PR Wars Podcast: Public relations on trial

Today on PR Wars, we’re gonna talk about some epic PR fails from the viewpoint of journalist Ellen Chang, a freelance writer for USA Today, US News & World Report, and others. But, PR people get picked on all the time. So, we’re not gonna take this public lashing lying down. I’m going to build a defense for the comms heroes in the story. Maybe as the gavel falls, journalists and PR pros will have a little more patience and understanding for each other.

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Show transcript: “We want the truth.” “We want the truth.” “We want the truth.” “I have news for everybody. Get over it.”

Announcer
It’s time. Welcome to PR Wars coming at you live from Atlanta, Georgia. Now, here is your host… Chris Shigas.

Chris Shigas
Hey, everybody, welcome to PR Wars! I’m Chris Shigas. Thanks for listening to the show. Today, we’re gonna talk about some epic PR fails from the viewpoint of a top journalist. But hey, I know PR people get picked on all the time. So, we’re not gonna take this public lashing lying down. I’m going to build a defense for the comms heroes in the story. Maybe just maybe, as the gavel falls in this special edition of PR court, my hope is that journalists and PR people may have a little more patience and understanding for each other. Joining me today is our PR Wars co-host and fellow communications magistrate, Brad Grantham.

Brad Grantham
Thank you, Mr. Shigas. Look forward to your defense, if any in this category. I always wanted to hold a court session. So I hope you have a zingy sound effect to go into this after I’m done. But that being said, Court is now in session.

Chris Shigas
Thanks, Brad. Now on to the journalist that’s presenting the evidence today. She perhaps best represents the future tier one reporter. I believe that the career path that Ellen Chang has blazed as a freelance writer will become the standard for modern journalism. You see, she works on specific, but multiple beats for multiple media outlets. I mean, you’ll find her bylines in USA Today, US News and World Report, the Street, Yahoo Finance, MSN and more. In her articles, they focus on stocks, personal finance, energy, I mean that includes renewables, electric vehicles, oil and gas. She does cryptocurrency, cyber security, even the business of cannabis. She is a modern journalism superstar. Okay, so Ellen Chang, thank you for joining us on PR Wars today.

Ellen Chang
I’m really excited to be here.

Chris Shigas
Okay, so here’s what we’re gonna do. This is going to be new, Ellen, you totally cracked me up with some of the things that PR people tell you and how you relay these stories back to me. So we’re gonna go through some epic PR fails, and you’re going to tell me about an experience that you’ve had with a particular PR person, I’m going to be the defense attorney, no matter how egregious the mistake no matter how ridiculous this PR person is, I’m going to form some sort of defense for this person. And then Brad, our co host today, he’s going to be the judge. All I can say is here comes the judge. Great. Okay, Ellen, you’ve been a tier one reporter for a long time. And you’ve seen a lot of PR pitches in your day. So why don’t you tell me about some recent ones that you’ve had that are just a doozy.

Ellen Chang
Okay. One of them was this email I got from a PR guy that I had never worked with, took a really long time to get me quotes, connect me with this client. And then he asked me to send him a link, which I don’t normally do. So I wrote a tweet about it. And then it really blew up like it got like 10,000 impressions, because a lot of people started to defend it. And my whole premise is that I’ll work for you. And you should use Google Alerts, you should bookmark my page, and you should try reading reporters work.

Chris Shigas
So what you’re trying to say is this PR person, not only did he pitch you a story and ask you to write a story about his client, but then asked you more to follow up with him and provide you with the link of the story so that it can make it as easy as possible on this PR person.

Ellen Chang
Right? So he could send it to his client and he could like good, that’s what his client is paying him for. And I know he’s being paid thousands of dollars. So I don’t work for you and I don’t need to build that kind of relationship. Right? You should be keeping track and writing Thank you emails to reporters.

