Media Inquiries Into PR Departments Should Not Be an Exercise in Frustration

You’re a busy journalist. You’re on deadline. You’re trying to round up sources and interviews for a story you need to crank out today. One of your most promising sources is not responding, gone off the grid. But you’re still hopeful, especially because she and her company have PR representation.

So you go to the PR agency’s website, looking to email or call someone from the agency and either enlist their help or leverage the connection into a direct call with the source.

But wait: You get to the “Contact Us” page, and you hit a wall. What? Instead of a helpful list of members of the team, with their areas of specialty, their email addresses and their phone numbers, not to mention their Twitter addresses, you hit a cinderblock. You get one of those “Fill-Out-This-Irritating-Web-Form-And-Send-An-Email-To-Some-Anonymous-Address” pages.

You get one of those contact pages on websites that force users to send their media inquiries via email to a faceless, nameless depository and hope that they get a response in a timely manner.

Guess what that journalist is going to do? Correct.

Which leads me to ask: Why do PR firms—communications agencies, after all—use those depersonalizing forms? I know a lot of companies do it, and maybe there’s a good reason, but I say not in PR.

In PR, the whole point is to connect with stakeholders—especially the media—in as expeditious a manner as possible. In PR, with a few exceptions, the chance to tell your story is something to be embraced. So why make it hard? It makes no sense. You’re not doing yourself, or your clients, any favors that’s for sure.

For that matter too, the strategy is debatable even for companies that don’t often get a lot of media inquiries. That’s because, due to the rise of “content marketing,” every company is now a quasi-media company and needs to be able to respond to inquiries—from either media reps or customers—with more speed and more substance.

For PR agencies, the whole objective is to humanize—you. Your firm. Your clients. By having a faceless Contacts page you’re ultimately robbing yourself of the opportunity to get your messages out and cultivate relationships.

Social media is rewriting the rules for PR and dramatically changing how PR reps communicate with the media. Fair enough. But PR departments and agencies that insist on using a faceless, “Media Inquiries” page on their websites, are, when you come to think about it, being downright anti-“social.”

Matthew Schwartz: @mpsjourno1