My name is not Charlie and I don’t work there

This is not breaking news, nor is it coverage of the Wall Street meltdown or the Sarah Palin moose-dressing media extravaganza. This is a PR 101 story/quick rant — and it’s old news. Every now and then (5 to 10 times a week) I get a call from an account executive or intern who is wondering whether I received their email about so-and-so joining the firm or company. Sometimes it’s a question of whether I received their fax — and I’m old enough to have received faxed press releases back in the day  The voice message I received yesterday at 8 p.m. was from a woman trying to reach Charlie and asking whether I/Charlie received the important email about someone joining their agency, and whether PR Newswire would be running the story.  You know by now that I’m not Charlie and PR News is not PR Newswire. And if you’re really good, you know that PR News does not run personnel moves.  To help callers, my voice mail refers to me as Diane, as in This is Diane Schwartz…thanks for calling.

How can one person get it all so wrong? If you are assigning staff to check on emails sent or to email a journalist to check on voice messages left, make sure they are getting the facts right. And question (yourself) whether such follow-ups are even worth your company’s time anymore.

So, back to the Charlie-caller: I called her back and left her a voice message. But I have not heard back. Maybe I’ll email her to see if she received my call.

– Diane Schwartz

  • http://PRNewsonline Dennis Byrne

    Dear Diane:
    Just to put things in context . . . I have been working in public affairs for close to forty years going back to my Armed Forces Network days after combat in Vietnam. I’ve worked with major corporations and now the federal government and consider myself in the top 20% for sure . . . .professionally.
    Every few years or so I end up at a seminar where a panel of reporters pontificate to a roomful of PR “practioners” about how they should be contacted, what time of day they should be contacted, what they are interested in(as if they really know), and a slew of other do’s and don’ts that “flaks” ought to know to have “the priviledge” to work with them . . .or as they wish to characterize it “pitch them a story”.
    All I’d like to say to aspiring PR folks out there is that PR is not a difficult discipline.
    Simply be open, honest and responsive as you might do with other relationships you have – – be they business or personal. Be kind and helpful and always try to look at it from both sides. However, remember who YOU work for and don’t give away the “candy store”.

    To journalists . . . don’t be so full of yourselves, stop being so snooty . . .and remember – – it’s a two way street. We can’t put bread on the table without you and you can’t put bread on the table without us!
    Enough said.

  • Ronald E. Childs

    Very, very well stated. The situation is pretty much the same in the realm of ethnic media and public relations as well. My undergraduate degree and early work background is in journalism, and I still write a nationally syndicated column to this day, but my nine-to-five over the past 20-plus years has been in public relations.

    I’m a member of, and attend the National Association of Black Journalists convention each year, where like you, I’m relegated to listening to that one requisite panel discussion about effectively nurturing journalist relationships and pitching media. During the forum, a quartet of haughty journalists ritually talk down to PR practitioners (not sure why you put “practitioners” in quotes, but I suspect that you question the designation) about how, when, why and why not to contact them, about how we’re essentially a nuisance and more. The funny thing to me is that I don’t ever remember being taught in J-school to disrespect the PR profession, that journalism is somehow more intrinsically noble or ethical or to ever try to subjugate PR and PR professionals to the Fourth Estate.

    Invariably, during Q&A, I stand up to address the panel, but instead I tell the young collegians and practitioners gathered that if they reach a journalist who gets his/her panties in a bunch about you getting his name wrong, or calling int he midst of a deadline, just call his competitor with your story. The right pitch to the right person – timed-right – will get the story placed almost every time, and in so doing you’ll be building relationships with journalists that are mutually respectful, professional communicator to professional communicator.

  • Crystal Pernell

    As one just coming off a PR internship I feel close enough to the issue at hand to say this:

    As interns, we’re idiots. I mean that in the most love-filled way possible. We’re still learning how and what to do. Usually, by the time I finished celebrating the fact my shaky hands dialed the right number, I was way too focused on getting the script right to remember who I was calling. Sad but true.

    It’s a rookie mistake we all never expect ourselves to make (which is normally how we end up making it).

    While time and practice is the only real cure, one media relations guru at my internship taught us to never follow up to just ask if a contact got an email or fax. If you work up the nerve to call them you might as well just re-pitch. Mention that you called, but go ahead with the pitch as if you’ve never contacted them before. It feels more like a normal introduction that way and it takes away some of the nerves, I promise.

  • Noirin

    I’ve been on both sides of this issue, and I agree that many journalists and editors give ridiculous contact edicts at writer conferences. On the other hand, many press releases and article pitches are poorly written and often sent to the incorrect publication. What I have found is that a well-placed word of advice goes much further than all the convoluted submission demands,and a good story will find its way into the right hands, if a publication/news venue is sharp and focused. So, at a conference give advice about what makes a story or pitch successful for you, what catches your eye, etc. And for those sending out the PR or article, do you homework as to what publications/venues are the best place to pitch. For journalists and editors,get off your high horse about someone getting your name or title wrong, and PR people/writiers don’t expect responses to every single “I’ve got a new person on my board” release. Let’s just focus on getting the right story in the right place.

  • http://NA Dianne Haynes

    I love this kind of information. As I am not working presently, I recall however, work, and working with more than five other people on the same projects…I usually came through early with great results, and I now, digging back into the cavern of my mind, know why, I did so well..
    I was trustworthy, with news worthy pitches, and sorry to say, “followed” up in areas beyond news to companies, organizations, and to reporters, editors, etc. Everyone is different, however, respect of my “fellow workers”, and honest regard of the profession was my only “secret” tool beyond communicating intelligently, timely, newsworthy, and sincerely. Looking back maybe I did not know anybetter, but my technique worked, and everyone wondered why. It is hard doing what one enjoys, and beyond being watchful for the next cut and downsizing, “we all work together.” Having had a “blooper” video tape put together on me during an early time in my career, I am grateful today having learned by my mistakes in college. Today, I remember just how important it is while working with seasoned professionals that we all have had something we wish would just go away and disappear…Yes, those “OOPS” come back to haunt – and professionals like Diane Schwartz, who I do enjoy reading, can have a silent chuckle once and a while, because she has earned it! I have to come back to work, it is just far too much fun..tks Diane for this one.