Chris Shigas
So we have a PR guy who’s probably never read your stuff before and probably even now that you’re writing about his client still isn’t reading your stuff because he just wants you to send him over a link. Let me defend this guy. All right. He’s busy. He’s got 15 clients. He’s he’s got other people coming out of the woodwork saying, hey, I need this. I need that. I need the other thing. Oh, I got 15 reporters that I’m juggling trying to get this story out. He’s thinking, Okay, well, you write for US News World Report you write for USA today? I’m not sure where it is. I’m not sure I don’t see it on the front page. Do you have a link to just take mercy on my soul and cut me a break

Brad Grantham
Your defenses weak and your defenses lazy as this person I mean PR, not just PR, but media in general, with reporters is about relationships. And if I’m, if I’m pitching Ellen, I’m gonna try and make it as easy as possible for her. Here’s the quotes. If I don’t have the quotes right now, I know where to get them. Here’s the backup information you need, boom, boom, boom. The fact that he did not research were on that she has written before. The fact that he’s asking her for a link, again, to Alan’s point when he can simply do a Google Alert or just google once more in the morning. Problem solved. And you just saved, you know, five mountains of Allen pulling her hair out going is this real life? Oh, Chang. Miss Chang, when’s the point?

Chris Shigas
So what you’re saying is a PR person should be a help to the reporter and not the other way around? Right. Okay. So Ellen one, Chris zero.

Brad Grantham
Good luck defending any of this.

Chris Shigas
Alright, let’s move on to the next guy.

Ellen Chang
When I posted that tweet about the guy wanting a link. Other reporters told her horror stories of one reporter say that she had a very young PR executive call her 30 times. And she only stopped after she told her to. But there are a lot of PR people who are always sending these emails that everybody makes fun of. And I think it happens other industries where they’re circling back, or some of them now, I don’t know if it works, because they actually will be like, hey, what time Can I schedule for you next week, they’re assuming that you want to. So that’s interesting. Amway sales,

Chris Shigas
right?

Ellen Chang
I’ll just keep emailing you. And sometimes I’ll write people back, like I write about the cannabis industry. And I’ll tell them like, I only cover Cannabis Stocks, like we I must ever mentioned private ones, except when they’re about to IP out. So if you write a couple, you would know. And sometimes it does prompt them to say, Hey, I have one down the pipeline. So does benefit both of us. But it’s kind of amazing. When people don’t know your B, especially since a lot of it, a lot of us have it in our Twitter BIOS, or you put it on LinkedIn. Or if you read our stuff once in a while, then you’ll see like, hey, Elon writes about the stock market and personal finance and some energy.

Chris Shigas
And when they’re calling like 30 times, even if the interview set up. It might be because they’re trying to get more specifics about the interview or the questions in advance. Right.

Ellen Chang
Right. Where they want you to send question, sometimes I’ll do it by a lot of reporters down.

Chris Shigas
All right, here’s my defense. Okay. All right, this person’s calling you they’re being a little aggressive. Okay, just making, I wouldn’t even use the word aggressive. I’ll use the word assertive. All right. Here’s my defense. I want to hire this person, it is so hard to find a PR person that’s going to pick up a phone and you got one calling you 30 times Come on, like I can work with that I can’t work with apathy. I can’t work with somebody who’s gonna blast out emails and forget about it, like someone who’s willing to talk to a reporter, even though you might just bash them and crush their dreams. The fact that this person is brave enough to face the wrath of the reporter makes me say this person’s going places. This is the type of person I want on my team.

Brad Grantham
Okay, Brad, I my case was pretty compelling, wasn’t it? Well, I admire your desire for energy, you also have to be intelligent about it. And you have to know when to push and when to step back. And again, we’re talking about relationships. Again, this is at the core of everything that we do, you’ve got to know that balance. Because if you don’t, you’re going to end up ruining that reputation or your reputation of the company’s reputation potentially, if you are too aggressive. Am I wrong? Ellen?

Ellen Chang
Right, because I think some reporters blocked some PR people or they blocked the whole agency or their reporters who don’t take unsolicited pitches. And I keep seeing that more and more in people’s Twitter BIOS. And they’re not all like the New York Times or Wall Street Journal. They just don’t need it. And probably because they’re not effective. And I think you have to be really careful when you call. You can’t just call and be like, Hi, I’m Brittany. Some of them don’t even announce what agency they’re with. Which they should, it should be like, Hi, I’m Brittany Smith with brown PR company and my client is x. But right away, you can decide if you want to proceed. And reading a five minute spiel is really not effective, because I always interrupt them.

Chris Shigas
So you don’t like the Hey, Ellen, what time Can I sit up that interview with you for?

Ellen Chang
No, that’s terrible.

Or the death side? You know, can we do with that side meeting? While I don’t have an office in New York? So a lot.

