introduce it, would have been completely foreign to most in the PR profession.

The approach, however, is the same. We researched the automotive industry, our targets, their news outlets, and their readers. We became part of the auto industry’s most popular social media circles. We developed a couple strong news hooks, and identified several outlets beyond the obvious where the story got some play. Simply put, we did the groundwork. At launch (May 3), we were prepared.

For the most part, journalists want to talk to PR pros who can offer story ideas and resources. But they expect you to know the rules of engagement. They want you to know when their deadlines are, and they assume you will respect them. They appreciate a brief conversation that has more than just a bit to do with the topics they cover. They expect you to spell and/or pronounce their names right. The only way to ensure you get these things right is by doing your research.

Before you send a single text or direct message, post a tweet, or comment on a blog post, you must do research. There are no exceptions to this rule. If you aren’t knowledgeable about the product, service, trend or topic you are pitching, it will be noticed. If you aren’t familiar with your target and his or her audience, you’ll be mocked in the newsroom or, worse yet, exposed online. (See related TechCrunch article here).

Steve Casimiro, editor at Adventure Life (www.theadventurelife.org) and former West Coast bureau chief at National Geographic Adventure, backs this up.  “Social media, twitter, texting, email all support your message but the most powerful tool is still going to be your relationship with the press,” he said. “Direct, informed contact is always best.”

Pitching profiles posted on the likes of Media Atlas are also telling. BusinessWeek’s “Technology and You” Columnist Steve Wildstrom writes, “The best PR pros read my stuff so they can pitch me on the sorts of things I write about. Don’t send unsolicited products. Don’t call to find out if I got your email. If I don’t respond it’s either because I’m really busy and will get to it later or I’m not interested and don’t have time to respond saying so. The key,” he says, “is understanding how a product or service you are pitching fits into the themes I write about.”

Also remember that despite the brevity that digital communication begs and current generations accept, writing skills are still important. Jill Kuraitis, an editor at NewWest.net, says, “Grammar and punctuation absolutely still matter. The format of your pitch, not so much.”

“Remember,” says Casimiro, “PR people are valuable to the press because they help us do our jobs by providing information we can’t get or can’t get easily elsewhere.”

This was true before the digital age and remains so today.