A few more things PR students wanted to know but were afraid to ask…

Last semester, our PR guru Kristine Nicolini asked if I’d sit with her PR techniques class (a small group of about 20 student or so) and answer questions for them based on my experiences in news and working with PR folk. What came out of our discussion can be found here.

This semester, she was nice enough to ask me back, so here are a few more questions from her PR students and some moderately decent answers I managed to cobble together for them:


What are your pet peeve when it comes to PR professionals?

Liars and weasels are my pet peeves about ALL people with whom I interact, not just PR folks. If I feel like I should check my wallet or wash my hands after talking to you, I’m not all that inclined to spend time with you.

When everything about you feels like a performance or a veneer, I really get annoyed. It’s why I feel like I’m better as a press agent for myself in some cases and so does my book publisher when they tell me to call on a potential adopter of the book. I’m like, “Hey, here’s who I am, here’s what I honestly believe and at the end of the day, I understand if you don’t agree.” Honesty is refreshing, but so is honest enthusiasm. I can tell when you like what you’re doing and I can tell when you’re faking it.


How do you communicate/deal with pushy PR people?
How much is “too much” when it comes to contacting a journalist about a story? (Assuming the reporter hasn’t answered)
What’s something that you should absolutely not do?
What should you avoid when contacting a journalist with a press release?

I grouped the four of these things together because they all fit the same basic paradigm. The premise I espouse here is the “Guy at the Bar” thing. All of us have seen the “Guy at the Bar” who is really too damned desperate for his own good. He offers to buy a woman a drink, an appetizer, a game of darts, a steak dinner and a 1998 Honda Civic, shortly before she calls the cops on him.

You don’t want to be the “Guy at the Bar” when it comes to approaching journalists about the story you want to pitch. They’re either going to be interested or they aren’t and that’s part of the process, so you have to understand that some times, they’re just going to say no. That doesn’t mean “no” forever, but it means “no” now. However, the more you start pressuring them, the more they’re going to try to wriggle away out of panic and just “eeew.” It’s like a fist full of Jell-O. The harder you squeeze, the less you have.

To that end, don’t grip it so tight. Just let things go. People in general, journalists in particular, can just SMELL desperation.

Do you have any NO moments when reading a pitch or email from a PR professional?


  1. It’s clear I’m part of a laundry list of emails/faxes/phone numbers/addresses that somebody left you and said, “Go spread this generic crap to these random people.”
  2. They make a fact error that lets me know they don’t know anything. A person pitching me on a charity event kept telling me about how great the Advance-Titan was as our student newspaper, but she kept saying we were at UW-Superior.
  3. You’re trying too hard. Don’t tell me. Show me. If you come across like a crappy used car salesman, I’m dodging you.


How do you handle negative feedback/move forward from it

Negative feedback sucks. Here are some things that help me kind of “partition” it a little bit.

  1. Is the negative feedback part of a pattern or is it a one-off. I got feedback on my book when they put it in the field. Of the 24 responses, 23 were positive. The one-off told me that I didn’t know how to write and that I clearly didn’t understand journalism. (I, of course, obsessed about this with the hope that I would somehow meet this yutz in a back alley and scream, “Who can’t write now? HUH?”) If it’s a pattern, let’s go to point two.
  2. Is the feedback negative because of me, my client, my approach or the person on the other end of the feedback? If it’s me or my approach, it goes in one pile. If it’s my client or the other person, it goes in another pile.

The “me” pile: I look at the feedback and see what’s there that’s actually workable in terms of me and my approach. What did I do that the person didn’t like and how much of this is alterable behavior? If the feedback is, “God, he’s so ugly I couldn’t focus on his pitch.” Well, I guess I’m bald, old and ugly. Screw you anyway, Bucky. If it’s “The whole presentation felt like nothing but hype” then I look at what I did and see how likely it is that this is true, what I can do to dial it back and what else I can do to improve this?

The client/that guy pile: Some things can’t be fixed. If this person constantly hates you because “PR people suck,” forget them. The more you suck up, the more they’ll beat you like a dog.


What was your favorite article you wrote based off a PR pitch?

A jewelry store sent us one that gave away a diamond ring as part of a Christmas Promotion. The winner was a lady who wasn’t rich and had lost her diamond out of her engagement ring a few years back. The reason it worked was that a) the store was local, not a chain, b) the winner was the exact person you’d want to win the thing, c) the timing was right for a “Christmas Miracle” story and d) the owners were friendly and helpful in the whole process. In other words, it was perfect in a PR moment: Planning that led to luck and the confluence of events that just screamed “WRITE ME!”


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