Chris Shigas
But tell me this, you do appreciate story ideas. When you know that somebody reading your stuff. They know the types of things you write about, maybe they can refer back to an article you wrote, and they can give you a pitch that’s relevant to the stuff you’re doing today.

Ellen Chang
Yes, those are really good. Because often I got one today where they said, I read your article, and they hyperlinked it, we say maybe effort and they are pitching along the same beat, and that I can tell them, hey, because of Ico, I won’t be writing about this topic for a while, or this is to consumer base or to b2b. And hopefully that helps them refine their pitches. And they can go back to the client and say, Hey, this reporter only covers personal finance, or whatever, I used to get a really good pitch from this one woman and all of them were like that very short, with enough stats, three or four paragraphs, but I told her your pitches are really good. Keep them coming.

Brad Grantham
The score remains Ellen to chic is zero.

Chris Shigas
Pr fail. Number three,

Ellen Chang
one of the biggest mistakes I see are failed mail merges. Some of them show about as dear Emily, which is not even close to Elon or as as dear bracket, first name bracket are terrible. They usually completely unrelated to anything I cover. And I tend to keep emails for a while because you don’t know I cover a lot of different things for a lot of different outlets.

Chris Shigas
So personal when it says dear insert name here,

Ellen Chang
right? On the flip side, I do have a good story, I often will send a bunch of questions to PR people, for instance, like at a bank, and I’ll send the same questions. So just be See, see everybody and I actually got an email from a PR guy to public bank who shall remain nameless. And he told me that he didn’t want to be on this email. He wanted me to email him directly. And I wanted to write him back and say, Do you want me to do a mail merge for you? I don’t really know what his issue was. And then I wrote him back. And I copied his boss, because he didn’t answer my initial email. So I had emailed his boss to be like, hey, I want to make sure you guys have X so we can include you in this article. And maybe you don’t see my email, right? Like, I know, Gmail sometimes winds up in spam. So he was like, Okay, we’ll get back to you. So I wrote him back. And I said, we email all the same questions, every bank and this incense to be fair, so then he had nothing to say, except thank you for including us, right? Because he got caught. is why would you not if you’re a public company want to be asked same question. You want the media to be fair and equitable. And these are very basic information stories. Anyways, right? So be included. Right? I don’t know why he wanted me to do a mail merge and be like, Hi, jack. That’s not his name. But you know, so I might just do that for the next one. I’ll send them a personal email.

Chris Shigas
Okay, well, let me try to to defend the original mistake that you mentioned about all these fails with the mail merge. When you’re in your industry for a long time and you’re a senior PR counsel, you get a feel for your your beat writers and in your circle of reporters that you know, you can reach out with personal contacts and say, Hey, how you doing Long time, no see and be very personal and relatable. As a young PR professional just starting out, you don’t have that circle of contents, and you’re fishing, you’re throwing bait in the water and you’re trying to see who’s gonna come up and want to talk to you. Here’s the thing. outlook is not easy. Okay? These things can get complicated. They can get messy. Yes, they’re very nervous sending things out and your media list has to be just right. And the settings on the mail merge have to be just right. Is there anything inside of you that says, oh, let me take this PR person and just give them a hand. Let me just help them a little bit through life so that they can maybe they mature into a blossoming professional, but you know what, right now, it’s just like, you know, when you’re in elementary school, and there’s that little kid in the corner and just just need somebody to come be their friend. Will you be my friend? Ellen?

Ellen Chang
Well, why aren’t you checking your work? Aren’t you using the same list every time? Don’t you have like, national, regional, local? Or radio and TV friend? And all? I you? I mean, why aren’t you using the same mailmerge?

Brad Grantham
Bread? Ellen three, shake is zero? No, I agree with Ellen. I mean, it’s all valid points. I mean, Chris, you do bring up, you know, as Senior Counsel, you’ve got the circle of, you know, reporters that you use, and that’s great. You know, I think one of the things PR people can do is actually make a focus on updating their lists a lot more than like twice a year or once a year, it needs to be quarterly, if not monthly, because of the consolidation that’s going on. That being said, Elon still wins this point.

Ellen Chang
Thank you.

Chris Shigas
All right, Elon, PR fail number four,

Ellen Chang
I use that a lot. So I can have new sources all the time and have fresh ideas and voices and improv that you have to write a subject line, you have to also pick a deadline before you can hit send, whenever I send out a profit net, always know that I’m going to get a ton of emails, and half of them are always about when’s your deadline? And my answer always is, it’s in the process, because I am Stein that you don’t take the time to read it, right. And then sometimes when they answer the prophets, they don’t use the keywords I’m using or anything similar to it, they’ll use something completely off the charts and off the radar. So when reporters go back, and they’re doing keyboard searches, like I don’t know, like mortgage refinance, and you write something like buying a house, then I will literally never see your email, like I found emails Two years later, when I’m looking for sources for something else. And I don’t understand the impetus of that at all, because you’re not sending me an original picture responding to me, and reporters get a lot of emails, we try to read all of them or look through all of them. And when you write these goofy subject lines, because you want to be a hipster, whatever, then doesn’t work. And I’ve told someone that don’t do that, because I won’t see it. And if I’m getting 200 emails, and sometimes I will look, I will type in different keywords to try to mitigate it just like people on eBay won’t purposely misspell something so that people will find it, then I’ll do that. But why not go with what I’m thinking? Because I’m probably using something pretty common, you know. So there are times where you can be too creative. Don’t do it.

Chris Shigas
Okay, here’s my defense of the PR person. So there’s two issues. The first issue is asking you for a deadline when it’s already in the profit. The second issue is about changing the subject line, which makes it difficult for you to see that it’s a response. So here’s my defense on the first one. While reporters all want to educate PR people about how busy they are. One thing that a lot of people don’t appreciate is all of the stuff coming at a PR person. And maybe this day, on this hour, on this week, this PR person had a client yelling at them. And then because the client was angry, had his boss yelling at them. And maybe his wife yelling at him and his dog bit him all of these things going wrong. And all he did was ask someone a simple question and got run over like a steamroller because he asked you for your deadline. That’s number one. Number two,

Ellen Chang
Can I have a rebuttal?

Brad Grantham
Okay, yes, please rebut.

Ellen Chang
So, don’t have that much time. And if I’m going to write you an email, don’t waste my time. And I want to be pen pals with you. Because do your job, read the prof net. And they always seem to find the deadline. As soon as I tell them read the profit net, or I tell them it’s in the profit net. So and one thing that would help them is to use all the software themselves. And why would that create something where there’s no deadline? Okay, so common sense.

Chris Shigas
Now to address the second part of this issue. And that is the changing of the subject line, it makes it more difficult for you to understand that they’re actually answering your profit query, this PR person is trying to put in the effort. I understand that in your inbox, it made it more difficult. So it’d be a best practice yet at the same time. Here’s somebody working to be creative, working to be original working to show you that they are going to give you the best of their mindset that they are not nailing this in they are really all in for you to give you the best story possible.

Brad Grantham
Well, I appreciate your defense. Today, Mr. Shigas, that may have been your most outreaching. outlandish one so far. Because Elon, hit it on the head, do your job. I mean, she and all the other reporters out there right now have more deadlines, and more emails and more stuff going on the most PR professionals can imagine. That’s just reality it Ellen, how many emails do you have in your inbox right now?

Ellen Chang
Yeah, I’m kinda scared to login. I know that. Like, I’m getting a lot of Twitter responses. So you get, you know, a couple of hundred easily.

Brad Grantham
Yeah. And so on an average week, you might receive what 2000 emails maybe more? Sure. Yeah. So again, I will side with Elon. Because if you do your job in the first place, and you can read directions in the profit, we wouldn’t have these problems. So Elon for Shigas. Zero.

Chris Shigas
Well, Ellen, I want to thank you so much for being on PR court today, this special edition of PR Wars. And thanks so much, and I hope you’ll be back on.

Ellen Chang
I love that was really fun. I can talk about this all day.

Chris Shigas
Awesome. Thank you so much. You can listen to a new episode of PR Wars every Sunday night at 8pm. On behalf of Brad Grantham and the entire PR Wars crew. I want to thank Ellen Chang, freelance journalist for USA today and US News and World Report among others. Do me a favor this week. Remember that journalists are your customers, read their stories work to make their job easier. And don’t forget to let them know that you appreciate the final result. Now go get ’em!

PR Wars was selected as a Top PR Podcast You Must Follow in 2020 by Feedspot.

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